“What was the hardest transition for you? Zero to one? One to two? Two to three?” This question was posed at a baby shower for my friend who was pregnant with her fifth child.
I was pregnant for the first time so I listened in eagerly, rubbing my 4-month baby bump and silently taking notes.
“Definitely from no kids to one kid,” she answered. “But maybe that’s just because my first was a difficult baby and she never slept.”
I braced myself for a tough transition five months down the road. And then Norah was born. She might get the award for “World’s Easiest Baby”. I felt great during my pregnancy. At one point during her delivery I turned to Brett and stated with a smile, “This is fun!” (Yes, I had an epidural.) I visited the school where I had been teaching when Norah was around two months old and told one of my colleagues that I felt better rested than when I was working.
“She’s already sleeping through the night!” I said gleefully. I’m sure that teacher, a mother herself, wanted to punch me in the face but she was kind and just smiled.
If this is the toughest transition, adding kids to our family will be a breeze.
In the months leading up to Conor’s birth, there was a certain type of photo that grabbed my attention. The setting is a hospital room. There is always an exhausted but beaming new mother sitting on the bed. Then there is The Look. It’s the look the older sibling is giving the freshly born baby brother or sister in mama’s arms. I love the emotions that these pictures seem to capture. Awe. Wonder. Gentleness. Joy. A sense of completion. I let these words transform from things I noticed in other people’s pictures to things I expected in our transition from one to two kids.
Conor was born at 7:15 on a Monday morning. Norah had just woken up on the other side of Manhattan when he took his first breath and cried out from that floppy, pink, perfect little body. She was getting ready for school while he was getting his first exam. She was walking hand-in-hand with her babysitter while he was lying skin-to-skin with me. She went to school – her typical Monday routine while we were moved to a recovery room and relearned those newborn routines. Around 2:00, shortly before our babysitter would be picking her up from school, I let those words flood my heart once again. The anticipation of the awe, wonder, gentleness, joy – a complete family, made me so excited for Norah to arrive at the hospital. I was ready to capture The Look.
It was around 4:00 when she finally arrived. I was prepared, or so I thought. Several friends had told me that it would be easier on Norah if I wasn’t holding Conor when she walked in, so he was in the bassinet at the foot of my bed. I wasn’t going to do anything to interfere with this moment I had so eagerly been anticipating. She made a beeline for me, not even looking around for her baby brother.
“I picked this out for you, Mom.” She smiled brightly as she handed me the small paper bag from the bakery on the first floor of the hospital. “It’s a chocolate cookie. You love chocolate!” Her thoughtful and generous heart was already on display. For a moment, I think she thought that’s why she was there – simply to bring me a treat.
“Thank you Norah! That was so thoughtful of you!” I accepted the bag and waited for her to ask about Conor. She didn’t.
“Would you like to meet your brother?” I asked, trying to bring her attention back to the reason for her visit. Her eyes lit up and she turned around to face the bassinet. She stood as tall as her tippy toes would allow and clung to the edge of the clear cradle to see her brother.
I pulled her on to my lap and immediately noticed how much heavier she felt than the day before. She wasn’t of course, but the comparison between her 32 pounds and Conor’s 7 pounds was significant. Brett gently lifted Conor out of his bassinet and carried him over to the bed. Norah sat next to me, her legs straight out and arms extended awaiting her real life doll. Finally, my own moment to capture. Brett started snapping pictures of our two favorite kids. The moment was absolutely filled with awe, wonder, gentleness, and joy. I felt that sense of completion. We got the picture.
Here’s what I didn’t think through. A picture only captures one moment. We’ve all seen those quick shutter photos where in one everyone is smiling and in the very next frame someone is crying. Or falling. Or glaring. Or something totally opposite of beaming.
Our camera was put away before the shift happened. Norah no longer wanted to be holding Conor, so I cradled him in my arms and let her hop off the bed.
“Mom, let’s play hide-and-seek! I’ll go hide first,” she stated, eyeing the tall curtains separating the shared room and a variety of different sized closets taunting her as the perfect hiding place.
“No, sweetie. This really isn’t a good place for hide-and-seek. Maybe we can play tomorrow at home instead.”
There was a look of disappointment, but she quickly moved on to her next idea. She started to unpack the bag she had brought with her filled with puzzles, Legos, and books. “That’s okay! We can pick something from my bag instead!”
“We can read a short book, but let’s not dump all the Legos and puzzle pieces out. We might lose them. Maybe we can get them out at home tomorrow instead.”
I could see the frustration and confusion in her eyes.
That’s when I realized her expectations of visiting us in the hospital were so different from mine. I was focused on the emotions I envisioned. She was focused, as always, on what activities we would be doing. These two expectations were at odds with one another, and it was quickly obvious that neither of our expectations were going to be fulfilled. I could see the shift in her face as she realized she was there to hold Conor…. and that was about it. There wouldn’t be a couple hours of play time after she met her brother. Instead, she would go back home for dinner and get ready for bed while the rest of her family stayed at the hospital.
The day started with me pushing one child out of my body and into this world. It ended with my other child feeling pushed away from my body and into a new reality.
There were a lot of protests and negotiations on her walk out the door. After she left, I held my hours-old son in my arms and wept. I finally understood something. The hardest part about having more than one child is not that I won’t have enough love for both of them, or even that I will love one more than the other. God worked all of that out in his goodness. I don’t know if He grows a mother’s heart with each child or if He somehow just crams more love in, but either way, a lack of love is no longer a concern for me.
The hardest part of having more than one child is letting parts of the mother you were before go and embracing a slightly new mother in her place. When Norah walked in to our hospital room, she was expecting to meet one new family member. She actually met three. Conor is brand new to all of us, but each of us are new because of him. I’m a mom of two. Brett is a dad of two. Norah is a big sister. Those are all big role changes, and we will never go back to being who we were before he joined us.
“Nobody likes me. Nobody wants to play with me. My own family doesn’t want to play with me anymore.” These were the words she told our babysitter as they walked back home after leaving the hospital room. I had prepared her to come to the hospital to meet her brother. What I hadn’t prepared her for was that we would be staying at the hospital when she left. I’m trying to give myself grace in this. I didn’t think to prepare her for it because it’s not something I’ve ever done before either. We’re walking this new road together and figuring it out as we go. There will be misunderstandings and hurt feelings as we fumble along. We will have lots of opportunities to learn how to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”. Still, unintentionally hurting your own child’s heart is one of the rawest forms of heart ache I can think of.
I am thankful that our babysitter sent me a text of their conversation. I wanted to know how Norah was coping. I had just expected everything to be so beautiful and her joy at being a big sister to triumph over the hurt of being the only family member to leave the hospital that day. One of my hopes for her is that she will always feel fully what she’s experiencing. I don’t want her to learn how to stuff feelings down and pretend she’s happy when she’s not. So I’m grateful that she was with someone she trusted enough to let those big, scary emotions out.
As she was letting hers out walking down the busy streets of New York, I was letting mine out rocking our newborn son in a silent hospital room. Her emotions were loud and matched the sounds of the city. I wept strongly but silently, matching the quiet of the postpartum recovery room.
We’re a couple months in to our new roles now. Norah is starting to understand that I have responsibilities outside of her immediate needs, and I’m starting to understand that sometimes our crying baby needs to cry just a couple minutes more while I finish a book with his big sister. We’ll figure this newness out. The fact that we are all madly in love with the little boy who gave us our new roles makes them easier to embrace. The awe, wonder, gentleness and joy ebb and flow with exhaustion, frustration, and that feeling of having no idea what I’m doing even though I’ve done this before. But the sense of completion is everything I expected it would be.
The day Norah was born, I became a mother. The day Conor was born, I became a mother again. So many parts of me are still the same, but when a heart that once beat only inside your body is now beating outside of it, something changes. It’s like your brain doesn’t realize that that second heart is no longer inside of your body. I love the mother Norah helped me to become and while this transition from one to two has definitely been more difficult for me, I’m enjoying getting to know this new mother I get to be now. It feels all at once familiar and foreign. So far, my greatest lesson of being a mother of two is letting go of the expectations I had and offering both my children and myself unending grace.