Time is really flying now that I am 37 weeks pregnant. Our second child could join us at any time. People often ask me if I am ready and my response always starts with a pause. I feel so much more ready to have this baby than I was to have the first. At the same time I know what is behind door number two and I wonder how I will balance everyone’s needs. I know it will be several months of having a baby attached to me for the better part of most days. I know it will probably be a year of frustration with how infants sleep (even though I know not to expect her to sleep like a grownup). I know it will be a series of moments in which I think about all the things I should get done and feel frustrated that I can’t seem to get anything done.Yes, I know what having a newborn is like, but what I don’t know is what having a newborn and a toddler is like. I keep having this thought that I will really enjoy the newborn phase of parenting so much more this time around. I will be better able to accept the need to slow down rather than fighting it. Then I remember I’ll also have a toddler around. Slowing down and giving a newborn everything she needs seems counter to living life with a toddler. As part of my postpartum planning I want to consider how to balance everyone’s needs, including the adults in our house.
The first rule of postpartum planning is that we talk about postpartum planning. This time around I am clearly writing down my thoughts about postpartum, but I am also sharing them with my partner. We’ve had many conversations about how we each envision the postpartum period, and these conversations have illuminated areas where we’re not on the same page. For example, my partner is thinking a lot about my daughter and her needs. He’s worrying about how she will feel about a new baby disrupting her routine. His desire is to do whatever he can to maintain this routine. I, on the other hand, am thinking about my needs for rest and recuperation immediately after birth. Last time I relied heavily on my partner to help around the house, but it seems like he’s planning on being busy with childcare. Luckily we’ve arranged to have my parents in town to help out wherever they are needed. Continuing to have conversations with those who will be supporting our postpartum period will hopefully help us balance everyone’s needs when the time comes.
Speaking of my daughter, we are trying to prepare her as much as possible for what it will be like to have a new baby. We’ve been reading books about the birth of a younger sibling for months. We’ve been talking about what the baby will be like when she is born. In our daughter’s mind I will be birthing a one year old that crawls, eats solid food, and enjoys being picked up by her three year old sister. I’ve tried to explain, “she won’t talk when she’s born,” “no, she won’t crawl,” “she’s only going to drink milk from mama.” As much as we can, we’re trying to help her be prepared, though I know nothing can prepare her for the amount of attention the baby will demand. I know my heart will open wider enough to love both of these babies, I just hope it has enough room for me to continue to love myself.
My dear cousin shared a great article recently with some things to think about before having your second baby. The idea of feeling more guilty than you thought possible was one point the author made. This was a pretty big wake up call. I’ve definitely experienced mom guilt, and the idea that there is more to come is not encouraging. It also reminded me to work on compassion and acceptance. I know I’m going to fail, come up short, or miss the mark sometimes. I’m going to yell, I’m going to let someone cry for longer than feels right. I will not be the blissful parent that has everything together. I will probably be more of the frazzled mom who barely makes it through the day. I am working now to accept that things will probably not go as I anticipate. I am thinking about how to let go of that guilt before it even enters my life.
I am also preparing myself for the reality that my partner will need to practice self-care just as much as I do. His needs are important in this family too, even though he might not always speak up. I am preparing now for when he asks if it’s ok for him to go for a bike ride, or when he checks out for a few minutes with a pile of dishes in the sink. I know I’ll be asking for a lot and the children will be needing a lot. So, the one expectation I’m letting myself get attached to is that my partner will need some time for self-care.
When I think about how to balance everyone’s needs there are two key ideas that come to mind. First, we all need to be communicating about what we need from each other. I know that I need to be direct, clear, and proactive about communicating my needs. I am convinced that the more we can just ask for what we need, rather than holding it in and resenting the other person for not reading our minds, the smoother the postpartum period will go. The second key, and this is mostly for me, is to let go of expectations. The most important lesson I have learned from parenting is that when I let go of expectations I can make it through the moment with SO much less frustration. This continues to be a daily practice for me. Little by little I learn every day to be open to what the moment brings and to be flexible with my expectations.