Earlier this week I talked with a new mom who has a three-week old baby and is desperate for sleep and concerned about her daughter’s persistent crying. We talked a lot about the anxiety of being a first-time mom and realizing you have no idea what you are doing. She asked me what I wished I would have known the first time around. So many things . . .
After visiting with her I kept thinking about how hard is hard. Whether you have one child or ten, hard is hard. Our conversation also got me thinking about how different things are for us this second time around.
When we learned we were pregnant again–before we had any inkling of twins–I remember thinking I was ready for baby #2. I had survived Rebekah’s baby years and was facing a whole new set of toddler challenges. I would never call myself an expert, but I knew I could step into the newborn and baby stages with more confidence and less anxiety. Or so I thought.
Shock #1: Twins. This floored us. We cried through our ultrasound. Shock, confusion, joy, and maybe a bit of anger flooded our minds. After our ultrasound we went to Chick-fil-A and just sat stunned starring at the photo of their two heads pressed together in my womb. A couple people stopped and asked us if we were ok and several watched us warily.
Shock #2: Both boys. I seriously thought we would have two more girls. It is possible I secretly wished this. I understood baby girls. But nope. Both babies were boys. So much for feeling like I knew what I was doing!
Now I am 6.5 months into this whole second-time mom thing. In many ways it has been easier than I expected, but in other ways so incredibly challenging.
What I Love:
1. I’m not constantly worried about making mistakes (except with our toddler):
When Rebekah was a baby I worried about everything that first year. I didn’t want any chemical to touch her skin, I felt like a failure when I started buying more baby food than I was making, I waffled between sleep methods (because the internet will tell you that no matter what you do it will inevitably mess up your child), and at one point I asked Mitch to unhook our WiFi. Then I realized we lived under a cell phone tower and could never escape what I perceived as *brain-tumor-causing* waves. He wasn’t so keen on going off the grid, so here we are . . . 😉
I’ve still had my anxiety-filled moments with the boys, but overall I am much more relaxed. I still hold many of my convictions, only with a lot more grace. Grace for myself, my children, and the choices of others. Not holding myself or my children to an unobtainable standard is freeing.
However, I am still struggling with the fear of messing up our daughter as Mitch and I navigate how to discipline and handle tantrums. Parenting books sometimes do more harm than good. I listened to a couple on audiobook recently that possessed almost opposite approaches. Both claimed (with supposed research) that failing to adhere to their method would mess up your child. Great . . . Fortunately, it made me realize that I need to give myself grace, own my mistakes when I make them, and trust my gut. Plus, every child is different. When I read/listen to books I take what makes sense to me and works with my child and I leave the rest.
2. I have less mom guilt plaguing me (most of the time):
Mom guilt can be an internal problem that follows us around like our own little raincloud of doubt in our abilities. Or worse, it can be a circling swarm of vultures critiquing our every move and ready to tear us down when we are at our weakest. Mom guilt, or what I think is actually shame, can come from an inner critic or a close family member, friends, Facebook posts, acquaintances, and sometimes the annoying and uncalled for judgement of strangers.
After suffering with the never-good-enough mentality with Rebekah, I’ve decided that parenting is not about being good enough. It is about doing our best and trusting God with the rest. This is not to say I don’t still have my moments. I’ve struggled with feeling like the boys get the short end of the stick. When it was just Rebekah it was easy to sit and read with her and build a special routine around reading. It has been so much harder with the boys. Their book exposure has been much less.
3. Perspective is a blessing:
It is amazing how frail memory can be. Things I swore I would never forget fade into an obscured recollection. And so often what we want to believe goes back and edits our memories, sanding down the rough edges and creating nostalgia. However, when memory serves me correctly I find that experience does bring perspective. And perspective brings peace.
When we are in the thick of a no-sleep stretch with our boys, we remember what it was like with Rebekah and know that it won’t last forever. The same goes for milestones. I was constantly worried that Rebekah was behind as a baby (see #1). In fact, she was usually a little early. Looking back I see this fear rooted in pride: somehow her progress was a reflection on my parenting ability. (This is a half-truth and dangerous lie we tell ourselves.) I fell into the ever-lethal comparison trap. When many babies seemed to be crawling at six months and she was still far from interested, I fretted that she was falling behind her peers.
With Daniel and Joseph temptation still emerges when I see someone post about their six-month-old pulling up or crawling. But I know better now. Perspective has taught me that they will do it when they are ready. Doing things early doesn’t make them geniuses, and doing things late doesn’t mean they are unintelligent or lazy. We are all just different.
Speaking of different, Daniel and Joseph couldn’t have more different personalities. Joseph is physically strong and determined. Daniel is less motivated physically, but exceptionally verbal and expressive. I did ask our pediatrician about Daniel not wanting to put pressure on his legs (he just started doing this today actually). I wasn’t real worried because they had already checked his hips, but some family members expressed concern. She assured me that he was fine. Apparently some babies just don’t like to stand while others want to all the time. Once again . . . personality.
What I am Struggling With:
1. I was prepared for one. Two is a game changer. #Hardishard #TryingNotToCompare:
Comparison leads no where I want to go, but sometimes I find myself complaining and thinking “This would be so much easier with one . . . ” This thought definitely occurs when I need to run into the store with all three kids. Someone should design an extra-wide cart. I don’t mind the double work load so much as the fact that so many things are designed for one baby at a time. Two makes everything trickier.
2. Boys–leaking diapers and awkward questions:
Is it just me or do boys’ diapers leak more? Though, contrary to popular opinion, our daughter did much more sneaky peeing when we changed her diaper than the boys have combined.
And yes, a couple weeks ago I went to urgent care to ask an awkward penis question. Before you leave the hospital, nurses should really give you the low down on how to clean and care for baby penises. Just saying. It’s not something you want to Google.
3. The gauntlet: not enough sleep, asking for help, too much junk food, and personal time (wait what is that again?):
This point is pretty self-explanatory. I do miss being able to sleep “when the babies sleep” like I could with Rebekah. Nursing leaves me starving and junk food is so much easier to just grab and eat. This time around has taught me that snack prep (for Rebekah and I) is just as important as meal prep. This is especially true because I have major carb and sugar cravings when tired. They give an instant–though short lived–boost of energy. Plus, I stress eat chocolate chips.
When I was pregnant with Daniel and Joseph, it felt like everyone was telling us to make sure we had a good support system. It seriously made me angsty. I knew we had many people who cared about us, but we had no easily-accessible family. Our closest family lives three hours away and none of our parents are close to retirement. We have friends, but they are busy with their own lives, and I don’t like feeling like a nuisance. Asking for help made me feel like an inconvenience to others (my projection not something they conveyed). As a result, Mitch and I have rolled up our sleeves and done our best by pushing through on our own most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, we were/are not without help. In fact when I stop and think about how kind and helpful people have been it is overwhelming in the best of ways. From Mitch’s aunt coming out for a few days to help to friends helping me in a pinch or dropping by my favorite chocolate muffins . . . we’ve had people loving on us. But once you get out of the newborn stage, a lot of help disappears.
During our current baby stage I’m learning the fine art of asking for help when I need it. It is humbling and sometimes feels like defeat. As moms we are told we can “do it all,” but in reality we cannot. I think there are many reasons for postpartum depression, most are hormonal. But I do wonder how much of it may be due to the isolation many moms face. There is something to the whole raising kids in community where you have support and be supportive of others.
This stage is supposed to be easier than the newborn stage, but I am feeling stretched in new ways, like learning to ask for help. When our boys were newborns they actually hit a phase of sleeping through the night (like 9-10 hours) for a month or so. It was bliss. Now, they wake up between 2-7 times a night. Hence . . . #4.
4. A different kind of postpartum anxiety:
I’ve been facing a different kind of anxiety this time around. With Rebekah my mood was fine, I just worried excessively about doing something wrong. This time around I’ve struggled with physical symptoms of anxiety and feeling much more on edge. Some days it seems to take all of my energy and focus to complete simple tasks (hence the infrequent blogging). I am seeking some help and answers to questions through natural routes first. If they don’t help I will look into other options. But for now I am trying to give myself grace, humbly ask for help when I need it, and try to take better care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Those of you who are second, third, fourth + times moms, what did you find got easier about parenting? What did you find challenging? What helped you during the hard times?