I’m going to ask for your help in supporting a cause today. It will require no money to do so. It will just require a little of your thought from time to time. There are a group of people out there who need us. They are doing a very important job but have been forgotten. And these people are . . . new parents of second children.
OK, OK, they are not as cute as puppy-dogs and not as conversation worthy as the latest reality TV show dramas, but they do need us! Let me explain my plea.
When you are pregnant the first time, the wheels of a finely-tuned set of procedures and interventions are begun. Once you have that positive pregnancy test in your excited little mitts, you head off to the GP. They are not effusive in their joy and anticipation of your marvellous news, but nonetheless, they set in motion the process of regular midwife appointments, the obligatory requirement to pee into a tiny plastic tube on a regular basis and all of the scans and GP appointments you will need. At some point a letter arrives to ask you to sign-up to antenatal classes so that the dad-to-be can be frightened out of his wits and lied to that if he learns how to rub your back in just the right way he’ll be very helpful during the birth. Every 2-4 weeks you meet with a professional health care worker of some kind and have a chance to ask all of the sensible and silly questions that you have. You and your baby to be are monitored, measured, poked and prodded and vaguely kept-in-mind by the related medical professionals. If like me, you have some unusual aspect to your pregnancy, you’ll even get paraded in front of medical students and talked over and at by a consultant at each hospital visit.
Friends and family are super-keen to see what a baby produced by you and your partner will look like. Your colleagues and friends may throw you a baby shower and like to sit and sip coffee and eat cupcakes with you whilst you talk about the new future opening up before you. You nurture and cosset yourself too: you may do antenatal yoga, have massage or reflexology, and plan and think about the future that now lays before you. Once the baby is born EVERYONE you have ever known comes to see you. You tell them about the birth, they get their fix of newborn baby snuggles and if you like you can stay in your pyjamas for days as you enter the steep learning curve that is parenting. Midwives and health-visitors stop by often in the first few weeks.
And after the initial twilight zone period of the ‘parenting a newborn’ phase, life can flick back to normal fairly easily. Newborns are portable. They have relatively few needs, though admittedly the ones they have are require frequent input from you. Gradually life gets into the rhythm and routine of parenting and family life.
So surely second time around you have been there before and it’s all a whole lot easier?
From the first though, you realise that it is a whole different ball-game. You will be managing morning-sickness whilst caring for a small child. Your doctor will barely look up from the computer to take your blood pressure and you will have about half of the appointments you had in your first pregnancy as it is assumed you have done it before and can do it again. You will be glad of this for the most part, as you will have a toddler of small child accompanying you to all of the above. Once the baby is born, the hospital will assume that you want to go home the moment that the cord is cut, and lots of people do! I wanted to stay in for one night as I wanted one night alone with my new baby when our second was born.
The learning curve required to manage two children is just as steep as for the first. There are new challenged to be handled too. After the first baby is born, you can follow your baby’s sleep patterns and nap during the day. Not quite so straightforward with the second or subsequent children. Your friends and family will be there but workmates and aquaintances may not be. You will have your new mum-friends who will replace them, but they are also busily caring for small children and if they have a second will be managing that, and if they don’t, they will not yet realise the new challenges you are managing. Second babies can’t be left to sleep and eat to their own schedule as the first did, because you and your second child have routines and activities that they will have to fit around. Toddler groups and stay-and-plays come into their own as you learn how to get out of the door with 2 children and yourself washed, dressed and fed; some days you won’t manage all 3 for all 3, but you do manage to get out and that is a triumph.
And most days with a baby and your first child are OK. Most days you go with the chaos, slowing your timeline down to match the new family dynamics and practicalities.
And some days it isn’t alright. Some days the task of feeding and washing and playing and interacting with preschoolers all day long with reduced sleep and body recovering from birth are too much. You wonder why you thought having one baby was difficult; what on earth did you do all day when all they did was eat and sleep. You have forgotten how much you have learnt since then and that even the basics were new and time-consuming after the first was born. You are more capable and knowledgeable than first time around and can give the impression of coping and resilience , which is sometimes accurate and sometimes illusory.
But no one talks about the mindset change that you need to manage after the second baby is born. Now you have to spread yourself a little thinner to do what everyone requires of you. There is a little less time for everyone and a lot less time and thought for the care of yourself. This is aside from the practical implications.
So friends and family of mums with second or subsequent babies, please spare some thought and time for them. They are indeed capable, knowledgeable and resilient- most of the time! There are days when it all feels like a relentless, never-ending drudge and vulnerability and tears are close to the surface. This reaching out to a mum-in-need will not tax your time too much. Pop around for an hour and let your children play with theirs whilst you and mum have a cake, a coffee and a chat. Hold the newborn whilst reading to the older child whilst mum has a shower. Take a few sandwiches around one lunchtime so she doesn’t have to think aboutone meal. Arrange an easy, not too dressy relaxed night out with a couple of friends so that she can remember that the world beyond her family still exists. Babysit for an hour so she can go for a walk, a nap or to read a magazine by herself. You will know her and her circumstances much better than I can guess at here, so tailor it to what you know will work for her.
And tell her that life will find its own groove again. That she will gradually realise that everything is getting easier. That there will come a time when she won’t even be able to remember having just one child. She’ll see her children developing their own sibling bond and relationship separate from her. She will then become part of the linked community of mums and families who lend love and support to the mothers coming up behind them.
Like all good superheroes, you can now go about the normal business of your day to day life. When you see a friend or family member needing this support, you’ll be ready to reach out and help them in little ways that will make a big difference. Thank you on their future behalf.