I was recently invited to a virtual baby shower for a blogging friend of mine who is expecting her second child. I had never been invited to one of these before, although I've attended quite a few flesh-and-blood showers (that sounds kind of gruesome, actually, but I hate referring to the world outside of the Internet as "real life," since I blog in real life and real-life people read what I write). I've written before about the tease I sometimes find the Internet world of virtual friendships to be, and how I long for real connections -- voices on the other end of a telephone, or a shared cup of coffee, or a walk with a good friend under the night sky. But when you do have so many Internet friends, you have to find creative ways to honor them, and to forge connections the best you can. The hostess for this shower (yes, there is always a host or hostess for a virtual shower) asked that each "guest" bring the gift of advice for this parent about to embark down the road of parenting two children.
I've written lots about life as the parent of two children, but in thinking all this over yesterday afternoon, in-between lying on the hammock with T., folding two loads of laundry, and watching L.'s entire second-grade class bash a pinata and make a mad animal-like dash for the spilled candy, I've come up with a few pieces of advice for a parent expecting a second child.
#1. Despite what you might hear from lots of people, having a second child is not "a breeze," nor is it just like "having one child, only double the work/fun/joy." You may have two instead of one, but having that second child is like suddenly dividing yourself up again into a million pieces, in much the same way you did when you became a parent for the very first time. That new small person will wear you out, and your heart will expand in amazing ways you didn't think possible, but your other small person will need you, too, in different and equally exhausting and wonderful ways. And meeting all those needs and caring for yourself, and for your house and partner, is, in my book, much more than just double the work.
#2. Allow yourself to weep often in those first early days. And, if you're like me -- inclined to be a hormonal wreck during pregnancy and after birth -- allow yourself to weep over anything that is remotely related to your first child. I still remember, in the weeks after T.'s birth, sitting in the rocking chair and reading this book to L., while my voice cracked and broke and I was nearly blinded by tears. I recently looked back over that book and I can assure you there is absolutely nothing in the least bit emotional about that story. But I read that book to L. the October before my daughter was born and it was just the two of us at that moment, my 3-1/2 year-old firstborn child, resting against my swollen belly, with the promise of all the excitement and magic of Halloween night hanging in the air.
And, if you want to get all that crying out of your system, find a copy of this film and watch it first before you show it to your first child. The movie is wonderful preparation for a child about to become a big brother/sister (hands-down one of the BEST movies about becoming a new sibling), but when I watched it as an eight-month pregnant hormonal mess, I bawled my eyes out silently into our sofa cushion.
#3. It's okay to resent your firstborn at times, during those early days and months as a parent-of-two. You might feel terrible and guilty about this, or you might just be too tired to worry much about it at first, until you find yourself alone at night, nursing a colicky two-week-old, and you long for a quiet night's sleep with your first child curled up next to you, his hand in your hair.
#4. You might resent your second-born newborn often, during those early days and weeks. You might have forgotten how tiring it is to nurse nonstop, or feel a twinge of anger when you have to interrupt a special moment with your first child to tend to the needs of this second one. You might want someone to just sweep in and take #2 off your hands for a few hours, so it can be just you and your first child again, and you can be that fun/relaxed/loving parent again -- the one who was so good at doling out undivided attention.
And finally, in the practical advice category:
#5. Set up a little nursing/feeding station next to the rocker or chair where you'll be spending so much of your time. Someone recommended this to me, and it was one of the best pieces of advice I'd gotten. I put two or three soft pillows in the nook between the glider and T.'s crib, and a small radio, and a basket filled with books, stickers, coloring pages, and, every day or so, a special treat. When I had to nurse T. -- which was ridiculously often and for ridiculously long periods of time -- L. would sit next to me on the floor, looking through his special treats and, in turn, feeling just a bit special himself.
Those are my five pieces of advice, for what they're worth. Becoming the parent of two is incredibly hard in so many ways, but easier, too, in others. You may have to wait a bit on the returns, and be patient. It will be months or even years before you catch a glimpse of your two children together and you realize, with a sudden jolting shock -- a spreading joy like a good warmth -- that they truly are both happy to have each other; that your first child's heart has expanded in immeasurable ways, too, and that this was your gift to him -- this gift of everlasting siblinghood.