There has been a lot of chat recently about what the Duchess of Cornwall might like to think about now she has made the transition from one to two children. And it’s got me thinking about parents who are making the same transition (in fact you can catch me on TV talking about it here).
One of the things it got me thinking about is the jealousy and judgement there can be surrounding people who have just one child. “It must be so easy for her, she only has one.” “Don’t you think it’s selfish, that she hasn’t given her son/daughter a little brother/sister to play with?” Whether people choose to have one child, or whether Mother Nature makes that choice for them, one is never a hobby. The transition from being yourself pre-motherhood to yourself as a mother is irreversible and deep.
However, there are also significant differences between the transition to one and the transition to having two children, and it’s not about just the practicalities of having another baby in the house.
You have a deeper understanding of what is involved in being pregnant and giving birth
Just because you’re now a pro and have had one child does not necessarily mean that you feel more confident about doing it a second time. I’ve spoken with many mothers who describe the blissful ignorance of first-time pregnancy and are more worried second time round. And obviously your experience the first time round will have a bearing on this: if you had an upsetting experience of pregnancy or birth the first time you might be anxious about history repeating. You might have become more aware of the risks of childbirth now you are ‘in the club’ so to speak, and so even if you had an ‘easy’ birth, you also have a greater realisation that not everyone has the same experience.
If there is unresolved fear or upset from your last birth, or if you could do with some support to manage any anxiety, it really helps to speak to someone. You also might want to think about how you could have supported yourself differently the first time, and so what you would like to put in place this time to try to ensure that you don’t have a similar experience.
Managing the relationship between your children is new to you
You are now in a position of mediating the relationship between your two children, and that might sometimes feel uncomfortable or even painful. Children, by their nature haven’t learnt how to hide their more primal feelings, and you hear the stories of toddlers trying to smother their baby siblings or bash them with toys when their parents are busy doing something else. I remember one lady who bought a playpen to put her little girl in when she left the room, as the mother didn’t trust her daughter alone with her baby brother. It can be scary and worrying, wondering how bringing another child into the family will affect your first child.
Strategies can be your friend in this, and there is lots of advice out there. Trying to understand what is possibly going on for your firstborn and figuring out ways you might help them manage any feelings that you or they might find difficult is a crucial part of the process. For example, if your older child is still learning to talk, rationalising with them is not going to work. Their world has been rocked and they don’t have the words to articulate any struggle they might have with getting less attention from you, or any jealousy they might feel of the new baby. Difficult thought it might be, consider how you can find ways of giving your older child focussed, one-to-one time with you or your partner and figure out ways to minimise the sense of change happening to their world. Now is not the time to change their routine or move their room around, if you can help it.
Remembering to create space for the baby
Second time round, it is not so possible to devote yourself to hanging out with your new baby, since your elder child won’t magically butt out (in fact, possibly the opposite). Creating spaces away from your firstborn where you can really focus on the baby can be really helpful, since you have less time alone with your baby. Going to a baby massage class or having a newborn observation are both great ways to tune into your baby and help promote the bonding process. If you are worrying about the second child not being given as much attention as the first baby received, remember that they have never had you to themselves, and so they will not feel that loss. They will also have the added advantage of someone else to learn from and to give them attention – an older brother or sister.
Remember to consider your partner
It is easy to assume that your partner might feel the same about subsequent pregnancies and labours as s/he did about the first, but this might not be true. Partners can often be traumatised if you had a birth that required intervention, especially if they felt powerless watching events unfold. They can also be worried about how having a new baby will mean even less time for you as a couple, especially know they know the reality of the impact of having a child on your relationship. There is also added financial pressure, which your partner might feel is his or her responsibility if you are on a reduced income. They might also be concerned about how a new baby will fit into the family dynamic and affect your first child.
Talk about how you both felt during the last pregnancy and birth and how you feel about this one. If that feels too tricky, find some other way, such as writing your fears and hopes down and swapping bits of paper – you both might be surprised at what each other feels.