A while back, I read a book called Three Shoes, One Sock and No Hairbrush, which was written to cover the yawning gap in the market for women wanting information on how to deal with having a second child. It’s a largely neglected area – the information in baby books is generally limited to what the author, Rebecca Abrams, sums up rather nicely as "a few coyly inadequate paragraphs on sibling rivalry." (I do apologise if that quote isn’t word-for-word, by the way – I don’t have the book in front of me, and that’s as close as I can get from memory.) The general assumption on the part of society is that, having had one baby, you know what you’re doing and can be left to get on with it. Which is, of course, likely to be true as far as the basics of taking care of a baby or child are concerned (although, even then, you could be in for a rude shock if your second is notably different from your first in personality), but doesn’t really cover the fact that women could do with some advice on how to take care of a baby while taking care of an older child, which is an experience that opens up a whole new area of genuine but largely ignored difficulties.
The book, by the way, is a great source of information and well-written, but incredibly depressing. Or at least that was how I found it, though it is fair to say that many of the reviews disagree and that there are a lot of people who would probably benefit hugely from realistic information on what the problems may actually be like, rather than the nice sugar-coated version. My personal recommendation, if you’re pregnant with your prospective second child and looking for a useful book, would be Judy Dunn’s From One To Two, which covers the basics while remaining upbeat about it all and did not leave me with the same feeling that I was about to spend the next year or two travelling through a long dark tunnel. But then, if you already have two children and are already finding the experience much like travelling through a long dark tunnel, "Three Shoes" might be just what you need to reassure you that you’re not on your own and that there will be light at the end of it.
Anyway, the point of all this was that the book cited a survey in which parents were asked whether they felt it to be having their first child or having their second that had made the greater difference in their lives. The usual assumption is, of course, that it’s going to be the first and that a second baby will just fit in around the edges without too much further ado. In fact, the parents surveyed were about evenly split between those who did feel this way and those who felt that having their second child was actually the biggest change for them. It does seem that second-time-around parenthood is causing far more of an upheaval to far more families than is commonly recognised.
I wasn’t terribly surprised to read this – back when I was first pregnant, a much more informal discussion had taken place on that topic on one of the parenting forums I read and, although I didn’t tally up an official count, the split between the two opinions had indeed appeared to be fifty-fifty. But it did, of course, make me think about which category I’ll find myself falling into. Will this child’s birth end up making more or less of a change in my life than Jamie’s birth did?
I think – and hope – that I’ll be one of the people who votes for the first child being the biggest change. Partly this is because I now have a certain amount of practice in various highly useful skills – breastfeeding, sling usage, feeling able to ignore something even if it is written in a book by somebody everybody says is an expert, not sweating the small stuff, and genuinely believing that this too will pass. Partly, it’s because I think I let Jamie’s birth make far too much of a change. I’d always assumed I’d be the sort of laid-back mother who tucked the baby under her arm and got on with normal life, and then I actually had a baby and somehow things never quite seemed to work out that way. I was so busy being freaked out by the fact that I had a BABY, for god’s sake, that I somehow couldn’t get past that to get on with normal life.
Of course, with Jamie it didn’t help that, thanks to his uncut tongue tie (and, in retrospect, probably more of a desire for comfort sucking than I realised), Jamie seemed to be nursing practically non-stop. I had, of course, read all those polemics on breastfeeding which stress the importance of feeding your child as much and as often as they want to suck in order to get a good milk supply going, and so I went right along with his desire to hang onto my nipple for hours, fearful that if I dared cut a nursing session short or keep him waiting for one he would miss a precious drop or two of hindmilk and ruin my supply for good. The result was that I rarely dared put him in the car and drive anywhere (but what if he wanted a feed while I was driving? And I had to keep him waiting? Heaven forfend!) and, unfortunately, we lived at the time out on the outskirts of a small village where driving was the only way to get anywhere more exciting than the local Tesco’s or the second-hand book sale at the doctor’s surgery. I found myself not even going for walks because, somehow, it always seemed like too much trouble. So I would sit around inside all day, in a house that had proved to be a lot less inviting to live in than it had seemed on looking round it on a bright sunny day (Barry and I had utterly underestimated the degree of awkwardness that a houseful of cold stone floors can cause when you’re taking care of a baby and would like somewhere to put him down sometimes). It is not a time in my life that I view with great joy in retrospect. I wasn’t suffering from post-partum depression, if you’re wondering; but I definitely think I was suffering from post-partum overwhelmement.
This time, circumstances are more on my side to start with. We’re in a much nicer house, in an area where things are much more accessible. And raising that baby to the wonderful three-year-old he now is has been a salutary lesson in not obsessing over the details – whatever mistakes I may have made along the way, Jamie has unarguably turned out just fine. I find it a lot more difficult to get worked up over the finer details than I used to. On top of that, his very existence is going to be quite effective in stopping me sitting around in a dazed state staring at the baby and wondering what on earth happens next; he’s going to be quite insistent on life continuing as normal, and so I’ll have a lot more incentive just to get up and get on with it, which will of course do me far more good. So I think – I hope – that I will not be as poleaxed this time.
What I do also think, though, is that any slack in the system will have gone. Parenthood has reached a stage where I can get enough sleep and even some free time. Juggling a child, a four-day-a-week job, and a lengthy commute is fairly exhausting and there’s never nearly as much time as I’d like for everything, but I still get by. Juggling two children and the job is going to be more exhausting than I even want to think about right now. It’ll get better when the new one is old enough to sleep through the night fairly reliably; when he or she gets past that awful toddler stage where you have to be watching every minute; when (if) I find a job closer to home. But, in the meantime, I’ve got a long hard couple of years ahead of me, and I’m trying to brace myself for it.
So, why in hell am I putting myself through all this again? Believe me, I asked myself that question quite seriously when Jamie was fifteen months old. (I’m utterly mystified as to why two years is such a common age spacing – I can’t think of a time when I felt less like having a second child than when my first was fifteen months old.)
Because doing it all the first time round has been so damn good. In spite of the exhaustion and the long dark night feeds of the soul and the stress of worrying about all the things I might potentially do wrong and the lack of free time and the did-I-mention-the-exhaustion, watching that scary little bundle grow into a wonderful little boy has been an experience to which I’m not even sure words like ‘amazing’ do justice. Every difficult minute has been worth it, and I would not have missed it for anything in the world.
And now, in spite of having no idea how I will survive the exhaustion, I want to do it all again. I want to see what it’s like taking care of a baby without constantly getting stressed out over whether I should perhaps be following this book or that one instead of doing whatever it is I’m doing. I want to see what this new child will be like, what little person he or she will be. I want to have two different children. I want to be able to compare them – not in the awful "Why aren’t you as good at numbers as your brother?" sense, but in the sense that seeing the differences between them will make me aware of details that I’d otherwise have missed and will give me even more of an appreciation for each of them as individuals. I’m ready to be a mother of two children, and I’m looking forward to it.