People say that moms are much more go-with-the-flow when it comes to the second child compared with the first, such as in this commercial. Much to my surprise, I actually do fulfill this stereotype. And it’s not just my perception – both my parents and in-laws remarked how much more comfortable I seem. While the fact that Little Bird is a better sleeper than his older brother and a fast physical recovery helped, so did the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the nearly three years of Sprout’s life. Here are some of the things I’m doing after Little Bird was born that I didn’t do the first time:
Encouraging people to visit: While welcoming visitors is the opposite of what most advice recommends, it’s been essential for me. I get cabin fever very quickly; I was getting antsy after a few days of being snowed in this winter. Postpartum, I have to deal with the double-whammy of not being able to bring the baby to public places before he gets his immunizations and the fact that exclusively breastfeeding him means I can’t leave for more than 45 minutes or so. With Sprout, I’m fairly certain this combination significantly contributed to some postpartum anxiety. Luckily, this time around I’ve had three different sets of friends visit, bearing news of the outside world and nice things to say about the baby. My friends understood that normal “host” etiquette was out the window and I was grateful for the company.
Haven’t been taken crying so personally: Every time Sprout cried as a newborn, I translated it in my head as, “You’re a terrible mother.” This was exacerbated by the fact that Sprout cried whenever he wasn’t being held, making guilt well up in my heart whenever I needed to fulfill basic bodily functions like eating or using the bathroom. By now, I’ve tolerated enough toddler crying jags to be able to withstand an aural assault. I still feel bad when I hear Little Bird cry, but it isn’t heart-searing.
Volunteering other people to hold the baby: I was slightly possessive with Sprout. Although I allowed other people to hold him, I criticized how they were doing it and longed to take him back. (This was not to say I wasn’t nervous about holding him myself – I had a full assortment of anxieties.) This time, after having changed Little Bird I’d ask, “Who wants to hold a baby?” Other times, I would request someone specific hold him, like my dad. Because my dad doesn’t speak up much, my proactive approach resulted in more grandson-granddad bonding time.
Have been much less modest about breastfeeding: When Sprout was born, I was incredibly embarrassed about nursing him. Even after months of breastfeeding, I would hide in his bedroom if anyone other than Chris was around. This time, I care a hell of a lot less. When my parents and in-laws were visiting, I nursed Little Bird in the living room, something that would have been unthinkable before. It made both my father-in-law and father vaguely uncomfortable, but they were free to relocate themselves. And they did – my father-in-law would leave the room completely, while my dad just didn’t sit near me on the couch. I don’t know if it’s because I have a full year of nursing behind me with Sprout or some newfound lack of modesty, but I’m not going to isolate myself just so I can feed my kid.
Asking people to bring food: We didn’t have to buy much for Little Bird, as we had almost everything as hand-me-downs from Sprout. The few things we didn’t have, like furniture, were too big to put on a registry anyway. So when people ask what we need, we say food. As Chris is still at home and more than capable of cooking, we’re better off than most couples on this front, but it’s nice to not worry about getting to the grocery store or washing dishes. So far, we’ve had a lovely bag breakfast goods from Panera and a lasagna with homemade lamb sausage.
Have excellent hand cream available: In the winter and early spring, I have old lady hands – dry, cracked and wrinkly. Add in endless hand-washing and sanitizing from changing endless newborn diapers and you get serious pain. Thankfully, this time I had heavy-duty hand cream available from the beginning. My favorite ones are from Lush; both the Charity Pot and Dream Cream are amazing. On the cheaper side, the Burts Bees Baby Bee Nourishing Lotion is one of the best I’ve ever used, even for adults. It provides a ton of moisture and rubs in quickly with little greasiness. The only slightly weird thing is that it smells faintly of baby powder.
Have reading material at the ready: You don’t realize how long nursing and burping takes out of your day until you actually do it. During the day last time, I watched a lot of Netflix – the full series of Freaks and Geeks, Spaced, and Twin Peaks – and trawled blogs on my phone at night. (That’s how I read the complete archives of Mommy Shorts and Rants from Mommyland.) This time, I can’t watch TV in front of Sprout during the day and wanted something a bit more handy to read anyway. While we didn’t have a rug for Little Bird’s room before he arrived, I had already downloaded five ebooks. (That’s the correct order of priorities, right?) I’m already through half of them, so I’ve placed a couple more on hold with the library.
Embracing white noise: Before I realized I could nurse him to sleep, I spent a lot of time at night in Sprout’s first few weeks pacing and singing to him. (I remember wracking my brain at 3 AM for the verses to The Ants Go Marching.) While I still love singing to and with him, it wasn’t all that effective as a sleep aid. This time, I already know that white noise is our best friend at night. Rather than buy a white noise machine, we rely on the SoundSleeper app. We use the Womb noise for Little Bird and the Rain noise for Sprout.
Giving up my guilt about multitasking while nursing: Last time, I felt terribly guilty about reading or watching TV while nursing. Isn’t the intimate bond you build one of breastfeeding’s big advantages? But there’s simply no way that I can spend 3+ hours a day doing nothing but stare lovingly at my baby. As long as I glance down and look at him with wonder occasionally, we’re good. He’s doing his thing; I’m doing mine. In fact, this time around, multi-tasking is an essential skill. When Sprout decides to hang out while I’m nursing, I need to entertain him somehow. Otherwise, he’ll spend the whole time trying to affectionately squash Little Bird’s head.
Making sure to make time for my other family members: With Sprout, I focused all of my attention on him, which wasn’t the best for my mental health or ultimately, his. In retrospect, I realize that making more time for Chris and I to connect would have helped a lot. Now we also have Sprout, who I obviously can’t ignore just because his little brother’s arrived. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been making an effort to spend time with just Sprout, whether that’s visiting the park, playing in the basement, watching trains, or going to the grocery store. Compared to the repetition of taking care of a newborn, these times have been refreshingly fun. Right now, Sprout is a delight, especially since he’s gotten over most of the pre-baby anxiety. Not being constantly bored out of my skull actually helps me appreciate my time with Little Bird more.
My lessons learned from last time weren’t all from things that went wrong. There were some things I made an effort to do last time that I’m definitely doing again:
Getting outside every day: I thrive on fresh air, sunshine, and moving around. Last time, I would walk Chris to the Metro every afternoon as he went to work. Even when it was probably too hot to be out with the baby, these walks were essential to staving off a little of my anxiety. This time around, most of these walks have been short jaunts to the park or to watch trains. Next week, we plan bringing a picnic to the park one day and walking to our little downtown area another day.
Taking a shower every day: I know the “unshowered new mom” is a hopelessly well-worn trope, but I feel gross and tired if I don’t. Making space every day to take a shower is key to feeling like a person who is more than just a milk dispenser.
For those of you with kids, what did you learn from your experience with the first? For those of you without, any thoughts?