I knew from the get-go that I wasn't going to be a "one and done" mom if there was anything I could do about it. In my blended family, I have two brothers and two sisters, and I always wanted my kids to have siblings, too. My mother-in-law raised four boys, and my mom had my sister and me just 13 months apart (and as a single mom to boot!). I was capping it at two, had a supportive partner, and my kids would be three years apart. I could totally handle it. I’ll admit I was warned that the addition of another child would be a difficult transition, but I truly had no idea what was in store for me when I went from one to two kids.
As a single-child family, we had a busy life, but I was handling it like a boss (if I do say so myself). I took care of my daughter for 12 months while my husband was deployed, and during that year, I went back to work part-time. Upon his return, he started a job that was so demanding he left the house before we got up and, if we were lucky, was home before bedtime. Baby girl and I had our own battle rhythm. I had a goal to raise her bilingually, so I enrolled her in the closest Spanish preschool— 50 miles away. I’d drop her off three mornings a week, post up at Starbucks to write, pick her up, and head home. The rest of our schedule consisted of dance classes, playdates, and Family Resource Group duties. Like I said, busy.
Surely the addition of one more couldn’t make that much of a difference? Ha.
When our son was born, the adjustment wasn’t initially so bad. There was all the normal exhaustion associated with having a newborn in the house, but thanks to paternity leave, we had two adults tending to his needs. My daughter turned out to be a doting, helpful big sister, and my husband was even taking charge of nighttime wakings so I could get some sleep. I had taken unpaid leave from my writing and consulting gigs, and my friends had provided us with more than a week’s worth of dinners. My second attempt at breastfeeding was an unmitigated failure, so I was working out a system of pumping regularly and supplementing my low supply with formula. Other than that, though, we were really enjoying our time as a family of four.
After 10 glorious days, my husband returned to work. I remember distinctly our first day alone and realizing that every feeding, load of laundry, diaper change, potty visit, and booboo was on me. I had to figure out how to pump while keeping an eye on my sleeping baby and simultaneously holding my sensitive little girl between my breasts. The first time I attempted to take both kids somewhere by myself was an utter fiasco. By the time I got the two of them dressed and ready, packed the diaper bag for every imaginable situation (blowouts, spills, the zombie apocalypse), and buckled them into their car seats, I was in tears. It sounds silly to me looking back, especially now that I do it all the time, but it was such an overwhelming feeling — the sheer terror of suddenly being outnumbered.
Things did not improve when I went back to work and my daughter returned to school. To begin with, the baby did not take kindly to the commute, and I felt guilty for having him in the car seat for so long. Just getting them both in and out of the car and then attempting to get the preschooler settled in a new classroom while not completely ignoring the baby was enough to set off my anxiety. Once the two of us had arrived at the coffee shop, I had to pump in the parking lot. I spent the next three hours working with my baby strapped to my chest, taking breaks for diaper duty and feedings. Later that night, I cried so hard about my aching body that my husband didn’t even blink at the $150 price tag on a new carrier.
This went on for several months before I came to terms with the fact that something had to give. I was so exhausted by the time I was getting home that sometimes I would just sit in the garage and stare off into space because the kids were quiet at the moment and I knew that as soon as I got in, I’d have to unpack, prep dinner, and attend to their constant needs. The plan was working well for my daughter, but the baby was getting the raw end of the deal. Thanks to the car napping, I’d been unable to establish a regular schedule for him, and it showed in his perpetual fussiness. As an older baby, he was less and less willing to be worn. I was taking a hit as well. I wasn’t as efficient as before, so I would often skip lunch or stay up late to get more work done.
I think my mistake was thinking I could somehow still manage everything I was doing before the baby came. I’d had the presence of mind to quit one of my freelance gigs, but I didn’t give up much else. Fortunately, my family’s impending move caused me to both reevaluate and modify my lifestyle. The two best things I did for myself in our last months in our home were outsourcing the housecleaning and accepting friends’ offers to watch the baby while I worked. I hated to pull my daughter from her beloved school, but the move forced my hand. In our new location, I hired a nanny. She comes to our house and watches the kids three mornings a week, and I only work when she’s here.
I’ve had to accept that I won’t be able to do everything for my son that I did for my daughter, and that that doesn’t mean his experience will be somehow subpar. He may not be in the same Mommy and Me classes, but we do songs and finger play at home. We don’t go on as many outings, but I try to make errands fun (there’s actually quite a lot to amuse a baby in Target). He’s not getting as much Spanish from me, but his babysitter is from Colombia. I was my daughter’s sole caregiver when she was his age, but working makes me feel good and that makes me a better mom during the time I am with my children. Perhaps best of all, he has something she didn’t — a sibling.
There’s something about the transition from one to two kids that makes it feel more like five. It’s not that I think moms of only children have it easy nor do I think I have it harder than single moms or moms of three plus kiddos. But I do think that those of us who have been through it can recognize what a challenge it is and encourage each other that not only are our feelings valid, but that it does get better with time. I wasn’t as ready as I thought, but I’m muddling through. I’ve got a hand for each kid — I’ll be just fine.