When the second child doesn’t “just slot in”
I know you thought you had everything under control. Your first daughter gave you hell in the delivery room and saw you back in theatre a year later for follow up repair surgery. She “failed to thrive” and ended up being combi-fed which destroyed all the confidence you had felt during pregnancy about how you would make breastfeeding work, no matter how hard it was. She sent you through the NHS complaints system, into a post-birth debrief and eventually onto post-natal counselling. Your friendship circle shrunk drastically as you struggled to feel like the ‘old you’ and, with self-employment leaving you scraping the pennies together and going back to work after 5 months, nothing felt less likely than having another child. You thought that was probably it for you. You were an only child until your brother came along when you were 13 and you turned out ok. You would be a one child family and everything would be lovely. That was the plan. And Lord knows you love to make a plan.
You know now, as you should have known then, that plans never quite turn out as you expect. Your eldest daughter turned out to be a little smasher. She slept like an angel. While your NCT friends cried and despaired over babies that wouldn't sleep you felt relief and a terrible dash of smug at the fact that your baby slept through the night from 3 months. She never woke up, teething didn’t trouble her, she didn’t get ill. She ate everything you put in front of her, smiled most of the time and started speaking in sentences somewhere before 18 months. You thought you must have parenting sussed. You aim to excel at everything in life and assumed, naively, that you were excelling at this too. You started your counselling with the fixed thought that you couldn’t possibly carry another child and you left after 8 months with a plan to fall pregnant in the near future.
You and your plans. Second pregnancy did not come easily. That angel first baby, conceived in the second month of trying after 15 years on the pill, had been a fluke. 12 months passed and you started to feel desperate. You had gone from never wanting another child to thinking you might die if you didn't have one. You did everything you told yourself you wouldn’t; peed on ovulation sticks, tracked cervical mucus (honestly, what were you doing?!) and generally hated the world every time your period started. You sought advice, had a scan, saw there was something left in your uterus, possibly a small piece of calcified placenta from your first one that was retained, and were put on the long waiting list for a laparoscopy and hysteroscopy. You discovered you were pregnant the very next month. Two days after your husband was made redundant. Naturally. Not quite in the plan.
Then followed a pregnancy so unlike the first that you started to wonder why you had been so desperate to do it again. Horrendous morning sickness, SPD, low blood pressure that had you fainting on the commuter train, coupled with the uneasy sense that your husband still didn’t have a job. And that self-employment thing meant you were already panicking about affording maternity leave. You had to fight and fight for an elective caesarean. No, you didn’t want to rely on the fact that “it’s always easier the second time” thank you very much. I’m so proud of you for following your gut and maintaining your position. You got your elective and you had a second retained placenta and a second PPH. You were always destined for the operating table. But you now had two beautiful daughters. Hallelujah. What could possibly go wrong now? You were a pro at parenting. Everyone said that the second baby would “just slot in.” They had to because your eldest had a routine that needed following. You’d be doing the nursery run, cooking from scratch and generally acing life again in no time.
Wrong. Mama, you were so wrong. Your second daughter was born screaming, horrified at being removed so abruptly, and she didn’t stop. She too “failed to thrive” but at least you were slightly more clued up this time and knew about tongue tie. She had it snipped but only after your sixth bout of mastitis in as many weeks drove you to the very edge. You sat at the top of the stairs and shrieked that it shouldn’t be like this and you wanted to die. You told your husband you just didn’t feel right. You rang the health visitor daily and told her you were failing. Your baby didn't sleep. Not just “newborn-didn’t-sleep.” This was actual NEVER sleeping. If she was asleep you would spend each minute praying she didn't wake up. When she did wake up she would resume screaming. She seemed so unhappy. There was medication for reflux, white noise, tilted mattresses, co-sleeping and more. None of it worked. You said out loud one night at 2am that having her had been a mistake. You had been thinking it internally for months, too horrified to voice it. You loved her and loathed her in equal measure.
Why didn’t she fit in? You had done everything the same. A creeping realisation dawned that you weren’t a parenting pro. You had just got really bloody lucky with your first. You started CBT, over the phone because you had no childcare, and it just made you feel worse. You eventually capitulated after another frantic call to the health visitor who persuaded you to see the GP. What a failure you believed you were. This was your second child. You should be able to cope. You were useless. The GP started you on anti-depressants, gradually upped the dose, reassured you you could keep feeding. Slowly you got back onto an even keel. You only felt anxious when something unexpected came up, not every single minute of the day. You made the tough decision to take a permanent job and leave self-employment behind for now. You needed to put your focus on your family.
Mama, you started to believe you could do this. Your second daughter is a year old now. She still doesn’t sleep. Your husband bought you a FitBit for Christmas. It told you that you had 4 hours 17 minutes sleep last night. You want to throw it in the bin. If she is sad or hungry or annoyed or bored or tired or overwhelmed or has just woken up she cries. She is stubborn and loud and horrifically defiant. But somewhere over the past year she has become the shining star of your little family. Alongside all of those things she is determined, independent and hilarious. She has dimples that make you want to cry. She crawls with the speed of Usain in his heyday (which your eldest never did, she didn’t walk until she was 2!) and she has the type of laugh that you might hear on an 80 year old woman who smokes 40 a day and enjoys a scotch or six of an evening. Her sister loves her in a way you couldn’t have imagined. Your second daughter is in charge and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Second children don’t necessarily slot right in. Every child is a little person just waiting to show you what they can offer. Your second happens to be a bit of a drama queen. I wonder where she gets it from…? You talk to your husband about the future. You will be coming off the tablets this year, your new job is going well, you feel in control and you’re making your beloved plans again. You talk about having a third child. You’re only half-joking. That first year nearly broke you mama. This second year will make you.
Love me xxx