Going from 0-1 Children vs. 1-2.

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?

Post Scripts.

+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.

+Musings on adjusting to being a mother to two from a few weeks ago.

+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.

+This knit jacket!

+For itty bitty babies: these velvet slippers! DEAD. Coordinate with these for your older gal.

+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…

+Firsts and lasts.

+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?

+Don’t you grow up in a hurry.

+The best bedtime books for little ones.

22 Comments

  1. I loved reading your musings on this topic. I am one of four kids and I, too, want to get my mom’s perspective on this. Though with the giant caveat that I haven’t birthed children myself, I’m inclined to agree with Amy that it’s all hard — while simultaneously agreeing with you that there are slices of joy to be found amidst it all.

    Curiously, I remember discussing this topic with my grandmother (herself a mother of 5) before her death, and she had this to say: “Once you have 3 children, you might as well have 10.” (!!!) I think she meant that once you are “outnumbered”, it’s easier to add other babies into the mix. And I think your mom is spot on that after 3 kids, the older ones will help with the younger ones. That was certainly true in my family! xx

    1. Haha! 3 to 10 is quite the jump but that does seem to be the consensus in general — after 3, it’s all a blur. My mom pointed out that at 3, you just get used to not being able to have hands for everyone, and so it becomes more about balancing and coordinating the chaos. Ha!

      xx

  2. Thank you for your honesty! I only have 1 but 0-1 was super difficult for me and makes me pretty terrified for 1-2 (we might even stay 1!). I just appreciate you telling it like it is. I guess there are plenty of people who have an easy time of it but the transition to motherhood for me felt HUGE and difficult. I love it so much but it doesn’t mean it was easy 🙂

    1. Right there with you, Tracey. It’s a monumental shift in…everything. Thanks for writing in 🙂

  3. I love this post so much! You’ve reminded me very much of how I felt going from 1-2. I too felt as if my world has shifted and was suddenly in color when I had my first but I was ready, it was magical. As an only myself learning to split my time was exhausting and goodness you sum up well the chaos of those early weeks and months.

    But,
    I am here to say it is brief. Two years apart is lovely. My boys began to play truly well by the time my second was one, and it just got better and better. At two and four I constantly want to freeze time! They can sit and watch a show together snuggling while I sneak a shower or fold laundry, they eat the same things and bath and bed is seem less. I truly love this age and their incredible bond!

    I’m newly pregnant now and I don’t exactly look forward to the newborn balance struggle. However they won’t be alone!! They’re used to having to share me and will be able to play as usual. I really hope it’ll be a lot easier (and my two year old will be closer to three vs freshly two which I hope helps)

    Anywho this long comment is all to say that the guilt will fade, the hard times do too. I honestly find the dynamic of two to be so much fun now!

    1. Hi Brooke! How encouraging…! I’ve heard this a lot: the first year is wild, and then things tend to fall into a better groove. Everyone is sleeping better, adjustments have been made, solid foods can be fed to both. A lot simpler. Thanks for this reminder. It is a brief season! It’s so odd how time is working right now. Some days feel like a blur and others feel like fifty days strung together (when is bedtime again? five p.m. please?! HA).

      This was so lovely to hear. Thank you. Going to try even harder to cling onto the slices of joy I find in each day because I know I will miss this.

      xx

  4. I’m a mom of two children spaced about two years apart as well. As with you, Jen, 0 to 1 changed me profoundly.

    1 to 2 was much harder for me. I summarize it this way, cobbled from a few Internet memes:
    One child: Sleep when the baby sleeps.
    Two children: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Fold laundry when the baby folds laundry.

    1. HAHAHA

      I had to read this aloud to Mr. Magpie immediately. So good.

      I think your word choice is spot-on. O-1 is profound. 1-2 is challenging. Both have their own surprises and strains but, net-net, the first is about a dramatic lifestyle shift and change in identity and the second is about grit and persistence. Haha.

  5. I’m only a month into mothering two, so I have less than a leg to stand on, but what you’ve said above rings true, from the relative easiness of the second newborn to the guilt over the lesser time afforded both him and the toddler and the hurdy gurdy hamster wheel that is ~530-8pm. Tuesday, my older son was home sick and by three pm, I very much understood why legions of post-war housewives took to benzedrines! (How do full-time moms of multiples do it???) And yet, as you also say, it is worth it, after all. I find each stage of baby- and now toddlerhood that much more rewarding than its predecessor — they are becoming actual, how-was-this-birthed-from-me people! — and it makes me very excited for the years to come.
    A note — my mother thought that 2-3 was the hardest logistically, but 1-2 was the hardest emotionally. 3-4, she said, was easier — though I don’t currently plan on validating that for myself!

    1. Haha, the hurdy gurdy hamster wheel that is 5:30-8. I’m going to abbreviate that in this house as HGHW. “Just surviving the HGHW, how about you?”

      So interesting to hear your mother’s perspective! I’m going to call my own and ask about all the transitions to adding new children to the Nurmi (my maiden name — it’s Finnish) tribe. I only recall her ever saying that “two is more than twice the trouble” and “by the third, the older ones start helping with the younger ones.” She was, however, very stringent on the logistics front about keeping each child to one extra-curricular (bonus points that several of us took piano lessons in the home) and lumping stuff together, i.e., all children had doctors’ appointments on the same day, all school shoes were bought on the same day, etc. I look back now and realize that it was a way of preventing too much time from frittering out underneath her.

      Anyway, thanks, as always, for the musings and camradarie!

      xx

  6. 0 to 1 was toughest because of exactly what you stated – life with no kids to life with kids was simply a monumental shift. 1 to 2 is definitely hard and more hectic, but I think I have learned to let go a little bit more and not stress about every. Little. Thing. And honestly, I have asked for and gotten more help this time around and it has made all of the difference. I like to think that in a few years, 2 will actually be easier than 1 because they will entertain each other etc. Until then, coffee, wine and one day at a time xoxo

    1. Yes to that — “coffee, wine, and one day at a time.” Sounds like the perfect title for a country song, don’t you think?

      I know what you mean about letting go a little more. There are days where I look at my toddler and think “oh my God, as a mother of one, I would have died over the fact that your hair is askew and you have a big stain on your shirt, but I am too busy to change you right now.” I wish I could get to the point where I’d not then cringe a little bit inwardly about not taking the time to fix things, but…we’ll get there.

      xx

  7. I can only imagine how my grandmother felt once she realized that she was not going from 1 to 2, she was going from 1 to 3, because my dad was a surprise twin! As in, they didn’t know there was two in there until she was giving birth. Ah, 1950. A different time. So all the mental planning she must have done had to be completely reworked in a split second to accommodate a totally different reality.

    You’re doing great, hang in there! I think being a slightly less attended-to second child in a very loving and supportive home can actually turn out well. I find those kids tend to be a lot better at occupying themselves, playing alone, etc. They develop stronger inner resources.

    1. I absolutely cannot FATHOM that. That is crazy! Thanks for the note, too. My siblings and I all turned out great (ha, she says modestly), and we were five competing for my mom’s attention.

      xx

  8. I think 1-2 was a harder shift for me. My first was a pretty textbook baby. I was SO ready for him. I had wished for him and waited years for him, and was so happy to finally, FINALLY be a mom. I was ready and willing to give up my early mornings, create routines, and become a family. Perhaps it also helped that I already had multiple years of marriage under my belt and felt very secure in myself, my partner, our relationship, and we felt ready in so many ways, to become parents.
    With the introduction of my second, there was the shift that you mentioned. The never ending comparisons. The nighttime routines that are not the same… but now quite different, and rushed. I remember reading a blogger’s lengthy nighttime schedule for her (one) child that involved massages, and lotioning and potioning, and endless books and songs and I thought… who has the time for that? At the end of the night I’m just trying to hurl them into their beds, mostly clean!
    Now we have three, and we’ve shifted again. The older two bathe together, read books together, and can really PLAY and EXIST together. I have bathed all three together, but I don’t like to – it’s utter chaos! We give the baby her own special time, invite the big two in for her books and bedtime kisses, and then they get their time.
    What works now, did not work 6 months ago and may not work 6 months from now. I previously mentioned to you that with each additional child, I have felt so humbled. What I love so much about your blog (and you as a person!) is your ability to reflect. When people utter the trite phrase that “everything is a phase,” it’s true, but unhelpful. Remember the difficult times! See how much you have changed and how capable you are. Some days are SO hard! Will my daughter ever get a real nap? Will I strangle my dog if she barks at a UPS delivery one more time? Did I read the baby a book this week? But, seeing them all play together, or cuddling, or just even seated at the table at the same time, ugh, what a victory! It’s all hard, but it’s good too. Much love to you and yours!

    1. I bow down to you. I can’t imagine juggling three!

      So many great reminders in this: first, “what works now did not work six months ago and may not work 6 months from now.” And this: “Remember the difficult times! See how much you have changed!” << Yes! Mr. Magpie is currently out of town for work and yesterday I took Hill in the carrier and Emory in the stroller for a walk with our bullish dog. It took a lot of time and effort to even get everyone dressed and out the door, and in the right order. Me first, then Emory's clothing and coat and shoes and then have her preoccupied with a snack, and then put the leash on Tilly and keep her by the front door, and then put Hill into the carrier, and then slowly and carefully make our way out the building, pushing the stroller out the door while wrangling a pulling dog, down five steps and the doorman was not there to help, and then very calmly around the block. I know it's sounds nutty but I don't know I would have been able to do this just a few weeks ago!Also: Mr. Magpie laughed and screenshotted this "At the end of the night I’m just trying to hurl them into their beds, mostly clean!" We feel ya!xx

  9. The shift from 1 to 2 felt monumental to me. I was in fact just recalling my first solo outing with my 2 – to Whole Foods and then Starbucks in the same parking lot – while reading this. It took me 20 minutes just to get them out of the car and into the stroller. And then maneuvering said double stroller was something else I embarrassingly fumbled with. In the very early days I felt outnumbered. Then there was the guilt over choosing one child’s needs over the other. Marathon nursing sessions in the nursery that left my oldest waiting longer than I’d like. Tearing the baby away from the nap in his bassinet so we could race off to preschool drop off/pick up, ballet class, etc. – something I never had to do when there was just one.

    As challenging as the initial learning curve of parenthood was, I think I didn’t feel the shift as heavily because we did it so young. We were both in our early twenties and only a year into married life, so there wasn’t time to establish a routine to break free from. And now we debate, as we have for years, if and when the time will be right to go from 2 to 3, or if the gap between the oldest and youngest will be too great and if we’re really ready to restart the stroller and diaper bag phase again…

    1. Hi Jen – SO much wisdom here and so much I related to. Thanks for your candor! Even the smallest initial excursions feel SO hard. I still struggle with taking both out at once since we have made the questionable decision to forgo a double stroller, and Hill is always strapped to me if we are out as a threesome. That becomes challenging if mini has a meltdown or needs consoling or needs to be chased. But we are getting to a sturdier place…

      xx

  10. THIS! I’m inclined to say it’s all hard — or certain aspects of each transition are hard and also easy. I will say for whatever reason that 1 to 2 was very difficult for us (colicky baby) and 2 to 3 was easiest. 3 to 4 appears to be the hardest but like you so eloquently said, perhaps time and distance will give me better perspective. Until then I’m just doing the best I can!

    1. Thank you SO much for making me feel so seen! One of the hardest parts recently has been being around first-time moms who are in the baby adoration phase – and I’m in that phase too, but I also have a very needy toddler and IT IS A LOT! Your writing is so eloquent and raw and honest. I really appreciate how careful and caring you are with your words. Keep up the tremendous good work. It is so heartening. A life line!

    2. Ahh Emily! So kind of you to say. I’m right there with you. It is a LOT. And some days are really hairy and I think, “I just don’t know how I can get this done.” It’s always a dance. You are a life line for me, too — I’m absolutely devouring all of these musings and comments!! Thank you!

      xx

    3. Yes, that’s so true, Amy. Aspects of each are really challenging and should not be discounted! And I also think that some aspects specific to the child make certain shifts worse for some mom than others. Colic, or a brutal recovery from childbirth, or illness of a family member (or baby), other things happening in your life, etc. I wonder too the toll of shifts in a mother’s identity when it comes to her professional career, i.e., if a mom is going from being a working woman to a SAHM with one of the children or what have you. There is a lot to contend with.

      Finally, I still cannot imagine having four!!! YOU ARE A HERO.

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