A letter to an expecting mom who already has a toddler.
In my previous life (you know, the one where I actually used to sleep) I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Ever since my parents took us to Disney World when I was 14, I have loved roller coasters. There’s nothing quite like that moment of anticipation when you have climbed ever so slowly up, up, up and are now braced and waiting for that first stomach-churning plunge. You wait on the precipice, totally committed and hugely excited, yet a small part of you is shouting ‘This is madness! Get me out of here!’ And then it begins, and you just have to go with it. A barrage of swirling, twisting, turning, flashing that leaves you breathless with laughter and flushed with excitement. It’s over before you know it, and that moment of apprehension is forgotten in the tidal wave of adrenaline and the relief of solid ground beneath your feet once more.
Our ride started five weeks earlier than anticipated, when Aiden was delivered at 35 weeks via emergency C-section and admitted into Neonatal ICU. Our eldest, Cameron, was two years and one month old. When Aiden was discharged 15 days later, my husband and I were utterly exhausted from the sheer logistics of it all, never mind the emotional stress.
In the six months following Aiden’s birth I felt like I barely had time to breathe. Because somehow, adding another little being does not mean twice the chaos – it means exponentially more chaos! I spent those months feeling like the speed on the treadmill had tripled in an instant and I was barely keeping up. Feeling like a juggler who had had my three balls (hubby, baby and myself) totally under control, only to have several sharp knives, some expensive plates and a flamethrower thrown into the mix. The ride has been so wild that at times, we still feel like we’re trying to adjust.
However, despite the fact that the twists and turns whizz round at alarming speed, we have started to relax into our family of four. With hair flying and g-forces molding my face into odd expressions, I am sitting back and appreciating our boys. I’m no longer holding on with white-knuckle determination. And when I look back I realize I have learnt a lot (yes it’s been mostly reactive as opposed to proactive learning, but that’s okay too).
So here it is mommy-friend … my strategies for surviving the first six-months with a toddler and a tiny baby.
1. Exploit your experience
You may be navigating new waters with your toddler, but when it comes to caring for a baby, you’ve got this! Approaching my new baby with the natural, relaxed confidence that comes from having done it before has been incredibly rewarding. There is so much more room for enjoyment in that space previously filled with all those first-time-mom nerves. Time with Aiden is often a calm and peaceful escape from the vortex of my two-year old.
2. Look after yourself
I wish I could say that this looks like spa days, long naps and reading novels. Umm … no. Try vitamin drips, snatching 10 minute power naps and trying not to eat too much chocolate.
That exponential factor I talked about? It applies to the pressure on moms too. I have been spread thinner than I thought possible in the last few months. Sleep deprivation has reached torturous new heights. It’s emotionally and physically depleting. And it does not let up. Boost yourself however you can.
3. Prioritise your marriage
One of the hardest apects of Aiden’s arrival, was the impact it had on our marriage. Having two kids divides you. Literally. You can’t believe how much time you spend apart while being in the same house. For us, date-nights used to be nice to have; now they are essential. If we don’t make time together a priority, it will get lost in the daily grind.
4. Recognise your limits
One of the challenges of this period is having two kids in such different phases. Between that feeding-napping-changing loop and the non-stopness of a toddler, I struggled to find time for basics such as showering and putting food on the table. I have to be far more intentional than before to keep our home ticking over. I ruthlessly cut my daily to-do list, drastically changed my expectations for myself, accepted help whenever it was offered and scaled back my priorities to my family.
This is not a season for being involved in a myriad of fields. It is a season of small yet significant focus. Cut back. Say no. Simplify. Focus.
5. Keep perspective
There’s that saying about motherhood, ‘The days are long but the years are short.’ Knowing from before how quickly the phases pass had been a real sanity-saver for me. No matter how out of control I was feeling, I knew that the madness wouldn’t last for more than a month or two. (Granted, the madness morphs into a different sort of madness, but we’re crossing one bridge at a time here people.) On those days when I hadn’t showered by 1 pm, had fed Cameron yoghurt for breakfast and lunch and had absolutely zero plans for dinner at 17:45, I just cut myself some slack. There will be bad days; many more of them than you had the first time round. But tomorrow will be better. And then there’ll be another tomorrow, and another one. Before you know it, the worst is behind you.
6. Appreciate your littlies
One morning I was standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil. It was 04:50am. Between the kids I’d been up hourly the night before. I was irritable, grumpy and full of self-pity. And out of nowhere, I had this thought, ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ It is an exhausting season this one, but I make a concerted effort to enjoy my kids. My Cam is a whirlwind but he throws out golden moments of adorable, can’t-help-but-smile, cuteness all the time. And Aiden is my last baby, so all the more precious for it. I inhale his baby smell, relish his softness and try to slow down enough to watch him growing up too fast.
You are on the precipice friend. Take a deep breath. Hold on tight. And enjoy the ride. It’s going to be awesome!