I’ve had a number of friends ask about how going from zero to one children compares to going from one to two. I’ve always disliked this question because I feel it has the dangerous tendency to discount the travails of first-time motherhood in the same irritating way that even well-intentioned mothers will say: “Oh, you think that’s bad? Just wait until they are doing [xyz].” I think parents are wont to issue the “oh just waits” because God graces us with a kind of merciful amnesia that enables us to forget about the troubles of pregnancy, and birth, and new parenthood, and infant care, and toddler tantrums, and so forth, until we are in our sixties wondering where our babies have gone and only able to recall the warm and fuzzies. That is to say: we forget about the shakes from exhaustion when we are waking every two hours to feed our infants and the lacerating pain of a c-section scar and the frustration of sleep training and can only see the challenges directly in front of us in the shape of a willful toddler or an errant teen.
All that to say. I couldn’t possibly tell you which has been harder because I’m too close up. I need time, perspective, space to process it all. At the moment, though, I’m inclined to say the transition from one to two is more challenging because I can’t recall feeling quite this flustered, or exhausted, or overwhelmed when I was caring for only mini. There are certain times of day that feel nothing short of impossible–and routinely so. I keep thinking I’ll get the hang of it and come upon some sort of solution or workaround to these scenarios, but, alas, no: it’s still hard the next day, and the next, and the next. For example, when I am putting micro down for a nap and mini comes traipsing into his room, throwing the door open and yelling loudly about Cinderella, or — more trying — saying, “Mama? Mama? MaMA? MAMA? MAMA!?!?!?” even though I am nodding emphatically and mouthing instructions to her in the hopes that she will get the message and scoot outside. Of course, micro is wide awake by that point and I’m back to square one. Or when I am trying to get dinner going and am ping-pong-ing around the house, stirring a pot and peeling cucumber while jetting around to check on a too-quiet mini or a fussing micro or a Tilly who has managed to weasel her way into the bathroom and is eating dryer sheets out of the trash, which make her horribly sick. Or when I have just finally managed to get mini onto the toilet after a protracted battle, she pees, and then, when I am nestled in, nursing micro, she tells me, urgently, she needs to go again. I am left with no choice but to put micro down despite his cries of frustrated hunger and help her into the bathroom, only to inevitably have an accident on my hands in the doorway, and then frantically clean the carpet and change her clothing and start a load of laundry, all while micro is increasingly apoplectic. And bathtime! Bathtime on my own is like a Rubik’s cube depending on mini’s mood. Half the time it takes a time-out or bribe to get her into the tub, and the other half the time, it takes a tantrum to get her out of it. Meanwhile, her bath nearly always falls around the time that micro needs his final feed and I can’t ever leave the bathroom and let mini out of my supervision in the tub so oh my goodness is it a wild ride, and oh my Lord am I ready for a glass of wine when the babies are down.
But we make it, every night, and I promptly forget about it all and find myself thumbing through photos of my babies when I should be asleep. Or talking in wistful tones to Mr. Magpie about the funny such-and-such that mini did or the adorable this-and-that I observed with micro. And I go to sleep determined to be a better mother the following day. To be more gentle, more patient, more forbearing.
As I said, God graces us with a kind of merciful amnesia…
Still — with two, there is a different kind of mania and juggling and exhaustion that I do not recall with one. If one is preoccupied or napping, the other is in need of something. To be fair, there aren’t many breaks with one child, either. I remember Mr. Magpie telling a friend of his that the biggest surprise of fatherhood was that his time was not his own any more. It is a shock to the system, and I think that in this sense, going from 0-1 children will probably always be the most profound shift in my life because it entirely transformed the center of its gravity. No longer were Mr. Magpie and I in orbit around one another. We were suddenly shuttled into a new planetary system with the orb of mini’s precious little soul at the center.
What’s more, I find the ministrations of caring for an infant much easier with a second. Micro feels straight-forward and his needs easily met. (Praise God I have not had a colicky baby! I can’t imagine what you warrior moms must endure facing colic on top of the rigor of normal parenthood.) I am far less anxious. I find it easier to find slices of joy in the day with him, as I am not fretting as much as I did with mini — not that she wasn’t a joy to be around, and not that I didn’t radiate with joy when with her, but because I afforded more space to concern and worry with her than I do with him. I’m calmer with him, though I will be the first to admit that I still have no clue what I’m doing half the time, especially when it comes to infant sleep and breastfeeding (though we have thankfully found our rhythm there). And so in that sense, 1-2 is easier. And the density of precious moments to drink up is even higher. I’ll turn around and find mini dancing around to make her brother laugh and I swear I’ve never loved anything more in my life. I just stand there, dumbfounded that I created these two humans who are now laughing at one another. And I don’t think my heart could get any bigger or my life any more satisfying.
I was also more prepared for what was involved when micro arrived, and in this sense, too, it has been easier to go from 1-2. I was, for example, better emotionally organized to endure and recover from his birth. Mini’s took the wind right out of me, to the point that I found it difficult to think about her c-section without weeping for the first few weeks. It was not until a few months after that I realized how traumatic the experience had been for me. With micro, I was equipped with more emotional and mental support apparatus. I gathered my prayers and techniques around me like a blanket and in I went. And I was ready for the exhaustion and physical toll of newbornhood, too–just as I was ready for the glut of weepy happiness I would feel whenever I was cradling my newborn in my arms. I knew what to expect, and that’s half the battle for an anticipator like myself.
But then, to flip flop back around on the subject, I find that with two children, new and more nefarious forms of mom guilt are sprouting and taking root at every twist and turn. I found the first few weeks after micro was born positively agonizing in that I could not pick up my daughter as I recovered from my c-section, and I essentially had to hand the reins with regards to her care over to Mr. Magpie. I was crushed. I worried that I was being replaced, or that my deep connection with mini was being forfeited. A friend had told me that her daughter did not speak to her for an entire summer after her second child was born and I was horrified that it would happen to me, and that the center of my universe would be erased in one fell swoop. I wept to Mr. Magpie about being a horrible mother. I was deeply frustrated by my incapacitation. I felt like I was failing her.
We have, thankfully, emerged from that tempestuous emotional time — to the point that I cannot even fathom having those thoughts. “Oh Jen,” I sigh to myself. “You are so ridiculous. Give yourself a break.”
But when you are navigating post-partum hormones and recovering from a major surgery and grappling with an entirely new phase of life with new routines and new challenges — such are the shockingly self-critical thoughts that emerge, unwanted, and linger for too long.
Though I’ve outgrown that borderline absurd battery of concerns, I now wrestle with new ones. I worry, for example, about the fact that I am not giving micro the same attention mini had, and I wonder how that will impact him. I agonize over the fact that I had taken mini to multiple music classes by this age, and micro has only been to one, and I then wake up at two a.m. and book him something in a frenzy of remorse. I worry I am not spending enough time sitting on the floor playing with puzzles and Little People with mini because I am too caught up with housework or laundry or squeezing in the occasional moment of self-care in the form of a weekly manicure. I worry that I am too impatient with mini, who is, after all, simply being a toddler. But when I have a baby’s needs to balance with hers, it is challenging not to run on a short fuse; I simply don’t have the time to negotiate with her for twenty minutes about putting on shoes. Yet placing her in timeout to get it done feels cruel and unnecessary. And so the mom guilt compounds upon itself until I occasionally go to Mr. Magpie and unload a litany of self-criticisms and he helps me see through them. (You see how he holds my universe together?)
To rein in this unwieldy cloud of thoughts, I will end with the observation that while “two is more than twice the trouble” (something countless parents told me when I was expecting micro and that has — despite my efforts to disprove it — held true; sometimes I tell Mr. Magpie, “Wait, do we have two children or twenty?”), parenthood in general represents the most colossal shift of my entire life, and mini’s birth will forever be a demarcation point between two versions of myself. And because of that, I would have to say that moving from no children to one child will always be the most profound transition I have yet encountered.
Those are my various and sundry thoughts on the topic, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to corral them into something easier to digest despite re-reading this post a dozen times. Re-reading it has made me realize that the foregoing runs on the negative side and I don’t (ever!) want to seem ungrateful for the blessing of healthy and happy children, these two souls I have been waiting for my entire life — but in the end, despite contemplating a thorough scrub, I have left it as-is, as I think it’s appropriate to be honest with fellow parents who are trying to gauge the difficulty of a transition to two children. Still, I feel compelled to note that there is joy and fullness and laughter aplenty, and that life is full in the best of ways.
I’m curious to know how fellow mothers to two or three (or four? five?) children have felt about transitions from 0-1 vs 1-2 vs 2-3 and so forth — and whether it’s even a fair question to pose, as each inevitably comes with its own blessings and challenges. What do you think?
+Do you use Zulily? I occasionally check out their sales and have scored some incredible finds there at a great value (for example, iloveplum tutus for $10) and I love their current JoJo Maman Bebe sale! I have this sweater, these tights, and this dress in my cart.
+Have been on the hunt for winter dress boots for mini that can be worn with jeans or dresses. I am dying over these Chanel-esque beauties but not sure I can stomach the price for something she will inevitably grow out of mid-season. Also love these and these, though I wish they came in more versatile colors.
+An aubade to parenting. (I still hold many of these same aspirations as a mother to two!)
+How fun is this wall mural for a nursery?
+Cannot wait to put micro in a blue blazer.
+Contemplating using these darling shower curtain hooks in mini’s bathroom. I’m using a Matouk floral shower curtain in there that I had back from my days as a bachelorette that looks a lot like this. Proof that you should hang on to high-quality pieces you love, even if they are kept in boxes for years. You just never know…
+I can’t believe it, but we’re not far off from micro being able to use this, which was one of mini’s absolute favorite things. At his four month check-up, the doctor said we could start introducing him to solids (!!). I think I will hold off a tiny bit longer as I’d like him to be even sturdier at holding his head upright, and we started mini at around five months besides. Exciting! I have bizarrely outsized ambitions that I will puree all his first foods myself. We shall see…
+These high-tops for mini are a must. So fun.
+Love this for the holidays for micro. Maybe a good travel day outfit?