The past 12 weeks have been a time of a learning. I have learnt shitloads. I’m now an expert in having an almost five years old and a new baby. Everything beyond that is unknown territory, of course, but if I should ever be confronted with an almost five year old and a new baby again, I’d know exactly what to do. Here are some things I’ve learnt since embarking on this whole mother-of-two thing all those weeks ago:
1. It doesn’t matter how much you plan, the baby will fuck it up
My baby was going to arrive promptly halfway through the summer holidays. The timing would be perfect, giving me a couple of weeks to cherish having her big sister all to myself and then allowing for plenty of family bonding time before school started. I’m not a fool, I know you can’t plan these things to the letter and that is why I allowed a flexibility of up to three days either side of my due date. And then the baby didn’t arrive. Like, at all. For weeks. She totally didn’t get the memo about her due date. And she screwed up my summer holiday plans as a result.
2. It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, you will fuck it up
My first born definitely absolutely wasn’t going to feel left out at all when the new baby arrived. I had it all planned. She was going to continue to feel loved and nurtured and important even when I was busy pushing the new baby out. I had planned for it. I had read shitloads of books preparing Ebony for becoming a big sister. I’d warned her about how often babies feed. I’d bought her a Special Box Of Things To Keep Her Occupied so that she wouldn’t be bored. And her dad had taken four weeks off work so he could be there to help with the transition.
The only thing was, I’d forgotten how much your fanny hurts after having a baby. I spent the first three weeks after the birth trying not to walk/cry/move. I snapped a lot. I cried a lot. I walked a lot like John Wayne. I had no patience. I mostly sat on the sofa obsessively watching One Born Every Minute whilst sobbing out my medicalised birth and popping arnica pills like there was no tomorrow. I wasn’t the happy loving peaceful earth mama I had envisaged myself being. And nothing makes a four year old feel rejected quite like her mama being replaced by a pill popping weepy hormonal bleeding mess who nobody can go near for fear of the rage.
3. There are too many different types of sanitary towels
When you’ve recently had a baby, you need all the underwear protection you can get your hands on. You need cupboards stocked with maternity pads and sanitary towels and you will need enough to last you for weeks. This sounds easy enough, but actually, it’s not. I would send Laurie off to do some shopping and would ask him to pick up some sanitary towels. Which ones? Just normal ones, I would say. It took me a while to realise that Laurie does not know what this means. I now have an impressive selection of all the wrong sanitary towels. I had freakishly long ones (why are they so long, I don’t understand how anyone’s undercarriage can stretch so far), horrendously scented ones (It is bad enough down there post-birth without adding in an offensively floral smell) and incredibly thin ones (please, I AM DOING ALL THE BLEEDING, wafer thin goods will not suffice).
4. It doesn’t matter how much time your husband takes off work, they still want you
I wish I’d known this before because this is truly one of my biggest regrets at the moment (apart from the whole agreeing to go in to be monitored at 40+12 but that’s a whole other story…). Laurie had three weeks off after the birth, it should have been four but he ended up having to use one week whilst I was living it up in hospital. It was amazing having him around. He made me huge salads filled with all kinds of goodness, kept my sparkling water topped up and icy cold and he spoke to many pharmacists about how sore my fanny was (who else would do such things, really). And he was there to look after Ebony. I focused on the baby and he focused on the surprisingly giant child we had (she’s actually tiny, but seemed huge when I got home from the hospital).
He comforted her in the night, he read stories to her, he played with her. He did it all. And I did nothing. I thought it was easier that way. It was, for me, I guess. But it wasn’t for her. I should have made more of an effort to make time for her. I should have made sure we had some time just the two of us every single day. But I didn’t, because I didn’t think to. I was too tired and too raw and too emotional. I wasn’t thinking about anything but that. She absolutely loved having Laurie’s attention all to herself, but I think life would have been a bit easier if I’d carved out some time to spend with her, too.
5. Everything is easier the second time
If anxious first-time mother me from five years ago could see totally relaxed second-time mother me from now, she’d wonder what the hell I was playing it. Why aren’t I googling every single worry that runs through my head? Why aren’t I obsessively checking the temperature of my baby because she feels slightly warm? Why aren’t I making myself sick with worry about everything? Because I don’t give a crap. I am so much more relaxed this time. It’s a completely different experience. Life is so much easier when Google isn’t constantly filling your mind with worst-case scenarios. I’m just trusting my gut because I already know I can do this.
6. Dinnertime is hell on earth
Take one exhausted-from-school-hangry-four-year-old and throw an overstimulated-hungry-tired-clingy-baby into the mix and you have got every single 5pm of my life for the first two months of Ember’s life. Holy shit. I either had Ember screaming the house down because she was desperate to be held or I had Ebony kicking off because she was GOING TO DIE OF HUNGER RIGHT NOW. And then there was all the crying, from me, obviously. The bouncy chair appeases no-one, even the sling didn’t help some days. It was terrible, truly terrible. I began to wonder why we can’t just all buy space food and be done with it. But then, as Ember became more alert, things got a little easier. All of a sudden she was happy watching her big sister and her big sister was happy being the entertainer. Now I can cook in peace.
7. There is still plenty of mother guilt
Everything is easier the second time, apart from the guilt. That’s the same. With Ebony, I had a whole list of bizarre and unimportant things I felt guilty about. This time, it’s the crying. Ember cries more than her big sister ever did because she’s not the only person I have to look after. With Ebony, I would happily skip meals and comfort and sleep if it meant she was happy. But this time around, well, I have to make sure her big sister is fed and comfortable and happy and, unfortunately, sometimes that means Ember cries for a little longer than I would like. And it means I get to have crying in my ear for extended periods which is just so much fun.
8. It’s easy to wake a sleeping baby
I would never have woken Ebony up from a nap. Never ever. My world revolved around her and her every whim. This poor second child is dragged out of bed every morning. I wake her up two minutes before we leave the house. She goes from the warm cocoon of the bed to the harsh weather outside the front door within minutes of opening her eyes. And she just has to put up with it because there is no other way of me getting Ebony to school on time. Well, not on time, but, you know, before they lock the gates. On time-ish.
9. There is nothing nicer than watching their bond develop
At first, I think Ebony loved her sister because she knew she was meant to. She cried when she started school because she said she missed Ember so much. My mum gently told me that what she actually meant was that she missed me, not Ember. When visitors came to visit, she would play up the big sister thing for attention. She would give lots of kisses so people would remark on what a lovely big sister she was. But as Ember is growing older and more alert, they are developing a strong bond. Ember loves her big sister so much, she always gives her the biggest smile when she sees her. It’s lovely to see. And Ebony seems to enjoy having a baby sister. She loves having a captive audience for her incredibly long shows and having someone she can blame for trumps.
10. The days go way quicker when they’re broken up by the school run
When Ebony was a baby, the days were long. I can remember I would sometimes count down the hours until Laurie got home from work. If he was running late, it felt unbearable. We went to groups, met friends, went for walks, had lunch out… but the days still felt long. This time around, they feel painfully short. We get up early to get Ebony to school on time, we have time to see friends, go to groups or get things done and then it’s time to dash back to school for Ebony. And those last few hours before Ebony goes to bed are easy because Ember loves nothing more than watching her big sister storm around the house leaving chaos in her wake.