[My apologies in advance for this post being a bit longer than usual. I attempted to break it into two parts but, in the end, I think it’s best to read this story as one lengthy post.]
My dear second child,
You are amazing. The enthusiasm and joy you bring to our family is incredible. You have already taught us so much during these last few years and I cannot imagine our family feeling complete without you. I love you in the morning and in the afternoon. I love you in the evening and underneath the moon. You are so loved and wanted and cherished and I am so thankful that God gave you to us.
I love you.
I wasn't ready for him.
Life was shrouded in a fog for quite some time after his older brother was born. Recovering, physically & mentally, from his birth pushed me into a realm of discomfort and loneliness that I had never experienced. In fact, he was well over a year old before I started to think that maybe I could go through it all again. I'm sure people just rolled their eyes and chalked it up to "hormonal new mom" when they heard me proclaim that I was only going to have one child but, at that time, I was completely serious. Just thinking about the excruciating pain, tears, thoughts, helpless feelings that were present during the first few weeks of his life makes me cry. So many deeply personal and challenging moments--some that only my husband and I know about--and when I see pictures that were taken during that time of our lives, I tend to see beyond the smiles and relive the true emotions that were living beneath.
We always knew that we wanted more than one child. In fact, before our first child was born, we were confident we would have three children, maybe even four. And then he was born and I fully realized the enormity of motherhood. I suppose if we're being honest, I wasn't ready for my first child either. I felt as ready as I could be for something I had never experienced but at the end of the day, you can never be fully prepared for parenthood. You don't know what you don't know. Heck, five and half years later, I'm STILL a work in progress. There are moments when I am so overwhelmed with my love for my children that I almost can't breathe. They make my heart simultaneously burst and ache.
So...along came my first born, quickly followed by deep doubt that I would have another child. Some of you may not be able to connect with this feeling because, well, I know some of you were ready for another baby while your child was still an infant. Some of you have continued the dreams you had of many children and some of you discovered a desire for more children than you had ever thought you would have. Even my mom has told me that she never even imagined only having one or two children (I'm the youngest of three). That brings about the question---what was the big turning point for me? When did we decide we were ready for another child? I don't believe there was one specific moment where I thought, "Ok, the time is right." I actually don’t think there was ever a moment where I thought, “The time is right.” It was closer to, “We want them to be somewhat close in age so we should probably start trying soon.” There were a lot of God-designed moments and experiences over the first eighteen months of my oldest son's life that lessened my fear and anxiety (notice "lessened", not "eliminated") and that offered reassurance that even if I did had another difficult, post-birth experience, it wouldn't last forever. The joy comes in the morning, right? The darkness isn't eternal.
Two years apart. That had been the original plan. Well, the timeline was pushed to two and half to three years apart by the time we decided to start trying for Baby #2. I had been attending Stroller Strides for over a year and I know that God used the support and encouragement from this group to comfort my worries about having another baby. I would be entering this pregnancy in the best (at the time) physical shape of my life and have an already established support group for after the baby was born. We found out that I was pregnant with our second child on my husband's thirtieth birthday and the announcement was made with tears created by two-thirds excitement and one-third "holy-cow-no-going-back-i'm-not-ready". What if I couldn't love this baby as much as I loved my oldest? What if I couldn't be a good mom to both of them? What if my oldest thought he wasn't enough and that's why I was having another baby? Looking back, I can say that none of these questions are valid but they are certainly normal questions that so many moms in the same position ask themselves as some point. I love both of my boys beyond what I thought was possible. I am certainly not a perfect mom and yes, there are definitely aspects of parenting only one child that are simpler but there has been so much challenge and growth and joy and wonder that comes with parenting two (different, yet similar) children. There are so many moments when they drive me crazy and I feel like I'm failing them but there are also times when I look back at a situation and think, "Allison, you're a rockstar mom." :-)
I will never forget the night before my youngest was born. My induction was scheduled for 3:00 am, so putting my firstborn to bed was also going to be the last time I would see him until he came to the hospital with my parents to meet his little brother. I was a disaster. I’d like to think that I held myself together reasonably well while I was in his room with him but I know for a fact that I lost it as soon as I closed the door. I’m a very sentimental, emotional individual and closing the door to his room was like closing the door on that first chapter of my motherhood journey. His needs would no longer be the only needs I would be striving to meet. His hand would no longer be the only hand that needed to be held. His life was about to change, too. My heart hurt so much at the acknowledgement that my current normal, my current reality wasn’t going to remain the same. It’s difficult to verbalize all of this because it may come across as though I wasn’t excited about meeting my youngest son when in reality, I couldn’t wait! I couldn’t wait to see what he looked like and hold him and add another member to our family but I was also very nervous about repeating the difficult experience I had after our oldest was born. I was nervous about a challenging labor & delivery. I was nervous about the unknown.
My husband and I slept for a few hours before heading to the hospital, towards a building that was already home to the birth of our first child and would now be home to the birth of our second child. God is faithful and gracious and I am so thankful that my labor & delivery experience the second time around was amazing. I was induced five days past due date with both boys (I’m of the, “If my doctor says my baby is ready to come and wants to induce labor, PLEASE DO THAT” mindset) and received an epidural with both boys (I’m also of the, “If there’s anything that can take away this horrible pain, PLEASE DO THAT” mindset). My IV went in on the first try (not the case the first time---bruised arms for weeks), my epidural worked the entire time (it was turned off a bit too early the first time), and my labor & delivery were significantly shorter. Believe it or not, after giving birth, I actually told my OB that if childbirth could be considered enjoyable, that experience was actually enjoyable. I know. Weird, right? But such an answer to prayer, too! My physical recovery was also much easier with my second son. I am in great amazement over the drastic difference in recovery experiences. I am so thankful for all of the prayers I received and for continuing to workout with Stroller Strides until I was thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I believe that played a significant role in how my body responded to the physical trauma of childbirth the second time around.
I wish I could say, “and then we were a family of four and it was beautiful, easy, and seamless,” but that just wouldn’t be the truth. Mothers have varying emotional experiences after having a baby and for me, I didn’t feel a fierce bond with either of my boys until four to six weeks after they were born. I’ve read enough blogs and talked to enough other moms to know that I’m not a black sheep when it comes to this and if you felt this way, too, please know that you aren’t alone and you most definitely are not a bad mother. Post-pregnancy hormones are ridiculous and it takes different people different amounts of time and methods to find that center point again. Transitioning to two children was a challenge for me. Luckily, my husband is a teacher and his summer break had started five days before our second child was born so he was home for the first two and a half months. Our youngest also had reflux, which wasn’t diagnosed until he was six weeks old. So much crying and screaming... Throw in crazy hormones, guilty feelings about not being able to spend more time with my oldest son, adapting to a new normal, lack of sleep, and it’s the recipe for a breakdown. After an especially terrible day/night of his crying, I put him (crying) in his crib, walked out to the garage, climbed into my van, and cried like I have never cried before. My poor husband ran out into the garage to make sure I hadn’t left for a tropical vacation without him and reassured me that we would call the pediatrician the next day about receiving reflux medication (we didn’t know yet if he had reflux but by this point, we were pretty sure). So much love for baby Zantac! After starting him on that medicine, I witnessed his first smile (I cried. I cry a lot. I even cry when writing a lot of my blog posts.) and finally started to feel like I could breathe again. There had been such a heavy, helpless weight on my shoulders and calming his extreme discomfort allowed so much more space for my mental and emotional states to find a balance once again. The balance looked different than before our second child was born but we figured out what worked for us in this new stage of life.
He’s turning three this summer, a fact that I can’t comprehend. He has challenged me and humbled me and taught me so very much in such a short time. I am more aware and stronger and certain of who I am now than I was before he was born, a growth that started after his older brother was born. Our vulnerable moments tend to expose our insecurities and when faced with these discomforts, we have two choices: fight or flight. I can push towards the good that’s beyond the difficult or I can run away from the difficult that will inevitably rear its head again. I’m not always good at choosing to fight through the difficult but I am certainly learning that it’s worth it.
In hindsight, I may not have thought I was ready for my second child, but God knew that I was ready. He was the missing piece of our family and I am so thankful every day for him.