The other afternoon, one of the neighbors we’ve become friendly with stopped by with his daughter, whose age is smack dab in the middle of my daughters’. As the girls played, we started talking about him and his wife, who are expecting their second child next month. Before I knew it, these words were coming out of my mouth: “Not to scare you, but two kids is damn hard.”
He seemed taken aback and I hastened to correct myself. I didn’t mean to be so blunt.
“Oh, but for some people it isn’t that bad.”
“We had them 22 months apart, so it’ll definitely be easier for you.”
“Every baby’s different!”
By the end of my backpedaling, he wasn’t as freaked out. Good. I made him feel better, just like everyone made me feel better both during the end of my second pregnancy and during the first few months of that new foreign landscape known as dun dun DUN!…”Mom of Two.”
With him, I backpedaled. Here, I’ll be honest.
At the beginning, having two kids SUCKS. It just plain sucks. It’s hard and exhausting and emotionally draining. And here’s the thing: people don’t tell you that before. Or they kinda do, but they couch it in niceties, like I did just a few days ago. They do that so you won’t freak out, so you don’t spend the last few months of your pregnancy dreading the future or crying hysterically while crawling under your covers and pretending it’s a secret cave where nobody will ever, ever find you, least of all a tiny creature whose only desire is to suckle from your breast.
It’s a smart idea, actually, this deliberate state of ignorance. But on the other hand, it would be nice to have a bit of reality mixed in, too, especially so moms (and dads) don’t start to think that they’re going crazy, that they’re the only ones in the world who are sad and miserable and wondering why things aren’t better.
We were one of those couples. On the outside, it looked like everything was going great. I was still a stay-at-home mom and my husband had a glorious five-week paternity leave. I breastfed easily and our second daughter never woke up when her new baby sister cried in the middle of the night. There was no raging sibling rivalry and everyone was healthy.
I didn’t understand why I wasn’t more grateful for the life I had.
Here’s the thing: I knew to watch out for postpartum depression. With my first daughter, given my history with mental health issues, I’d half expected to have PPD. For some wonderful reason, I dodged that bullet. Even so, my husband and I still knew we should be on the lookout for PPD with our second child. I knew the symptoms. I knew when to ask for help and he knew when to offer it.
I didn’t have postpartum depression, though. I was happy most of the time. I loved my baby and marveled over her new baby smell. I reveled in feeling her nestle into me and latch on for her evening feeding.
Most of the time. 80% of the time.
The rest of the time, I was a bundle of nerves. I felt guilty about ignoring my older daughter to spend all this time with the baby. I felt guilty that my husband had to do more childcare than he was used to (and he already did a lot) and tried to ease his load. I felt guilty when my husband was tired and cranky, even the screams in the middle of the night weren’t my fault. I felt guilty that I wasn’t writing as much as I was before.
I felt guilty that I didn’t feel as bonded with my new daughter than I had with my firstborn.
Writing this post is exhausting. Reading this post is exhausting. I don’t even want to remember how I actually felt when I was living that reality.
Because I felt guilty all the time. For not being everything to everyone. For not feeling what I thought I was supposed to feel. For not realizing that, yeah, this is hard. Balancing taking care of two kids under two is hard enough without loading on the responsibility of making sure both of them are completely fulfilled, paid attention to, and adored at any given moment. (Yep, I was trying to be Supermom. Supermom on three hours of sleep a night.)
It’s impossible. It’s a fool’s errand. It’ll make you fall apart.
I did fall apart. I remember at one point, when the baby was around a month old, crying hysterically at two am to my husband that I wished we could just return her to the hospital and go back to the way things were before.
I remember being so tired during many of those early night feedings that I literally screamed at the top of my lungs to get all of the tension out of me.
I remember people telling me that it got better after a month. People telling me that it got better after three months.
It didn’t. And that was the hardest part. I had this magical deadline in my head:
Ooooh! After the calendar clicks over to this date, the baby will start sleeping more and the spit-up will stop and you won’t feel like you’re pulled in twenty different directions and the Publisher’s Clearing House guy will show up at your door with a billion dollar check. Accompanied by a rainbow unicorn, of course.
It got a little better after five months, after the newborn stage started to slip away.
Confession: my husband and I are not newborn people. I know you’re supposed to say that you love newborns and that it’s utter bliss to have a prone infant curled up on your chest for hours on end. That newborns are adorable. They smell wonderful and the cuddles are super great.
But man, newborns can suck. Some friends of ours call it the “needy pet rock” stage. They cry and grunt and writhe and spit-up and eat and poop and pee (on you, the wall, the changing table, and many other surfaces) and want want want. It’s hard to give so much and not “get” anything in return.
Then the smiles comes. The babbling. The movement. That’s where it starts to get fun. I love six months and on. Six months and on is easier for me. But somehow I forgot that between babies one and two. And I felt like I was a hideous person, a hideous mother, for not loving my baby all the time.
Those are the key words here: “I felt like.”
I felt like a hideous mother.
I felt like a bad mom.
I felt like I wasn’t being enough to everybody and creating the perfect, blissful life that we were supposed to be living.
And because I was judging myself, I made things worse.
I had post-partum anxiety, not post-partum depression. I never officially got diagnosed, but I diagnosed myself. I didn’t figure out that something was really wrong until a year after becoming a mother of two, though.
After I realized that not feeling connected to my baby right away didn’t mean I didn’t love her.
After she started sleeping more.
After I’d started to ease up on myself a bit for not always being able to be there for both kids every single minute of the day.
After I realized that it was okay if sometimes one of them got the majority of my attention. That the pendulum would swing the other way soon and they’d have to live with that. That’s what life with a sibling is like, after all.
I got a lot better. Four or so months in, I couldn’t imagine life with only one kid. I was still anxious, though. I was anxious and self-critical until around my younger daughter was around one.
That’s when I realized that something else was going on.
When I was playing with both kids (including a newly mobile 11-month-old) outside and had to call my husband in a panic, sobbing that “I can’t do this, oh my god how can I take care of two kids who are running all over the place!”
When I got the part-time job of my dreams and spent a good portion of my work hours miserable because I felt like I was failing my girls by being away from them.
When I started obsessing about my body.
That’s when I called my doctor and went on medication. It’s not a magic solution for everyone, but it worked for me. Within two weeks, I started to feel better. The strange almost-panic attacks and chest-tightening stopped. I started to realize that life was, in fact, pretty good.
The common theme running throughout all my struggles in life is my desire to be perfect. In body, in motherhood, in my writing, whatever. It’s the one major goal of that whacked out part of my brain that’s always looking to destroy me.
When I became a mom, I didn’t lose that part of me. It wasn’t this transformative “now I have a family so all of the weird issues I have will disappear” experience. I’m still me. I still worry. I’m always going to worry about certain things.
My issues (and how I’ve overcome my issues) are what make me unique. As a result they’re going to affect my motherhood and make that experience unique, too.
One thing I wish I’d been told before becoming a mom of two is that it won’t get better after a month. It won’t get better after three months or five months or twelve.
It’ll get better when it gets better. It might not even be hard at all. Your experience isn’t my experience.
Just remember that if you do have a hard time, then that’s okay. Don’t pull yourself apart trying to be everything to everyone. Because in the end, it wasn’t the pulling that made me fall part. Of course I was going to have a twenty-two month old grabbing at my hand and a one week old over my shoulder and a husband upstairs napping. Of course I was going to be exhausted and starving, with a living room full of unvacuumed carpet.
That’s what happens after birth.
The problem came when I didn’t let myself fall apart. When I didn’t forgive myself for doing it. Instead, I denied that it was happening. I got mad at myself for being human. If I’d accepted and embraced the complete transformation my world was undergoing, the complete transformation my sense of self was undergoing, I might have been fine.
Maybe not. I can never know that. But rearing back against these changes, not accepting that maybe I wouldn’t be the best mom to everyone for a while, that maybe life would suck for a bit, that’s what made everything worse.
What made things better was accepting what was changing in my life. And realizing that I didn’t have to be depressed to be struggling. That anxiety is a very serious thing, too.
Here’s what I’d tell that neighbor of mine if we had that conversation again: “The transition to two kids can be hard. It’s different for everyone, but no matter how your experience is, that experience is completely normal for you. Embrace it. Roll with it. Flow with it.”
Don’t fight the love coming into your life. Maybe you’ll feel like you don’t have enough love to go around. Maybe you’ll feel like you’re shortchanging everyone else, even yourself.
You’re not. You’re adjusting. The love is there. It’ll come back. There’s enough for them.
There’s enough for you.