Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, I don’t have time even for a phonecall or a bath because free time = sleep time. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Here’s the good news for those of you going from one to two, particularly if in very quick succession.
1. You're used to it.
Francis was sleeping through the night by the time Louie, our second son, was born, so I was terrified of going back to two-hour naps instead of a full night’s sleep. But now that I’m back there I can tell you it’s nowhere near as bad as the first time. It might be the same physically (I’m not sure, I feel like my body is irreversibly stronger now), but psychologically the devil you know really is much, much better. Even with a ‘good sleeper’ like Francis, once you’ve stepped over the threshold into life-with-kids you no longer feel robbed when you have an unexpected 4am wake up call. Annoyed, sure. Exhausted, frustrated, even pissed off – of course. But gone is the downright indignation of the recently-stopped-being-childless. I no longer feel entitled to things such as rest, finishing lunch, cups of tea, and certainly not to free time or relaxation. I slip them in when I get the chance, and I’m used to it.
2. The sacrifice involved is a source of joy.
It may sound horrible, that I’m used to having ‘no me time’, but it’s actually a saving grace. The secret you discover, that nobody really tells you these days, is that you can pour from an empty cup. In fact, the more you give, the emptier you ‘feel’ from having given so much of yourself, the more you have to give. Some people already know this intuitively – those people you see who may not have a screaming infant demanding it of them, but who still get up at six am and work to the best of their ability in everything they do. I was not one of these people, in fact it took the pressure of having to keep a human alive to force me to give myself fully to the task at hand. I would never believe that doing more and working harder are in fact the best thing for you without having experienced it myself - which is why it’s such a gift. It was a painstakingly difficult thing to learn, a year and half later and it feels like a lesson that affects everything, not just parenting. In all areas of life now, I know that doing what you love, giving yourself fully, gives you more energy, and, while you feel empty and drained and like you have nothing left, your life simultaneously becomes much, much fuller.
3. It’s not that hard.
I was terrified of how hard it would be to juggle two kids. So far, it’s not that hard. I know it’s an annoying thing to say, but it really isn’t. It is, of course, far from easy. Motherhood continues to be the hardest job I’ve ever had. That being said, it’s not that hard. It’s not so hard that you should be terrified, anyway. It’s not so difficult that you should doubt your ability to live up to the task. It’s a big ask but not an insurmountable one. Slowly you’ll ease into it, your days will become easier, the hard bit will be behind you. As we approach the six week mark I feel myself relax, and this time of course I know with much greater confidence than the first time round, that with any difficult moment, day or stage, this too shall pass.
4. Your husband is better.
He’s done mornings and evenings by himself with your first born by now. He knows how exhausting parenting is. He knows you’re not going to be hormonal forever, and that the baby’s life isn’t in danger just because he cries more than is humanly possible. He knows how tiring breastfeeding is, how hungry you are, how much you appreciate the simple gestures like the offer of a cup of tea. Most of all he knows how to reassure you that you’re doing a great job, and that maybe Googling absolutely every birth mark and odd behaviour at 3am isn’t the best strategy right now.
5. Your marriage is stronger.
Inevitably, the first child forces you to collaborate under huge pressure, and it’s a very steep learning curve: figuring out who’s responsible for what, how to do it in a way where it’s fair and nobody feels resentful (still working on it). Perhaps most important though is not finding the perfect formula of domestic division of labour that enables you to operate at optimum functionality, but rather, learning that 90% of the time whilst raising very young children both you and your spouse are likely exhausted, frustrated, resentful, and saying things you don’t really mean as a result of all this. Case in point: a comment that would have caused me to storm off out of the house in tears a year ago now gets a five paragraph text from me instead (baby steps…)