Monday, 25 June 2012

Transition to Two

I meant to do this post to celebrate my daughter turning one.  She's now sixteen months old, and it's occurred to me that if I don't actually sit down and write it, she'll be sixteen years old and I'll be fretting about the transition back to one again....

Ahem!  So what was it like going from one to two?  For me anyway, since everybody's different--and I'm sure the age gap is a big factor here: ours is two years, two months.  Some people feel that going from one to two is harder than zero to one; for me it was the other way around.  The culture shock of life with a baby eclipsed the shock of juggling two children by a long shot.  But I really did struggle for the first few months of my son's life, so perhaps that's not surprising. 

It certainly had nothing to do with the babies themselves, since technically speaking, my son was much easier than my daughter.  I think, for me, a lot of it depended on knowing that these difficult stages really do pass.  I mean, I knew they would with my son, but having experienced the improvement firsthand made it a lot easier to tolerate the bad times with my daughter.  There's also the fact that I knew what I had found hard the first time around and took what steps I could to mitigate those factors the second time.

What I Didn't Expect

The biggest thing that went against my expectations was that instead of the first child getting neglected for the second, the second gets neglected for the first.  Other mothers I've spoken to have confirmed this, so, without having conducted an extensive survey, I believe this is the norm rather than the exception.  Perhaps if your older child is much older it's different, but if you have a baby and a toddler, expect the toddler to come first.

Obviously the baby requires more actual care than the toddler, but the toddler's needs are always more immediate.  The baby might be hungry, but the toddler has got himself stuck while trying to climb the stepstool in the kitchen.  The baby's soiled her nappy, but the toddler has wet himself.  The baby wants a cuddle, but the toddler is throwing toys at the television.  And while I could arrange my day around my son's napping and feeding routine, my daughter's routine had to be scheduled around her brother's school run.

Even more guilt-inducing, you don't quite relive the magic of the first child.  I remember how much I loved watching my son's personality blossom during the first two years of his life.  I never felt the same way with my daughter.  A lot of it is because I have less time to sit back and watch her, as I did with my son.  Part of it is just because the novelty has worn off.  "Oh, there's another tooth.  Hey, did you hear your brother count to twelve?"

So if there's one thing I've learned, it's not to compare the babyhood of your first with your second, nor to strive to relive it.  With my son's birth, the most fondly-remembered part for me was when they lifted him out of me and laid him on my tummy, all in one smooth, soft-focus moment.  My daughter's was a more difficult birth and on delivery she was whisked ten feet away for a hasty check, and I was briefly devastated to lose that moment.

Less than two minutes later, she was placed on my chest, screaming her head off.  Her eyes found mine, and she stopped crying.  That's the abiding memory of my daughter's birth that I cherish, and it's not one she has in common with her brother.

That's the key: different, not worse, and most certainly not less.  My son had the benefit of my attention maybe, but my daughter has the benefit of my experience.  I had all the time in the world to lavish on my son, but my daughter has the extra stimulation of her brother's company.  And now, of course, she's reached the age where my son was getting carted around to various doctor's appointments as we embarked upon this whole second child thing.  She gets none of that, because she's the second and last.

A Niche Delight

Having our family be complete (we always envisioned having two children, and we still felt two was the magic number after either birth) felt great.  Surprisingly great.  I remember for the first few weeks of my daughter's life, I couldn't stop revelling over the fact that we had our two children, and used the phrase 'family of four' at every available opportunity.

This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'd had to deal with the concept that we might not have any children at all; I had certainly stopped taking the idea of having two children for granted.  To actually have our two "take-home babies" seemed like an overwhelming blessing.

But also there was a certain relief in knowing that this was the last time we ever had to do the sleepless nights, the hysterical crying for no obvious reason, the painful breasts, etc, etc.  Knowing that all that difficult baby stuff would be over and done with after my daughter made it much easier--yeah, with my son, I spent far too much time in irrational despair that every hard part was hopefully to be repeated with a not-yet-conceived second child.

Clearly, there's a lot of sadness in knowing that certain baby things will never happen again (like carrying my tiny baby against my chest, feeling her grab a lock of hair in each fist).  But I have to acknowledge that not having killer sleep deprivation or sour milk regurgitated down my cleavage is a pretty good silver lining.  Plus, as I already learned, you can't relive any child's babyhood simply by having another.

The Sibling's Point of View 

I remember that I didn't want to enforce any sort of relationship on my son, so I didn't talk much to him about becoming a big brother, and since we didn't know the new baby's sex in advance, we never talked in terms of having a little brother or sister either.  I wanted him to decide for himself what the new baby would be towards him.

I was never entirely sure if he understood what I meant when I told him we were going to have a baby.  He went to all my ultrasounds, and got to the point when as soon as the grey blobs showed up on screen, he'd declare: "Baby!"  I had him feel my tummy when the baby kicked and had hiccups, which didn't seem to interest him at all.

I felt that, considering the toddler's natural disposition to egocentricity, the best way to prepare him was to relate it back to his own babyhood.  And considering my natural disposition towards books, the best way to show him was to make a book about him as a baby.  So I scoured the photo archive, pulled up MS Publisher and knocked off a book: "When [my son] was a Baby."

The 'story' ran along the lines of: "He grew inside Mummy's tummy.  When he was big enough, Mummy and Daddy went to the hospital so he could be born.  He drank special milk from Mummy's breast..."  Basically, I tried to cover all the things that he'd see the new baby doing, so it wouldn't be too strange to him.

I don't know how well it worked, but he loved the book--still does (I suppose at some point, I'll have to make one for his sister as well)!  I do think that having actual photographs of our own personal baby equipment helped, not to mention of the hospital where he came to visit his sister for the first time.  And we never seemed to have a rejection of his sister (though we definitely had the novelty wear off).

It should be noted though, that for all our talk of the baby coming out, he was still absolutely gobsmacked when he came to visit me in hospital and saw an actual baby in the bassinet next to me.  All he could say for about ten minutes was: "Out!  It came out!"  But he was happy about it.  When we were discharged a couple of days later, he was so excited to hear that the baby could come home that he grabbed hold of her carseat and said: "Bye, Mummy!" apparently uninterested in the irrelevant detail that I was coming too.

Once she was home, he grew pretty ambivalent towards her.  As I've already said, she ended up getting neglected in favour of his needs anyway, so he would show brief episodes of interest in her before getting on with his own activities.  His behaviour did deteriorate, but that was as much because I could no longer be so on the spot with him as because of jealousy.  I fretted over this for awhile, but I discovered that once I had the freedom to target his behaviour once more, he responded fairly well.  He always has been more difficult, but that's probably what would have happened with age anyway.

I don't know whether it was his age or her age that was the trigger, but she was about seven months and he was almost three when he suddenly started playing with her.  It might have been part of his switch from wanting attention from adults to wanting to play with children, or it might have been the fact that she could sit up and was thus easier to interact with.  But it was earlier than I expected, and one of the most insane joys of having two children has definitely been (and still is!) watching them play together.

Tactical Advice

As I said earlier, one of the big advantages of the second child is knowing what you found hard with the first and preparing accordingly.  For example, I knew that I craved adult conversation during the hard times, so we staggered family visits with my husband's paternity leave (inasmuch as we could plan transatlantic flights when we could only guess the birthdate).  First my husband was home for two weeks, then my parents came out for two weeks, then his mother, then his sister with her family...  I had a few days or so between each of them where I was on my own, but thanks to this plan, I only had a few days alone at a time for the first three months of my daughter's life.

Sleep deprivation is always a killer, and the trouble with the second child is that the first one isn't taking as many naps as you would like to take.  "Sleep when the baby sleeps" is no longer feasible (not that this ever worked for me anyway; thanks, daytime insomnia).  Best tip I received for this, hands down, is to have a soft place where you can lie next to your playing toddler.  It doesn't have to be elaborate: I found a single cushion on the floor worked wonders, because at least I could put my head down even if I couldn't sleep.  Having toys on my nightstand worked too, so I could have the children playing on the bed while I rested.

NB I went through a stage where I didn't dare drive, because I was so drowsy all the time.  Be prepared for home-based activities.

One of the best things I did, starting in late pregnancy when I was trying to keep my feet up as much as possible, was to set up (and cycle through) a number of toys/activities that could be done on a lap-tray.  I kept the tray by the sofa, and the activities on the shelves where my son could reach them.  He would carry them over to me, we would play with them together and then he'd put them away again (I was very firm on that latter; refusing to move onto the next activity until the first had been put away).

It's fairly easy to find toddler toys that fit on a tray: we had a Russian doll, stacking/nesting barrels, those Melissa and Doug jigsaw puzzles in a box, plus others I've forgotten (and don't forget a basket of books as well).  It would generally take us twenty minutes to go through them all: twenty minutes in which my feet would be up; twenty minutes in which my daughter could nurse while I played with my son one-handed; twenty invaluable minutes where my son was happily occupied even though I never moved from the sofa.

It should be noted that the order of that set-up has long since been lost (right around the time my daughter could get to the shelves herself).  But it was my lifeline for at least six months.

Clearly this is all just my experience, and life with a newborn and a one year old or a newborn and an older child would be very different again.  Still, it's definitely a topic that was preying on my mind before my daughter was born, something that I consulted with my friends about and something that I get consulted on.  So for whatever it's worth, it's now written down before it gets too stale in my mind.


  1. This is like solid gold to me right now, so thank you! I am definitely appreciating every moment that I don't have to get up. I was so proud of myself for picking up a grape with my toes tonight...

    I think that lesson about the impossibility of reliving or recreating is such an important one, but so hard to understand until you live through it. I know I worry about the differences between the two experiences, but I suspect I'll be in a similar place a few years from now. Different, not worse, not better, just different.

    1. Even though I've theoretically learned that lesson, I still feel guilty over the differences. Mind you, as they get older, it looks like it's shifting towards her being the one who needs the immediate attention, while my son gets told to 'hold on!', so perhaps the guilt will swing the other way again.

      Ooh, another tip for the pregnancy period: train your toddler to pick up stuff for you. My son was ruthlessly exploited in this regard.