When your first baby is born, you are either completely underprepared, and believe the baby will come out after five minutes of heavy breathing and a little gasp, or completely overprepared and have written a nine-page birth plan and packed everything from a yoga ball to a Celine Dion ‘best of’ CD. Either way, you are terrified about the state of your lady parts. Your husband would never admit it, but so is he.
You have attended every prenatal class, read every book and high-lighted all the important passages. You are an expert before you even hold the baby in your arms, at which point, you forget everything anyway.
In the hospital, you keep one finger on the nurse call-button and one on speed-dial to your mom. Eventually you kick your husband out, and move your mom in. You send him home to wash some clothes and he returns with a $2,000 video camera and spends the next day and a half figuring it out. He films everything from the diaper change to bath time, and you end up with four solid hours of footage of your sleeping baby. You both watch it and think it is brilliant.
You can’t figure out why breast-feeding is so hard when it looked so easy with the dolls and rubber boobs in prenatal class. When it is time to feed you kick out all your visitors, and take fifteen minutes to prepare. You have pillows and specially designed cushions, modest breast-feeding tops, and shawl to cover yourself. You have a water bottle, paper and pen to record the feed, remote control and mobile phone. You put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, and dim the lights. By the time you are ready, your baby has fallen asleep again. It’s not as easy as you thought. You never knew breasts could bleed. You never knew holding a small baby could make your arms hurt. You never knew the effort involved in expressing 1ml of colostrum.
As the days pass you realize that the nurses, though meaning well, are all contradicting each other. You try and follow all their advice and wind up feeding your baby on demand lying down in bed, in a twin-style, football hold according to a routine preordained by some woman in a book that was published last century. By Day Three you have a major melt-down, and spend the next day crying that you can’t do it, and it’s all too hard. Your husband brings you a family pack of Mars Bars and somehow that helps.
The day you leave hospital it takes three hours to pack the car with all the gifts and flowers you have received. It takes another three hours to figure out how to put the baby in their car-seat. Your husband drives home at 15MPH while you sit in the backseat next to the baby, holding its head every time you go over a bump, and yelling at your husband to slow down when you go around corners. You don’t even notice the line of traffic snarling behind you.
At home you have either over or underprepared. You have either bought every baby item known to mankind and re-mortgaged the house, or you have been in denial for the previous nine months and wait until the day you get home to look into cots and change tables. You realize the dining chair you put in front of the TV as a feeding chair is woefully inadequate, especially since you have now calculated you will be sitting in it for at least eight hours a day and all through the night. You send your husband to buy an ultra-expensive, all-rocking, all-swinging, all-reclining baby feeding chair which has everything but a sink built into it. Your bank manager starts getting antsy.
If you didn’t find out what sex the baby was, and painted the nursery a nice neutral colour, you suddenly decide that’s not good enough for your new precious bundle and send your husband to Bunnings to buy some gender-appropriate paint (eco-friendly, low-fume, non-irritant, of course). While he is there, he also buys some storage tubs for the mountain of clothes the baby has been given in its first week of life, but by the time he comes home, your baby has grown out of half of them already.
You want the world to know that you have a new baby and send very expensive, professionally done, announcement cards with all your baby’s statistics and a photo of your newborn wrapped up to its eyeballs in blankets. You think it is the most beautiful baby ever, and secretly start looking into child modeling agencies. He would never admit it, but so does your husband.
You husband has taken six weeks off work to help you with the new baby. He is a machine! He becomes an expert at changing diapers and swaddling. He suddenly starts washing loads and loads of clothes for the baby – something he has never done before in his life. He brings you the baby in the middle of the night for a feed, and takes it for walks in the morning so you can have a sleep-in. The baby is bathed every day and has fresh clothes at every nappy change. Your husband makes a Powerpoint presentation of the first thousand photos he has taken of the baby, and has it running on his computer at all times. You start calling each other Mommy and Daddy. When he has to return to work, you suffer a mild breakdown and your Mum has to move back in.
When you leave the house you pack for every contingency. You have spare diapers, wipes, bags, creams and a stack of changing pads (because there is no way you are putting your baby down on a public change station without layers of protection). You have little bottles of disinfecting hand gel, suncream, a sun hat, a beanie, dummies, mittens, socks, wraps, at least two clean outfits and an emergency bottle of formula. Just in case. Even though you are breastfeeding. Whatever. Stop judging me! You have bright and colorful toys hanging from every surface of the pram and car, toys that crinkle, toys that jingle, toys that chime. All of this is packed into two, brand new, specially designed diaper bags that cost almost as much as the ergonomic, three-wheeled jogging pram. It doesn’t matter that you have never jogged before.
It takes you so long to pack the car, that the baby is due for another feeding, and has done another poo, that you give up and decide to stay home.
By the time the baby is two months old, you already have filled three photo albums, moulded their feet and hands in plaster, enrolled them in three private schools, and signed them up for baby dance, baby gym, baby signing and baby modeling.
You have developed a twitch in your left eye and are not quite sure what day it is. When people ask how you are, you gush about how beautiful your baby is, and how wonderful everything is, but wouldn’t dare mention the fact that you miss your old life and sometimes cry in the middle of the night when the baby won’t sleep. You don’t know what you expected but you’re not sure this is it.
When your second baby is born, you have decided that you won’t be repeating the same mistakes you made on your first one. You trudge off to hospital with a more open-mind than the first time, but soon discover that even though you have done this before, the baby hasn’t, and it’s a completely different experience anyway. Your lady parts survived the last pregnancy somewhat intact, but this time you promise yourself you will actually do your pelvic floor exercises and not just lie about it to the nurses.
You attend a single pre-natal class, reasoning that it should all come back. You see all the first time mums and feel slightly superior to them, but also jealous of their smaller bumps and attentive husbands, who bring them footstools and cushions and cups of tea. Yours is at home babysitting the toddler and watching the footy.
In the hospital, you keep one finger on the pethidine epidural. Your mum and husband take it in turns to stay home with the toddler or come in to hospital to be with you and the baby. Your husband only remembers the video camera on the day you are due to be discharged, and he madly stages baths and nappy changes so the second child won’t feel left out later on in life. Five minutes footage of your sleeping baby is plenty.
You discover breast-feeding is still hard, despite having finally figured it out with the first baby. This new baby has no clue what to do, and you are frustrated at being back at square one. When it is time to feed you kick out what few visitors you have, and turn the TV on.
This time round you are smiling politely at the midwives, but ignoring the advice from all except one or two you really like and trust. You are prepared for your Day Three melt-down, but it still hits hard. You spend the next day either crying that you miss your toddler terribly, or crying because you don’t miss them as much as you think you should. Either way, you get the bad-mother guilts. Your husband brings you a hand-made card from your toddler and that absolutely helps.
The day you leave hospital it takes three hours to pack the car because for some reason your husband thought it would be ‘nice’ to bring the toddler, and she has decided to have a massive tantrum in the middle of the carpark. It takes another three hours to move the baby’s carseat as far away from the toddler as possible, after discovering that the toddler ‘shared’ her sultanas with her new sister. Your husband drives home at 50kmh while you sit in the front seat yelling at the toddler to stop tossing her toys in the baby’s carseat. You notice the line of traffic snarling behind you but don’t really care.
At home you have things pretty much sorted. You still have all your baby stuff from the first time, and even though it’s all now covered in pink texta and stickers, it is still functional. You spend a lot of time screaming at the toddler to get out of your all-swinging, all-rocking feeding chair. Her favorite game is to spin herself round and round and then laugh hysterically as she climbs out and falls drunkenly onto the floor. You end up pulling out one of the dining chairs and using that to feed the baby, rather than fight with the toddler.
You didn’t find out what sex the baby was, and decided that even if it was different to the first, it would have to make do with the nursery as is. You said that a lot during the second pregnancy – that this baby will have to ‘make do’, but when it is born, you still want it to have new things. After all, you were a second child and always had to ‘make do’ with hand-me-downs. You fight the urge to spoil the baby, while your husband fights the urge to favor the older one. Not that either of you would admit that to each other.
You want the world to know that you have a new baby but cannot be bothered with the very expensive, professionally done, announcement cards. You still have two dozen cards leftover from the first baby and wonder if you just changed the baby’s name and statistics whether anyone would notice. After all, all newborns wrapped up to their eyeballs in blankets look pretty much the same, don’t they? You decide to send out an email instead. You think your new baby is the most beautiful baby ever, and when you look back at photos of your first, you secretly think that perhaps she wasn’t as cute as you thought. He would never admit it, but so does your husband.
You husband has taken two weeks off work to help you with the new baby. In reality though, his job is to manage the toddler so you can feed the baby without a sticky little helper. He hardly gets to see the baby until the toddler is in bed, and by then he is utterly exhausted and falls asleep in front of the TV. He does two loads of washing and changes four nappies, then disappears back to work. The baby is bathed every few days and has fresh clothes whenever she vomits. Anything more, you argue, is bad for the environment. It becomes your new catch-cry and prevents a lot of unnecessary washing and effort. Your husband prints a few photos he has taken of the baby, and for good measure laminates them at work. The toddler loves them, and takes them to daycare to show her friends. When he has to return to work, you are secretly glad because you can now get the cranky toddler back into her routine.
When you leave the house you pack as though you are going on an expedition to the other end of the earth. Not only do you have to pack for the baby, but you have all the toddlers crap to cart around too. Now you need two sets of nappies, spare clothes and dummies. You have realised that generally it doesn’t snow and shine in the same day, and have calmed down a bit with the sun hats and beanies for the baby, but toddlers require snack containers, drink bottles, favourite snugglies and toys to distract. You bought a toddler ‘board’ to go on the back of the pram but there is no way she is going to stand there quietly, so you end up putting the toddler in the pram, and the baby in a sling. You quickly learn to only attempt the shops on days the toddler is in daycare, and you are reminded how pleasant it is the leave the house with a new baby who just sleeps all the time.
By the time the baby is two months old, you have signed the toddler up for another day at daycare. You have printed a photo book online, and it’s only when they arrive in the mail box, that you realise most of the photos are of the toddler and not the baby. You stop trying to ‘do’ things with the baby, and just sit with her instead.
You always know what day it is because you have a full routine for your toddler who constantly needs to be entertained. Playgroup, mothers group, daycare, playdates. The baby seems happy enough to tag along and get cuddles from whoever else is present. Some days you almost forget you have a baby, until she is brought back you for a feed or nappy change, which just makes you feel guilty.
When people ask how you are, your words tumble out and you never know what you are going to say until you have said it. Your moods are very dependent on how much sleep you had and what your toddler is doing at that point in time.
When your third baby is born, even though most people think you are crazy for ‘going again’, you feel a sense of calm descend. There is a sense of relief that you aren’t entering into the terrifying world of a first born. You know you can do it because you have done it before. You have absolutely zero expectations, which is liberating, because then you can’t be disappointed. Instead, you actually find you enjoy yourself. Your lady parts are a bit wobbly after two pregnancies, but you are completely realistic in your lack of faith that you will be doing any pelvic floor exercises this time round. Let’s be honest, you haven’t done any sort of exercise in about two years.
You attend a pre-natal class with a friend, claiming that you are going along for moral support only. When you find out that all the ‘rules’ about sterilising, and swaddling and feeding have changed since last time, you decide to just tune out and enjoy the complimentary Tim Tams. You enjoy watching the facial expressions of all the first-time dads when the midwife brings out the rubber vagina and pushes a doll through it.
In hospital, you keep one finger on the TV remote because you have to keep your other kids entertained when they come to visit. Your mum and husband fight over who has to stay home with the toddler and pre-schooler and who gets to come in to hospital to be with you and the baby. The video camera you used for the first two is now ridiculously outdated, and you film footage of the new baby with her older sisters on your Smart Phone to be instantly uploaded to friends and family across the globe.
Breast-feeding is still hard, and you still get bleeding nipples and mastitis, but you fast-track through the dramas and just get on with it. You are able to breast feed or express while peeling a banana for the toddler and changing the batteries in a toy for your pre-schooler. All at the same time.
This time round you are basically ignored by the midwives and you are fine with that. You have your Day Three melt-down, and move on. You have a few visitors but spend most of your time alone with the new baby, enjoying the peace and quiet. For some reason, things just work, and you don’t know if it’s the new baby, or you. Doesn’t matter anyway.
The day you leave hospital you stop for a minute and look around. You are pretty certain this will be the last time you do this, and that makes you a little sad. Although it took three hours to figure out how to fit three carseats in the back, now they are in, it’s all pretty straight forward. At least when you just have the baby. You’re smart enough to realize this now, and enjoy the silence of the drive home.
At home things don’t change as much as you would expect. The baby just slots into family life, and you all continue on. You still have all your baby stuff plus a lot of second-hand stuff donated by well-meaning friends. The all-swinging, all-rocking feeding chair lasts about two weeks before it gives its last rock, and you resign yourself to the couch. You will be spending a lot of time on that couch.
Despite the fact that you now have three children of the same ‘colour’, the new baby is still given lots of new toys and clothes. She could wear a different outfit every day of the year and you’d never need to do a load of washing. Bonus. Pity about the other two.
You have already informed the world of the new baby via Facebook while you were in hospital. You are determined to make sure she is photographed and filmed like her sisters, but realize that being made to see hundreds of photos of a sleeping baby doesn’t necessarily endear you to family and friends. You take a dozen and are happy with that. Everyone else breathes a sigh of relief.
You husband hasn’t taken much time off work as such, but instead rearranges everything so he can be there to do the daycare and pre-primary pick-up and drop-off. He makes lunches, packs bags, plaits hair and then heads off to work. He is utterly exhausted and falls asleep in front of the TV with the baby in his arms and two little girls by his side. You’re not quite sure if the baby has been bathed since she came home from hospital, but she seems to smell ok. Your mum gives you photos of the baby that she has had printed for you. It will be months before you manage to print your own.
You now leave three fully packed bags by the front door, one for each child, so when you leave the house, all you need to do is pick them up and throw them in the car. However, you realize that your life has pretty much become a small bubble consisting of like-minded friends all with small kids. If you forget your diapers, chances are they will have one. Thanks to home delivery, food shopping is a thing of the past. You never need to leave the house again. But you do.
By the time the baby is two months old, you can’t quite tell if it has gone fast or slow. You have a set routine with school for your eldest and activities for your middle child. Once you get a handle on the logistics of getting three kids ready and out of the door in the mornings, it’s not the complete chaos you were expecting. Actually, it feels as though it has been this way forever.
When people ask you how you are, you answer honestly. Life isn’t perfect. Your kids aren’t perfect. But you never really expected that anyway. You don’t have a clue what is happening in the world, you don’t wear the latest styles (or any style, for that matter) and your car is full of sand and cheerios and banana peels. Comfortable chaos. Just like every mom.
The Truth About Having a Third Child, Part 1