Reyna is expecting baby number three. Her first two were eighteen months apart. They’ll be three and four when her new baby is born. She emailed wondering which transition was harder–going from zero to one child, one to two children or two to three children.
Maybe we should ask Michelle Duggar: Which was harder, Michelle, going from one to two (well, technically one to three—I think her second pregnancy was twins) children, twelve to thirteen or was it number 17, 18 or 19 that really threw you? Since she’s just announced she’s expecting number 20, I’m guessing she barely notices any transitional issues at this point.
Reyna, hands down, the hardest transition is going from zero to one child. Becoming a parent for the first time requires a complete change of identity. Suddenly, you’re no longer Reyna or Jeanne. You’re Mom. That shock is intense. We go from being independent adults responsible only for ourselves (more or less) to being entirely responsible for another person’s survival. One day we can pick up a purse and go where we want and the next, we’re picking up a baby, her car seat, diapers, stroller and heaps of other gear and going only where the baby won’t make too much fuss. Our time is no longer our own. We can’t sleep when we want, eat when we want or do much of anything else without making special concessions. After we adjust to this transition, we’re mothers and we can deal with anything.
That’s not to say going from one to two is a breeze. Finding out I was pregnant with Baby #2 when my first baby was only nine months old was a stunner. Once I got over that shock, I was happy to be having another baby, but also a little sad about giving up my solo time with Baby #1. I didn’t know how I’d be able to love two babies as much as I loved my first. I worried Baby #1 would feel jealous and outraged like I would if my husband brought home another wife. “Wasn’t I good enough? You went out and got a new baby?”
Going from one to two children isn’t twice as hard as having one baby, but for a lot of mothers, that transition feels clumsy as we figure out things like how to bathe two babies and how to nurse one without the other one running into the street. Adding a third child to the mix has it’s own complications. Baby #3 means you and your partner are officially outnumbered. You can’t grab one with each hand or assign one kid to each parent. With three, you have to know how to outsmart the system, show them who’s boss and make them believe any attempts to gang up on you will be thwarted.
My biggest transition with Baby #3 was learning how to mother a son instead of daughters. Say what you want about gender equality and nature versus nurture, boys and girls are just different and right from the start, they require different skill sets. Take for example, diapering a boy. If you take the same approach as you would diapering a girl, he’ll pee in your face.
People say, “If you can raise two, you can raise a dozen.” I can’t say I agree with that. I don’t think that every woman is a bottomless well of motherhood. Some women can raise a large clan of great children skillfully and gracefully while others with only one barely scrape by, leaving either themselves or their children without all the necessary resources they need to live their best life.
Every child you have enters your life under unique circumstances and each one requires it’s own learning curve. You can’t be exactly the same parent to each one. Can you love every child equally? Yeah, I think you can. Can you give each one equal measures of attention? Not all at once, no, but each in turn…certainly. Can you give your twentieth child all the personal one-on-one attention they deserve and meet their unique needs as individuals? I know I wouldn’t be able to do that, but some women say they can.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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