“I stared at the pregnancy test in my hand blankly.” Positive? How did that happen? I mean, of course, I’m familiar with how everything works… But I was still stunned.
Our youngest child was only ten months old at the time. That meant they’d be separated by 18 months. My last two children were 28 months apart, which seemed inconceivable at the time.
Oh, my goodness. This meant I’d have three children, all under the age of three.
I had no idea how I would manage four kids in total. Is it possible to have two toddlers and an infant simultaneously? While our eldest needs virtual learning coaching from me?
I had a near-death experience with my most recent birth, and the trauma still felt so close and accurate. I’d been to the hospital three times in the week following my home birth due to hemorrhaging that hadn’t been effectively halted. I felt myself leaving my body on several occasions, saw a dazzling golden light, and had to fight to reclaim my body. For more than six months following birth, it impacted my physical and mental wellbeing. I had no idea how I was going to do it AGAIN. What if something similar happened again?
I called a twenty-year friend with the test in my hand while shivering and sick to my stomach. Even though it was 10 p.m., she answered. I told her I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off. ‘You can,’ she said. You will, too.’
She was a birth worker who was familiar with my experience. But she was also the one who urged me to keep my firstborn child when I was 17 years old and became pregnant. She went so far as to offer to adopt my child on my behalf. When my second child was born, she was present in the room with me. She promised that she would guide me through my pregnancy and that things would be different this time.
I felt at ease as I hung up the phone and began to imagine what the new future would look like. However, panic episodes began soon after. The flashbacks, terror, and anguish were all too much to bear. I tried to stay in my body as much as possible. I leaned into my emotions. I kept a lot of journals. With adrenaline, terror, and emotional anarchy, I let my body rise and fall. I spent a lot of time meditating. I prayed for heavenly help. I requested visions. I requested dream messages. I prayed for confirmation that this was the right path for me, as well as for strength.
It took a few weeks of totally immersing myself in this heavenly inquiry, but I felt strongly that I had received the confirmation I needed that this was the right path for me. As a result, I jumped immediately into investigating what this new reality would entail. I lost track of how often I Googled “having infants 18 months apart” or how many hours I spent scouring blog postings, chat rooms, and statistics. I looked via Facebook groups for other mothers with similar age differences. I also conducted an informal survey on my social media, inquiring about age differences and Mamas’ reactions to them.
But do you know what I didn’t learn from all of that research? An excellent sense of a natural transition with an infant and, well, another infant would look like. When the baby was born, my son would be 18 months old, still very young. It’s getting close to toddlerhood, but they’re still incredibly reliant in so many ways. I knew he wouldn’t be able to communicate adequately, but he was still sleeping with me every night at the time. I was unsure of what this might look like throughout my pregnancy. Now that I’m on the other side, I’d like to provide some guidance and support to Mamas who haven’t yet crossed over.
Let’s begin by looking at how I prepared. I knew I wanted to co-sleep with the new baby, but I also realized that for my sleep and sanity, I couldn’t have both of them in my bed at the same time every night. So I savored my son’s cuddles for a few more months until he became 12 months old when I started transitioning him to a crib in his sisters’ room. We began with nap time and worked our way up to bedtime. I’d have to sit outside his cot with him and sing to him, brush his hair, or rub his back while he slept, but after a few weeks of consistency, he grew to enjoy his crib and found comfort and familiarity in it.
Then we had to start preparing him for becoming a big brother as much as possible. I wasn’t sure how much he would comprehend. In the beginning, he would try to strike me or kick me in the stomach; because he was so young, it was difficult to tell whether his purpose was to injure the baby out of jealousy or if he didn’t know how to be gentle due to the baby’s non-visual presence. ‘Baby!’ I’d say as I took his hands in mine and gently placed them on my belly.
He began to exhibit attention, much to my astonishment! He would softly rub my belly while breastfeeding in the second trimester, and in our final nursing days together as my milk dried up (something he had never done before). He began kissing my belly on his own around the third trimester! He frequently used the words ‘brother’ and ‘baby’ while referring to himself.
He became increasingly clingy as the third trimester progressed, and he began to ask for cuddles more frequently. I’d noticed this shift in my second-born when our son was ready to arrive, so I knew it indicated he sensed the kid was on the way. The tantrums became more frequent as he processed some powerful emotions, which was tough to manage given my weariness from my late pregnancy. Still, I reminded myself that this was just temporary and that it was perfectly normal for him to be experiencing such strong emotions.
Then she showed up! A lovely and healthy baby girl. She arrived a few days before 39 weeks, but she was beautiful and had no issues. And there were no issues at all! There was no severe bleeding or hemorrhaging, no tearing, and severe health problems. I was thrilled that this time around, postpartum would be different.
He was pretty quiet the first day we brought her home. He gave her a lot of stares and kisses on the head. He wanted to be near us, yet he didn’t seem envious in the least. He didn’t show any animosity against her, only awe. During the first few days, he had a couple of significant outbursts around nap time. I recall sitting on the floor with him, holding him as he thrashed around, and crying with him because I could tell he was dealing with many feelings he didn’t know how to deal with. Even for adults, change is difficult.
Allowing him to snuggle with us when I nursed her, asking him to throw away soiled diapers for me, and him leaning more heavily on Daddy for comfort were all part of those first few weeks. He’d bring her some of his toys to play with, and he’d insist on holding her a lot. He adored holding her pacifier for her and would dash to her cradle to retrieve it whenever she cried. He also liked to ‘speak’ to her while she was in her bouncer or swing. He would shift his voice up and down with beautiful intonation to show that he loved her. And he thought she was just adorable. It was the first time I’d ever seen him overcome with excitement and delight; he’d clutch his face and beam at her because he adored her.
We also had to work with him on being quiet around the baby, not jumping around on top of her, not laying on top of her, not climbing in the bouncer or swinging with her, not shoving the pacifier in her mouth if she didn’t take it right away, not putting the blanket over her head, and not poking her eyes or putting his fingers in her mouth.
As the fourth trimester progressed, we started moving around more, and my body healed a little more. My baby carrier saved my life. While ring slings and soft cloth baby carriers are adorable, you’ll almost certainly require a baby carrier with back support in those early days. I adore my Tula Baby, and even the $25 Infantino one from Amazon does the trick!
In the afternoons, we started going to the park. I’d go about with the baby in the carrier on my chest, helping him into the baby swing or watching him play on the slides. It was easiest to take him to the park before nap time to help him burn off any remaining energy before calming down, but that wasn’t always possible. For the days when we couldn’t take him out, we bought a small trampoline. That became his go-to spot for releasing his pent-up energy. (As I write this, he’s jumping on it, and the baby swings in the swing next to me.)
I find that laying with him to help him relax works best, so I try to put the baby to sleep first and let her swing in her swing while I assist him. Because it’s uncommon that they both fall asleep simultaneously, I spend a lot of time switching between them. If I can get them to sleep simultaneously, I try not to clean or do anything constructive during that time. It’s far more vital for me to get some extra rest and recharge, so I don’t become overstimulated and exhausted.
The nighttime is the most challenging portion. Those are the situations in which I must psychologically prepare myself the most. The baby becomes overtired and refuses to sleep until 11 p.m., but occasionally until 1 a.m. During the night, she suffers the most from gas and gastrointestinal issues. He also refuses to relax for the night, preferring to walk around the home or play. They’ve both been weeping at the same time more times than I’d care to confess. Those are the times when I have to remind myself to stay centered and remember that they won’t always need me to rock them to sleep or be their comfort to help them regulate themselves. Time flies, and I’ve witnessed how eager children are to become self-sufficient. So, in this season of life, I try my hardest to provide them with the love and attention they desire.
I believe mothers are up to the task admirably. ‘I don’t think I can manage it,’ was the surface fear, but it wasn’t the basis of the problem. I know myself, and I know that, like many moms who have bought into utterly self-sacrificial parenting, the underlying concern was that I would not only rise to the challenges that this new season of life would bring, but that I would practically lose myself in it. So, if you find yourself in a similar stage of life, I want to encourage you to find ways to maintain a sense of balance. I built a self-study course for Mamas on how to do this as a life coach, but I’ll also offer a few ideas below!
This could mean altering your morning schedule on a semi-permanent basis to allow yourself and your children to sleep in following the long evenings.
It could mean setting in nap time for yourself or taking advantage of the fact that they’re both sleeping.
Spending a little extra on quick meals for kids, as well as something easy, excellent, nutritious, and healthy for you, can appear to be an excellent idea. Nutrition is critical for healing and energy, especially if you want to nurse.
Giving yourself a break when it comes to dishes or laundry can mean running the dishwasher twice instead of washing them first or having a dedicated ‘clean laundry pile.
It can take the form of essential oils, shower meditation, journaling or typing your feelings into your phone’s notes section, sitting alone in the car for a few minutes in silence, stepping out on the front porch for some fresh air when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or allowing yourself to cry it out.
It can take the form of asking your partner for assistance with specific tasks that make you feel overwhelmed. I get the stereotype that our partners should ‘just know’ what we need and how much they suck if they don’t simply do it, but sometimes they don’t know how to help you or in what ways you’re looking for support until you express it.
If your partner is uninterested, hiring help would be ideal, but I recognize that this is a luxury that many mothers lack. If it isn’t possible, do your best to find a mama tribe with whom you can share the burden. I understand that given the present state of the world, that’s gotten more complicated, so if that’s not an option, lean on your family as much as you can.
If none of these possibilities appeal to you and you lack a social network, don’t feel bad about spending screen time as a coping mechanism.
There’s nothing wrong with making your life simpler because motherhood wasn’t designed to be so lonely or unsupported. Especially in the beginning, when your energy is low, and you need to rest.
Finally, I’ll close with the exact words my friend said to me in such a loving, firm, and confident manner when I didn’t feel strong at all: You can and will accomplish this. There is so much love, intimacy, happiness, and completeness on the other side. It’s exhausting. It can be draining at times. It has the potential to be overstimulating. But it’s well worth the effort. Mama, best of luck!”
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