Having a baby, whether it is your first or your tenth, is a completely life changing experience. While everyone rallies around first time mums, eager to welcome their first baby into the world, for second time mums, the sheen has faded and they are left more to their own devices. But, as Sara Keli argues, second time mums are the ones who probably need the support the most.
I wasn’t completely naïve to the challenges I would face when baby number two arrived but I certainly was not prepared for just how hard I would find it. When my eldest was about six-weeks-old, already sleeping through the night, feeding like a dream and just a generally chill baby, I recall thinking to myself, “what was everyone else complaining about?”
Well, karma got me good, didn’t it! After managing the ups and downs of two years as parents to our beautiful girl, we decided it was time for another baby. We fell pregnant straight away so there wasn’t even really time to reconsider. My pregnancy was a typical second pregnancy, plagued with pelvic pain, exhaustion from running around after an active two-year-old and not much thought even given to the baby growing inside me, other than when she reminded me of her presence with her ferocious kicks as I climbed in to bed to “sleep” each night.
I went into labour 8 days early and she arrived a few short hours later. What a beautiful start! The hospital visitors were less than we had with our first daughter, but thanks to a kind message from a friend I was more than prepared for the dwindling guests. I recall sitting on the end of my hospital bed on the day we were due to go home, full of dread and panic about how I would manage two children. I was starting to get some picture of the enormity of what lay ahead and combined with the baby blues, or looking back, likely something more than that, I was terrified.
The early days of life with a newborn and a toddler/pre-schooler looked something like this: feed baby, feed toddler, play with toddler, feed baby, put baby to sleep, attempt to stop toddler waking baby up, feed baby, play with toddler, feed baby, feed toddler, shovel crusts from toddler sandwich into my mouth, feed baby, put baby to sleep, play with toddler, bath baby and toddler, scoop baby poo out of the bath, feed baby, put baby to sleep, but toddler to sleep, feed myself, feed baby, try to sleep, feed baby, get woken up by toddler ready to start it all over again.
As I finished up one task, ready to move on to the next, another five were added to my list. While I could previously rely on nap times or the ten minutes I knew my toddler would sit and watch an episode of The Wiggles in order to give me a few moments to myself, finding those moments was now almost impossible. I feared taking my eyes off the baby while my toddler was present as she was equally likely to try picking the baby up as to jam a large cashew nut in her tiny toothless mouth.
So much of the attention and energy of educating mums is spent on the first time mums. And this is warranted. Expecting your first baby is equal parts joyous and alarming. Questions abound about what to expect during labour, how to breastfeed or know how much formula to give baby, how to get baby to sleep or what temperature the bath water should be along with the emotional support required for new mums.
But what of the second time mums? Why does that support drop away? 90% of my mum friends who have two or more children all agree that the second brings with it such different challenges. People assume you’ve got this, and in isolation you would probably be ok with caring for a baby or caring for a toddler, you’ve done it before after all, but caring for them together is a whole other story. Going out with two is so much harder with one so you end up staying home more, adding to the feelings of isolation.
I asked a few friends how they found the experience of having their second baby and I loved what my good friend Kylie from Kidgredients shared with me. “So you think you’ve got this parenting gig all sorted, then along comes number two. And all of the newborn stuff has to happen…but at the same time as all the toddler stuff. Nappies never need changing one at a time…they seem to do simultaneous poopage and that results in the need to make decisions like: “do I change the toddler first who might put their hands in their nappy and smear it everywhere or the newborn that might fall asleep in a poop covered jumpsuit?
“Everything that you took for granted when you had just one baby vanishes over night. Nap times never coincide and you can kiss goodbye to your social life. And those memes about turning coffee into iced coffee? They are all true.”
Looking back now, two years post my initiation into the mum-of-two club, and to be honest it has taken me nearly that long to find my rhythm with two kids, I can say that it was all worth it. Despite the challenges and sleepless nights and tears, I wouldn’t change it for the world. To see my youngest, now the same age her sister was when we decided it was time to give her a sibling, looking up to her big sister with adoration and love, fills my heart with so much love. And then there is the joy I feel when I see my big girl continuing to step up to the big sister plate, taking on the role of protector, carer, teacher and friend.
We need to shift the “you’ll be right, you’ve done this before” conversation to one of sharing our universal experiences and learning from each other rather than the assumption that if you were ok with one that you will be ok with two. To know that it is ok to feel lost and clueless, even if it is your second baby. To still feel the arms of your village firmly around you so you can reach out to them for help. To talk more about life with two kids and not just the sibling fights as they get older or preparing meals for them as they reach different stages, but to talk about the reality of those early days of life with two little people who draw every drop of energy from within you.
There is no sugar coating the challenges that second time motherhood brings but talking more about the difficulties, the rewards and leaning in to support mums, no matter how many children they have, is part of the remedy.
Sara Keli is the Editor of Kid Magazine. When she isn’t writing, designing or creating, you can find her enjoying the sunshine on her back deck with her two daughters or escaping into a good book.
Image: Hipster Mum for Mums & Co x Little Scribe at NUBO