On January 21, we welcomed our second little boy, Walter Lawrence. He had a fairly uneventful birth (I actually went into labor after my water broke this time!) and shocked us all by being 10 pounds, 5 ounces. We’re slowly adjusting to life as a family of four, with tons and tons of help from my mom.
It still seems incredible that they just give you a second child and expect you to figure it out. I now voraciously read anything about the early adjustment to two children.
Before I got pregnant with Walter, I was equal parts annoyed and terrified by new moms of two who said, “Looking back, life was so easy with just one child.” I did not find one child easy, and at no point did I have a surplus of free time. If these moms looked back at their previous free time, now filled with the demands of a second child, how could I—with no free time—ever add to our family?
Yet here we are. My mom assured me that even with one child, twenty-four hours are filled with childcare. Another child doesn’t change that. I see what she means now. Even if your one child naps or sleeps, you are always on call, always alert. And there are no givens. I’m not guaranteed a sleeping child at a certain time. I’m always present, always aware, and always dealing with demands and requests unless someone else is watching my child. This unpredictability was truer for me in the first year of Liam's life than the year and a half since.
For the last two weeks, my mom kept Liam overnight. He’s never been a great sleeper and has always slept with me, so she helped him adjust to his own bed. So during the night and early mornings, I got to re-experience life with just a newborn. And this time, the baby part does seem easier. I look back and wonder how I was overwhelmed with just one baby and a house to care for. Why was it so hard to take care of my baby and get a few things done each day? Why does having just one child seem easier now than it did at the time? I think there are two reasons.
First, I’ve been less fearful and more confident this time. Few new parents can escape the fear and shocking newness of a newborn. I was scared to put the baby down, nervous about whether I was doing everything right from diaper changes to umbilical cord care to getting the baby dressed. I also blamed myself for everything. If the baby was fussy, clearly I had eaten something that affected my milk. If he cried, I was sure we were over or under-stimulating him.
This time, I spend less time Googling and more time reading or resting. I accept Walt’s fussiness in stride. Sleep has been simpler (because I have realistic expectations), and even handling the baby has been better because we are confident. I can put him down, step out of the room to grab something, and he will survive. I don’t have to be engaging him constantly, nor can I. I know about wearing him in a sling and I realize his sleep is supposed to be broken at this point (plus at no point in the last 2.5 years have I experienced unbroken sleep, so that helps).
I also know that no matter what, I can’t control how Walt sleeps or eats or anything else in the long-run. Babies have inborn temperaments. I witnessed this in the car when my mom and I took both boys to my follow-up doctor’s appointment. Liam used to cry inconsolably in the car, and anytime he cried, he grew more and more upset. Walter cried seemingly inconsolably but actually calmed himself down, which was a shock. This has been consistently true of Walt--he can cry and calm himself, while Liam never could. I expect to find more differences between their termperments as time goes on.
It’s also easier to enjoy this time because feelings aren’t as raw and new. I knew to expect those crazy tears as my hormones bottomed out three days after Walt was born. I still gaze into his eyes and have crazy amounts of happy and sad—thinking about the person he will become and how short this stage is. But these feelings aren't as painful as the first time. I enjoy this stage without clinging to it, knowing there is good stuff ahead, as well.
In addition to the confidence born of experience, there’s another reason I think life with one child is not necessarily easier. I fully believe life is about our sanctification. It finally hit me last fall that God is probably not going to let us get in a place where things are easy and we have it all together.
Life is constantly changing. In no area is this as clear as parenting. There’s rarely a “normal” for more than a few weeks or maybe months. This doesn’t mean I’m doing something wrong as a mom. It is just the way of life with babies and toddlers. And the challenges are designed to make me rely on God, not myself.
I used to think I had unlimited patience and gentleness in my relationship with Liam. But in the past year as he’s developed his own will, I see how little patience I actually have. I see my need for prayer as well as advice from people I trust. I also know now that I can’t do it all, and I am getting better at accepting help.
I don’t look back at life with one and think those days were easy; they had hard, exhausting, and confusing parts, too. In fact, reflecting on those days gives me more clarity about what was so hard and helps me weather difficult moments and days more easily. While it's nice to have only one baby and be able to grab a nap anytime he naps, there's also something nice about having a toddler to talk to and help out and get you going on tired days.
Like anything totally new and hard, there's so much beauty too. In the big brother's hands splashing water on Baby's belly during his first bath. In that sun-drenched afternoon when it was finally just the four of us and no one was screaming. And in the toddler who clings to his stuffed kitty as he toddles to his own bed for the first time (and the 4am journey back to Mama's bed, too).