A few years ago I wrote an article about how great it is to have an only child. I outlined my point with trite examples of single child bliss like getting lattes and going for guilt free runs with my dog. And sleep! My God, the sleep. At the time, I was agonizing about the benefits and drawbacks of creating another human life to take care of, and I felt I had finally reached my conclusion: One kid is where it’s at.
Until a year later when I decided the opposite. My husband, being more than ten years older, was hesitant about this and voiced his concerns; what if the baby isn’t healthy? What if it’s one of “those” babies who doesn’t sleep and cries all the time? What if we have a difficult toddler? What if the extra stress is too much for our marriage? You’re going to have hyperemesis gravidarum again! Also – I’m old!
Guess what? Our second born, our wonderful baby boy, was all of those things. And he broke me.
This second shit pregnancy included two separate bouts of pink eye, athlete’s foot, an ambitious hemorrhoid that burst during an unfortunate bath, a yeast infection that lasted almost a month, and of course hyperemesis gravidarum which was impossibly worse the second time around (nine months of barfing, IVs, torn esophagus, hemorrhoids popping out of your ass because you’re vomiting so forcefully … you get the idea).
When my unborn son topped this masterpiece of misery with being two weeks overdue, I was ready to get him TF out of me. I waddled my miserable, crusty eyed, itchy-twatted self down to the midwives and asked them for their witchy potion. They had mentioned previously that this concoction, which included verbena root extract, could kick start labor — specifically in those who are overdue. Being skeptical by nature I had declined it at earlier visits, but found myself more open-minded as ailments mounted.
I took the “potion” that night, against the midwives’ advice, but humored them by following their instructions to “let us know if you take it, as it works fast!” before heading upstairs to bed. They’d advised me not to take it before bed, as going into labor tired is not ideal for obvious reasons. They were right. Listen to your health care professionals, people!
At around midnight, I shifted position in bed and something inside me rubbed in a way I had not felt before. Seconds later I was wailing to my husband to get the birth pool ready — this was active labor and I remembered it well. But instead of the gradual ebb and flow of contractions I had experienced with my first, this came on like a fist to the uterus. I had gone from 0-10 on the pain scale in a matter of seconds.
I knew having a second would be difficult, but I did not anticipate the complete and utter 180 degree mess my life would become.
Two hours later, I birthed an eight pound baby just like a giraffe, with all the accompanying sound effects. I had bite marks all over my arm from the intensity of my labor, as well as a decent labial tear. My first thought when he came out was not “Is he okay?” or “What does he look like?” It was “Thank Christ I never have to go through that again.”
He was a roly-poly little guy; having stayed in there those extra two weeks, he looked like an irate three-month-old. I loved him immediately and took him upstairs, where we worked on our latch. Then he did not sleep for two years.
You think I’m joking, but I’m not. This kid is now 33 months old and just began sleeping through the night. The last two and a half years my husband and I have suffered greatly — and I mean, twice a night wake-ups accompanied by frequent 5:30 am mornings. It’s been a slog. My daughter loves her brother, but her life is completely different than before; there’s just no time to do the things we used to do, and when there is, I am just too damn tired. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s our reality.
Our daughter was an easy baby, easy toddler, and is still a relatively easy eight-year-old. Of course, we didn’t know this. I just assumed we were rockstar parents and our easy-going, happy girl was a direct result of our superior skills as caregivers. Wrong.
I have to admit, I was pretty smug for the first five years of my daughter’s life. I “healthified” all our meals and even made my own fucking yogurt — more than once. I frequented my local gym and began seeing my abs for the first time in my life. I was also a proud “mom-tographer,” spending hours dressing her up, taking her to beautiful locales at the golden hour and shooting ethereal images that I would share with friends and family, basking in their adoration and Facebook likes. I hate me too.
My son’s entire proof-of-life library resides on my iPhone 8, and 64% of them are blurry because this kid does not. stay. still. He is on a mission from the second he wakes up to the second he falls asleep to fuck shit up. He is creepily coordinated and can climb anything; he’s intelligent, caring, curious, quick witted, adorable and profoundly exhausting. He does not do anything that is convenient. He throws things a lot, and I have to keep my coffee on a shelf because he has this thing with placing objects in vessels containing liquid. I found a mini gourd in our fish bowl the other day.
He has also disappeared into the yard on more than one occasion, forcing me to run outside in my sad PJ’s with the hole in the ass because I had not been able to pull it together to make it down to the goddamn Walmart to buy new ones. He dislikes all my adult friends, as well as their kids, and if we have someone over he buries his head in my chest and demands to be carried; if you put him down he screams for six hours. I find him standing on top of high pieces of furniture a lot, and while that would have elicited panic and shrill cries with my first, now I just sip my tea enjoy the fact he is stuck there till I rescue him. When he realizes this, he cries.
Sleep deprivation with a “spirited child” will break you. It certainly did me — culminating with a full blown breakdown in my GP’s office. I had to come to terms with the fact that my ever present depression had turned into a monster that was consuming all joy and happiness in my life. Harder still was admitting that the catalyst for this stemmed from the extra stress of having a second child.
I didn’t have the time or energy to make yogurt, go to the gym, compose perfect photos, or cook all the lovely scratch meals I had done with my first — and the guilt consumed me. I felt like I wasn’t cutting it as a mother or wife, and everyone could see what a failure I was. I would wake up to negative self-talk telling me I was worthless and my family would be better off without me. Getting out of bed seemed insurmountable in the morning, and when I would inevitably be woken in the middle of the night by a cranky toddler, I would rage-scream into my pillow before scraping myself together to warm a second, third, or sometimes fourth bottle of milk. There were times I hated being a mom.
My GP recognized that my depression had become unmanageable, and for the first time since adolescence, I accepted that prescription medication was needed. I knew having a second would be difficult, but I did not anticipate the complete and utter 180 degree clusterfuck my life would become. My son hates the pool, hates story time at the library, and seems to hate the company of other toddlers his age. Maybe he’s just ahead of his time — I mean, I hate all those things too — but aren’t we bound by some sort of societal clause to participate?
Sleep deprivation with a “spirited child” will break you. It certainly did me — culminating with a full blown breakdown in my GP’s office.
I am working on giving myself some grace. The fact that he has begun sleeping through the night has shown me a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. His smile and laugh lift my spirits and the rage-screaming has subsided somewhat since going on medication.
My husband loves to share our cautionary tale with anyone who is on the fence about having a second. We share knowing glances and don’t hold back on the “hard.” Because it is, and we could all use a bit of honesty when talking about what breaks us — even if it’s our beautiful little ones that do it.
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