Somewhere around two or three years postpartum, many parents start thinking of another baby. Such adorable things this little human does, and says! What a rewarding journey this has been! Sure, it was hard at the beginning—but everyone survived. Why not do it again?
And if it’s happening again, it might as well be now; they’ll be close enough in age to play, and you increase your odds of having at least one child who will care for you in your old age.
That, and your friend’s baby at the park last week was so sweet-smelling and cuddly in your arms that your ovaries started working overtime. Now you’re coursing with hormones that make your mate look sexy.
Pregnancy flies by because you’re so busy with the sibling-to-be. You’ve already got the big stuff, like a car seat (somewhere in the garage) and a baby swing (also somewhere in the garage). You already know how the nursing, bathing, diapering, teething, feeding, sleeping, not sleeping, biting, soothing, rocking, rolling, and bumping goes.
This should be easy. Right?
Here’s What to Expect When You’re No Longer Expecting
From the very second a new baby is born, everything about your prior reality splinters to the floor. Now there is another person whose primary need and desire is to have your total and complete present-moment attention at all times. The demand on your bandwidth has suddenly multiplied.
The pre-existing child, with whom you’d come to enjoy a close and rewarding relationship, is slowly realizing what it really means to have “A New Baby!” and is forming a deep-seeded sense of competition and scarcity while throwing tantrums and generally pushing your every known button.
About those buttons. God forbid your inner child gets activated and you start projecting your own childhood trauma and drama, only now the stakes are staggering because you’re imprinting upon your innocent children, destroying their angelic perfection, likely laying the groundwork for depression, dependence, and dis-ease.
Partners, if pictured, attempt to serve and protect but have no real frame of reference for what it takes to care for fully-dependent-yet-completely-divergent human beings around the clock. And, God forbid your partner’s inner child gets activated, too. All sexiness evaporates. You feel lonely, even though you’re surrounded. You don’t feel seen, heard, or met in your relationship, even though you’re in it together.
As the new baby gets bigger, there finally comes the ability for the siblings to play. This part works out great, provided your definition of “play” includes every kind of fighting imaginable. Fighting over two inches of couch space. Fighting over the color of a spoon. Fighting over goddamn air—essentially, whatever they both come into contact with at the same time.
What You’ll Want at the Ready
Compassionate Self-Acceptance. The best you can do—cliché but true—is your best. Let it be enough. Commit to radical self-acceptance, or sink in the quicksand of criticism. Radical self-acceptance embraces even the hairiest of stories and circumstances. Feeling frumpy or out-of-shape. Resenting people you love. Peeing, a little, in your pants. Dropped balls and things forgotten. The dark thoughts.
Community. Thanks to the individualistic ideals of modern society, motherhood is often tackled in relative isolation. This has never been a good idea, but now isolation will more or less destroy you. The sort of compassionate self-acceptance described above will support you in being transparent and vulnerable, so you truly feel seen. Support from family, friends (and the occasional stranger) is essential. Do not hesitate to fall back on your networks. Hopefully, your nets work. If not, reach out for help.
Pillows. They can be punched and/or screamed into. Your toddler doesn’t underestimate the validity of a good scream, and neither should you. It’s like a pressure release valve. (You can also scream in your car, if you ever find yourself alone in it.) At other times, pillows can be made into cozy piles for reading books, singing songs, or building forts. Note: books, songs, and forts should be kept at the ready, as well.
Water. You’ll need to drink a gallon a day. Especially if you’ve turned to wine, which is a popular choice, but not recommended as it stresses an already-taxed nervous system. Small bodies of water, such as bowls, baths, or kiddie pools, will entertain (and contain) children nicely when you need a change of pace. Finally, water itself is an excellent role model. “Be like water, my friend,” said Bruce Lee—who may or may not have been able to flow with the art of being at home with multiple small children.
Expert Advice. You might like winging things. This approach, also known as emergent, experiential, or experimental parenting, is deeply valid. That said, a few well-timed nuggets of wisdom from parents who are in a position to be objective can come in handy. There are many compelling conscious parenting guides out there. A few great ones include the works of Daniel Siegel, Shefali Tsabary, and Janet Lansbury.
What is the single best thing you can do to help yourself use these (and infinite other) life-saving tools? Cultivate a habit of slowing down and breathing deeply. Let yourself make one choice, answer one question, and solve one crisis at a time.