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The Challenges of a Second Child

When my firstborn, Kate, was just over a year old, I was surprised by a second pregnancy (a lovely surprise, but still). And my second daughter, Sara, was born five weeks early. I didn't feel like I had enough time to prepare for mothering two girls just two years apart. And although a lot of my friends now have two kids, when Sara was born, most of them were still only contemplating a second pregnancy, so I felt a little alone.

Everything started off fine, with my husband home from work and my in-laws and parents around to help. It was bittersweet but amazing to watch Kate -- who had been my baby just days earlier -- transform into my big girl. Plus, Sara slept most of the day, so I had quality time to spend with her older sister. I can do this, I thought gratefully.

But after a few weeks, it was like Sara suddenly woke up. And if you weren't holding her, was she mad! Putting her in the bouncer while I tried to read to Kate or take a shower was a nightmare; she'd scream and scream. Having to serve two kids at the same time was just one of the initial challenges of second-time motherhood. My friends and I have identified others here so what we learned can help you too! And here's some reassurance: Things keep getting better as Sara gets older. The girls are now 3 and 1, and I think I'm out of the thickest part of the woods!

What You Need to Know About Your First-Born
What You Need to Know About Your First-Born
Challenge: Mom's Attention Deficit

None of my years as a multitasking professional prepared me for simultaneously meeting the physical and emotional needs of two children. To me, this is the single biggest (and ongoing) challenge.

"I'm juggling," agrees Maryann LoRusso, of San Francisco, whose kids are 4 and 1. She compares it to triage; you assess a situation to see who needs you more at that moment. "You have to be there for the child whose needs are more immediate -- help with the potty, a kiss for a boo-boo -- and help the other one cope with the fact that he or she is not the only creature in the universe," she says.

My neighbor Jennifer Rinaldi enlists the help of her son, who is 4, when her daughter, 1 1/2, craves more attention. "I use it as an opportunity to teach Lucas compassion and have him respond to Maia's needs," she says. "He feels like the important big brother, and Maia gets twice the attention."

The silver lining: Just as your big kid has to get used to sharing you, you have to get used to being shared. But once you relax into not trying to be all-available all the time, you can take a step back and give both kids a little more room to solve their own problems.

Experts recommend scheduling one-on-one time with each child; for instance, sit and draw pictures with your big kid when the baby is napping, and take a mommy-and-me class with your little one when her sibling is at preschool. Finally, the support of fellow moms helps; try dropping your big kid off for a playdate when you need some I-can't-do-it-all commiseration or time with the baby.

This time it's not just the thought of your baby crying in public that makes you consider staying home forever -- it's the vision of your big kid racing away from you in the mall while you struggle to click the car seat into the double stroller. Even if you can erase nightmare scenarios from your mind, the thought of needing twice the snacks and drinks (or bottles), a change of clothes for two, and possibly two sizes of diapers makes a moon landing sound easier. How the heck are you supposed to get out the door, much less where you want to go? Two words: Plan ahead. Keep the diaper bag stocked, and try to leave home 15 minutes ahead of schedule to account for last-minute diaper explosions or tantrums.

"There were some days I wanted to cry trying to get out the door," admits LoRusso. One typical scene: the baby screaming while being buckled into his car seat while Ava refused to put on her coat, and all the while a cell phone ringing from wherever it was hidden in the house. "But as my son got older, I started to get into a rhythm," she says. "I learned to store diapers, wipes, and extra clothes in both the trunk of my car and the basket of the stroller I kept in my garage, so I could stop worrying about being caught unprepared." You'll also start to realize that not arriving on time isn't the end of the world. "Once I stopped obsessing about punctuality, things got easier," says Rachel Rincon, of Fayetteville, New York. "The kids must've been reading my anxiety; the fight to get out the door was diminished when I stopped worrying."

The silver lining: Practice makes perfect; just by doing it, you'll learn the best way to travel as a trio. And on days that you do get it together, you'll feel like Superwoman.

Challenge: Sleepless Nights Are Here Again

I'm one of those lucky moms whose kids sleep at night (more or less). But in the beginning, with both of them, those around-the-clock feedings nearly killed me. Night after night, I fell asleep sitting up, with Sara on my lap, asleep on her nursing pillow. She'd wake up later in a good mood; I'd be achy and cranky and frustrated.

As she grew, we had to deal with the bedtime-times-two factor. We figured out early on that my husband and I had to divide and conquer. It made me sad to opt out of Kate's bedtime routine, but she deserved focused attention, so she did a bath and reading with her dad while I nursed Sara and put her down. Once Sara was old enough for the big tub, we could bathe the girls together. And the closer Sara gets to her second birthday, the easier it is to read to them together.

The silver lining: As a second-time mom, you know that those early sleep-deprived days won't last forever. Also, try to be patient if your firstborn's sleep routine goes temporarily haywire; evenings will be chaotic for a good long time, but you will eventually get into a groove.

I was excited when I found out I was pregnant again, but the next minute I was battling some anxiety and guilt. How was Kate going to feel about having a sibling?

As it turned out, she adjusted well. Friends had told me the way your child acts toward other babies is a good indicator of how she'll be with her new sibling, and that rang true. Kate liked babies but was pretty hands-off. That's how she was with Sara at the beginning. She'd pose for pictures with her and even kiss her on the head, but otherwise she'd mostly go about her business.

Happily, even my friends whose big kids weren't thrilled have seen a shift. "For months, Miller would say, 'Can you throw the baby in the garbage, Mommy?' But we recently had a breakthrough," says Katy Burns, of South Orange, New Jersey. "Cecily started cracking up at the goofy faces he makes. That's made him feel a lot better about her."

As I said before, things should get better as the baby gets older. "When Samantha began to sit up and play, then crawl and walk, Charlotte began to warm to her," my neighbor Nerissa Aschoff says. "Now they parade around together."

The silver lining: When your kids start really interacting -- from the way your baby's eyes light up when her sibling appears to when they start giggling together -- every challenge of raising two will feel absolutely, positively worth it.

Nursing with an Audience

Sue Sheridan, a mom in Maplewood, New Jersey, had her preschooler, Maggie, climbing all over her and touching the baby while she tried to nurse newborn Aidan. Finally she resorted to the tried-and-true television solution. "Short, 25-minute shows on Noggin were just long enough to grab Maggie's attention so I could nurse Aidan in peace," she says.

Val Amster, of Warrentown, Virginia, had the brilliant idea to use the football hold (one-handed, under the arm) with her newborn so her big girl could snuggle in on her other side. I lucked out: Kate was content to put a mini pillow around her middle and "nurse" her favorite stuffed animal, Pink Bear.

Still, as San Francisco mom Maryann LoRusso found out, nursing a second baby is far from the blissful experience some of us had the first time. "With Ava, I could space out and let the calming hormones associated with nursing sweep over me," she says. "There was nothing relaxing about nursing my son, because I knew I had to feed him and then tend to a zillion other things concerning my daughter."

The silver lining: It's exhausting to feed one while supervising the other, but it's doable. If nothing else, it forces you to sit still!

Things That Really Are Easier

  • Taking care of a newborn feels like a piece of cake this time.
  • You know exactly what baby gear you need, and you own much of it already.
  • You're more likely to trust your instincts about whether your child is sick or has a developmental issue.
  • Dad can take either kid without you tracking and questioning his every move.
  • You have a little helper who's delighted when you thank him for picking up the diaper cream you dropped.
  • You already have baby clothes, and if your kids are the same gender, you're set.
  • Eventually, the two of them will occupy each other for hours.

Tracy Guth Spangler is a writer in South Orange, New Jersey.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2006.