Before my son Arlo was born, I couldn’t imagine loving another child as much as I loved my daughter Darcy. And then he was born, squalling with his little arms opened to the world like he was welcoming in the light.
My heart doubled in size. He has been a little ray of sunshine since that day, but there were several things that became more challenging once he arrived.
1. Day sleeps
By the time my son was born, my daughter was two and a half. Prime nap-rebellion age, even before she had a little brother to compete with.
I tried everything. I would settle my son in a carrier on my chest and try to pat her to sleep in her bed. I tried having him in a bassinet and her in a bed at the same time, pulling myself into impressive contortionist poses so I could pat them both at the same time. I often resorted to the car.
I know there are easier ways to achieve day naps, but I was exhausted, so my solution was to drop her day nap (which then led to the challenge of keeping her occupied while I settled him!)
2. Getting anywhere on time
Having one child with the ability to spontaneously poo the minute before you leave the house is hard enough. When there are two of them operating on their own internal and external clock, leaving the house on time is near impossible.
Toilet trips aside (internal clock), children have their own perception of time (external clock). That may be about how long it takes to eat breakfast or deciding to build a castle out of block towers while you’re trying to dress them.
Throw in random tantrums about inappropriately sliced toast or disagreements about the correct attire for the day and you are arriving at most events 30 minutes or more late.
3. Time for your partner
Before the second child comes along, chances are you’ve started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s easier to get a babysitter to go on a date night. Your child is sleeping better, is possibly toilet trained and can communicate in more than ear-splitting wails.
When a new baby arrives all of that goes out the window. Both of you find your hands full of nappies, children, food or cleaning equipment. Finding time for each other just got harder.
4. Logistics for everything
Once your baby starts solids, you’ll be coordinating dinner for adults, toddler and baby. In order to feed all three of these animal groups, you will need to put some serious plans in action. If you were thinking of using a menu plan before, you will now be using one religiously.
Life admin just doubled as well. If you return to work or have social engagements (like weddings) you will need to coordinate care for two children at very different stages of development.
Going on holiday means planning appropriate rest breaks (for both baby and toddler) and then the equipment you will need while away.
5. Attention and time
This was the greatest challenge for me. After Arlo arrived, I realised what a luxury it had been to look after one baby. The hours I spent staring into my daughter’s eyes, playing with her on the floor or watching her sleep. With two children those moments were drastically reduced, even when his big sister wasn’t clamouring for attention.
When I had my daughter, I always managed one day a week alone with her, but with my son, I had to work five days. There were days when I dropped him off at my parents’ house with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
To this day, the kids will still fight over my attention, though I suspect that’s more about competing with each other than competing over me. I am very conscious that I give them equal love and attention.
It was definitely a challenge having a small baby and a toddler. I think my husband and I were shocked at how difficult it was. But you know what? We got through it.
And during the challenging times, there were moments of bliss. Like when my daughter would play with her brother and make him giggle. Or when we would eat dinner together as a family and it was chaos, laughter and mess everywhere.
And then there were the moments when they would both fall asleep on me, with his small body in my arms and her head on my lap. I would stay in that position even though my bladder was bursting, and my limbs were about to drop off because it was the most beautiful feeling in the world.
It is still something that makes me catch my breath, watching them sleep. Their bodies sprawled across their beds, limbs akimbo, vulnerable, innocent. Mine. Even five years after he first came into the world, I still can’t believe he is my child. That they are both my children.
And that is worth every one of the challenges of those first months of his life.