(This column is the second of a two part series about adding a second child to your family.  If you missed the first part, just e-mail me and I'll send it on.) 

So, the thing is... you've changed your mind. 

You agonized over how far apart to have your children and you've either carefully planned your latest pregnancy or you've done the Barb Cooper WHOOPS method.  At any rate, you're now nearing the end of your second pregnancy and you've simply changed your mind.  (My second pregnancy coincided with the second pregnancy of my good friend Heather, whose second child was born the very same day as Jane.  I would call her and moan, "I canít do this.  What was I thinking?"  And Heather would answer, "YOU?  I PLANNED this and I donít think I can go through with it!") 

But there you are, see.  Nine months pregnant with Number Two.  It's time to leave for the hospital and when you get home, you'll have a new little roommate, God willing.  So you try to cuddle with your firstborn one last time and you silently apologize again and again to her and then you tell your caregiver to spoil her mercilessly and then you leave.  Sobbing. 

You have the baby.  The birth itself is not exactly anticlimactic, but your focus is so much on what happens after the baby comes out that it feels as though it is.  There's less of a party atmosphere; fewer adoring friends and family cheering you on.  Fewer flowers.  In fact, people call and say they'd rather just come by in the next few weeks than bug you at the hospital, if that's okay.  (Actually, this may just be unique to Jane's birth since the pregnancy was so fraught with drama that I'm sure most people just wanted to do a Dorothy Parker and send notes saying "Congratulations.  We all knew you had it in you.")   

So, then you hold the new one for the first time.  And you look deeply into her eyes and you have that feeling.  You know.  THAT feeling.  The one where you silently shriek, "Oh my GOD, I've given birth to a GARDEN GNOME!"  

You are wheeled back to your room and you call home and announce to your oldest daughter that she's now a big sister (she seems under whelmed) and you make plans for her to come see you that afternoon, just as soon as Daddy can drive home and get her.  Your husband leaves and there you are with the new baby.  Alone.  And it's as if you've never even SEEN a baby before --are they really that SMALL?  As soon as your oldest arrives at the hospital, you pull out the incredible present, the one thing your oldest has wanted forever, and announce that the new baby has brought her a present.  This is VERY well received.  Than you let her crawl up in bed with you, stitches not withstanding --and you marvel that anything that once dwelled in your body is now this BIG.  It's truly a funhouse-mirror feeling, the whole day. 

Eventually, you go home.  And at some point in the next three weeks, you and your husband come to the realization that you can't remember a single thing about ever having had a baby.  Which is actually okay because even if you had total recall, the new baby is totally different and nothing you learned the first time will work this time anyway.  (I only have one trick that worked with both of my children.  Whenever their eyelids were heavy and their stare rather glassy-eyed, I would stroke their eyebrows and they would sleep.) 

So, you survive the first few weeks, totally sleepless.  In Paul Reiser's book "Babyhood" he asks the question "Just what is the goal here?  Twenty-four hours of sleep?"   When it comes to the second child, the answer is a resounding "YES!" --you just want this kid to sleep for a while so you can figure out how you are possibly going to survive.  

But you DO survive.  You just sort of, well, DO it.  It's not pretty and you frequently have to make snap prioritizations --for example, say you're nursing when your oldest does a Face Plant on the wood floor and you put that baby down faster than you can say "unlatch" and rush to offer comfort and an ice pack.  Or you're nursing the baby when your oldest has a poopy diaper that drives the pets under the bed and you have to decide if you should sit there, eyes watering, or unlatch the baby and change the oldest quickly.  My one bit of advice here is to err as often as possible on the side of your oldest --not just in the case of poopy diapers but in general.  The baby really doesn't know the difference as long as her basic needs are being met but your oldest sure does!  And make sure you announce loudly "Iím sorry, Jane, but you'll just have to wait a minute for your new diaper while I get Ana a snack.  She's hungry." so that your oldest understands you are giving her priority.  (Of course, you might want to substitute the names of YOUR children into sentences like this to avoid general confusion.)  

At any rate, you'll find a good groove for parenting two children and you will eventually take the two of them out in public BY YOURSELF without needing to announce it to everyone you know.  In fact, this will happen much more quickly than you ever took the first one out in public by yourself.  Thatís the thing about having two kids: you no longer have the luxury of easing into some kind of comfort zone before you achieve basic milestones.  I knew I had crossed some invisible line when I took Ana with me to Janeís six-month check up and she actually helped comfort Jane after her shots, as opposed to being completely traumatized.  Your heart will ache a little as you try to integrate the needs of the second one into the routine you have with your oldest.  But kids are so adaptable and it is unlikely that your oldest will need major therapy just because you had to nurse your youngest in the middle of story time.  Cuddling side-by-side is still cuddling, even when you're used to cuddling your oldest on your lap. 

One last point about adding a second child.  I wasn't particularly worried about having enough love for a second child.  But I was unprepared for how it happens.  It's like you grow an additional heart for your second one --there is no diminishment of love or sharing of the love that you have for your first.  You really do love your second one EXACTLY as much as you love your first, even though it takes a little longer to establish your relationship with the little one.  I should have known that Mother Nature didn't intend for our love for our children to be some finite resource.  In the same way our bodies expand to create a new life, our hearts expand to nurture and accommodate this tiny sibling. The only being who really suffers a loss of affection is the same one who got shortchanged when you brought your oldest home: the dog.    

And once the baby gets here, you find that there might still be days when you want to announce that you have changed your mind and you are truly not up to parenting two children, but your heart never knows such ambivalence.  Oddly enough, given the choice, youíd do exactly the same thing.  Pretty cool, huh?   


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(c) Barbara Cooper 2001 

Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (3) and Jane (eight months).  She lives in Austin, Texas and is grateful every day for her two healthy kids and her one miserable dog.