The first time you’re pregnant, everyone has advice for you. Between the books, friends, the mothers, and the mothers-in-law, everyone has something to tell you. While some of it might have even been worthwhile, much of it, in terms of what was best for you and your baby, you had to figure it out on your own.
I remember feeling like I had figured it out. My daughter and I were in a happy routine during our days together, and as a family, we really did know what worked for us. We were rocking life as a family of three, and so, adding a second child seemed like the natural next step. We loved being parents and wanted our daughter to have that connection that comes from being a sibling.
This time, instead of practical advice about sleeping positions and breastfeeding, I was given mysterious hints about what lay ahead. Cryptic messages such as, “You have no idea what you’re in for,” and “Enjoy her now because nothing will ever be the same again” were dropped at me.
“How hard could it be?” I thought. As a former teacher, I should have known. Just because something worked the first time doesn’t mean it was going to work the second time. Everything felt different, our feeding schedule wasn’t really a schedule, and we won’t even pretend we had a nap routine this second time around.
In hindsight, the truth is, there were a few specific tips I do wish I had been given.
First of all, I wish I had been encouraged to be in the pictures with my children. At the time, I avoided being photographed, volunteering to take all of the pictures instead. After all, my hair wasn’t always washed, and it had taken on a completely new texture, one that I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with. I had baby weight in places I didn’t know I could get baby weight and, in general, just felt awful about my appearance.
I wish someone had told me what I would feel like, nineteen years later, hunting through photos, desperately wanting to look at a picture of my baby and me. I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to display those photos but that someday, I’d wish I had them just for myself.
Another thing I wish someone had told me was about that darn baby book. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that with your first child you filled out diligently, recording the important information such as length and weight, as well as the not so important details like who came to visit during the baby’s first week home.
I know I “had no time” to spend on that, but it’s amazing how quickly I forgot everything I was so sure I’d remember. In case you’re questioning it, mommy's brain is real! That fog that surrounded you and ate away at your memory when you were a new mother only gets worse the second time around. I wish I had found the time to document more fully my second child’s first year, even if it meant asking someone else to fill in those pages for me. Pictures are great, but they don’t tell the whole story. Someday, my son will find his sporadically written in a baby book, compare it to his older sister’s, and look at me the same way I looked at my mother when I realized she didn’t fill one in for me the way she did for my older brother.
Looking back, I should have known better, in fact, I did know better, but I would have benefitted from a reminder not to compare developmental milestones in my two children. It was so hard not to, and by the time I finished reading about birth order and boy versus girl observations, I probably had enough information to write a whole thesis on this topic.
I would have benefited from reminders that no two children develop at the same pace or on the same schedule. Come to think of it, my pediatrician did tell me this, but clearly not strong enough. Those sleepless nights spent worrying would have been better spent… well, sleeping.
And in terms of sibling relationships…. When my youngest was a toddler and my oldest starting to develop friends outside of our house, I was so proud of the way I had fostered this loving relationship they had. My younger one was allowed to tag along and join in on playdates. The big sister shared her toys, and they truly enjoyed playing together. My husband and I had clearly done such a great job.
Why didn’t anyone warn me that it might not last? Maybe it was the boy-girl thing; maybe it was when they developed different interests, maybe it was growing pains. But wow, was I shocked when those no trespassing signs went up on their bedroom doors, and they spent years moving in separate universes.
A warning would have been great, as well as reassurance that the best thing we could do, was to continue to carve out family time. Those family days and vacations that we insisted on were laying the foundation for when they’d come back together and reclaim their sibling relationship. A crystal ball into the future would have been nice to have had, as there’s nothing better than knowing that your young adult children face-time and visit each other, without their parents telling them to.
It’s easy to sit here all these years later and share these words of wisdom. It’s been nineteen years since I gave birth to my second, and the truth is, in some ways, I’m still waiting for the mommy brain to lift completely. There’s always something to worry about, something to try and plan for, always someone else to think about. I’m starting to think it may never go away.
Yet if anyone has ever told you to embrace every mess and to live in the moment because it goes by fast, well, that’s truly the most important advice you should listen to.