How I Went from One Kid to Two Without Losing My Mind

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos Getty Images

A couple of days after I had my first baby, I was nervously sitting on the toilet, asking myself why no one ever told me how scary, how absolutely horrifying, going to the bathroom after a vaginal delivery with stitches actually was. In that desperate moment, I thought, Is it just me? Maybe this is a breeze for everyone else? It’s not, of course — it’s just that, among the glut of useless advice like “sleep when the baby sleeps,” no one mentioned this god-awful moment to me and I had no idea that was something I needed to explicitly ask about.

Yet whenever I shared that I’d had a baby, online or in person, parents would instantly offer their experiences and advice on everything you actually need to know but don’t until you do, from surviving the bathroom to dealing with a congested newborn to getting that particular mustard-colored stain of a diaper blowout out in the laundry. It was like having a Rosetta stone for motherhood in my phone.

But what if you’re curious about all this, the visceral details of childbirth, the sticky truths about preserving your identity as a parent and some of the other various hard parts of parenting, before you have a kid? Or what if you don’t have a network of parents in your circle? Bringing all aspects of parenthood (even the, uh, shitty ones) to light is my goal with this column, so in the interest of sharing some of that intel I’ve collected since that bathroom nightmare many year ago, I put out a call for questions on Twitter and Instagram and answered a few of them while nursing my newest newborn on my lap.

What was it like to go from one kid to two?

Even though I knew I wanted to have another kid after my first, I had a lot of fear around the reality of doing it again. I was nervous about my capacity to love another child as much as I loved my first; I was scared of the logistics of managing a toddler and a baby; and I wasn’t sure how it would impact the relationship between me and my husband. Those were all anxieties that, in the abstract, were just about fear. The fear of hypothetical scenarios, which felt like a fear that I felt I was supposed to have, rather than one based on experience. What I had to focus on was actually preparing for the shift in tangible ways.

So we moved closer to family and friends because given that we were barely surviving having no real community with one kid, we knew we couldn’t do it with two. That became especially important for our then-2-year-old son, because my family stepped in when the baby arrived to make sure he wasn’t getting lost in the chaos of having a newborn, that he was still getting one-on-one time and focus. When I was pregnant, we also talked to him a lot about who was in our family, listing out all the grandparents and aunts and uncles and included the coming baby in all of those conversations, using her name as often as we could. At one point, I even drew out a family tree that included her, which I put on the fridge so we all saw it every day. In this way her arrival didn’t seem abrupt but inevitable.

Once I gave birth to our daughter, the biggest change was in how my husband and I divided responsibilities. Parenting became a lot more about triage: What’s the biggest emergency and who’s available to handle it while the other one deals with the waiting room? With the first, we did a lot of the baby care together; with the second, my husband ended up spending most of the day with our toddler while I was with the newborn. Then as the baby grew and naturally shifted into more of a routine, we did go back to doing most things together and it didn’t take long for my kids to become their own unit, separate from us.

Going from two to three though, let’s see how that goes!

How much does your parenting style differ between kids?

Really, the biggest change was how much more confident I was about myself as a parent with my second, and how much more relaxed I am about my approach to things like sleeping and feeding. With my first I was rigid about certain parenting dogmas, like gentle parenting or baby-led weaning, and after my second, I realized how little my adherence to that parenting scripture mattered at all. Otherwise, I try to be as equitable in my time and attention as I can, knowing that each kid has specific vulnerabilities and strengths that require different approaches.

What would you say to would-be parents considering doing it on their own?

Talk to single parents, especially ones that may not have a co-parent they share responsibilities and time with. And take stock of your network: Who can you call to watch your kid in an emergency or if you have to run to a last-minute appointment? So much of the decision around having kids is emotional but the truth is that it’s about logistics, what can you reliably manage and who can realistically support you through it, whether you’re doing it solo or not? I have a lot of friends who reached a crossroad about whether to have kids, with the reality that if they wanted to do it, they’d probably have to do it on their own and most of them decided not to. But I also know amazing solo parents who have a great network of care and love not having to compromise on their parenting style or approach and who can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Any road-trip tips with a newborn and a toddler?

I have road-tripped with a newborn and toddler more times than is reasonable and frankly sane, so my first tip is, could you fly? But if you insist, I always leave very early in the day, ideally before 6 a.m., letting the kids sleep through the first big haul, so that by the time you’re grabbing a proper breakfast and a second coffee, you’ve already been on the road for at least a few hours.

Inside the car, I have seat covers with a million different pockets that the kids can reach on their own (well, at least the toddler can) and I fill each of those pockets with toys, activities, snacks, extra clothing, and wipes. (Bring more snacks than you think is reasonable, they will all get eaten.) You will be feeding the newborn frequently, so have a sense of where you might be able to pull over in case rest stops are further apart than a couple of hours. Have at least two playlists handy, knowing one will just be “Let It Go” on repeat.

And finally, there will be many moments when both the toddler and newborn are crying and I don’t mean a little moan or a mew, I mean howling, wailing from the very depths of their as-of-yet untortured souls and you will not be able to pull over to stop for some time, so practice meditating now so you have somewhere to go spiritually and mentally when that happens. Good luck!

How do you deal with the fear of being a shadow of yourself after having a baby?

Well that is the question, isn’t it? The fear is that you won’t be you after you become a parent, but the truth is, both you and the baby are, in a sense, being born. That’s not to say you won’t feel like you’ve lost something intrinsic and necessary about yourself, especially when you have your first child.

Right after I had my eldest son in 2017, I felt both grief and anxiety about what I was losing — I was utterly rocked by the emotional and physical changes of postpartum life. My body was unrecognizable to me, I wasn’t sure who I was when I wasn’t working and I struggled to connect with friends right away. But as I recovered physically from childbirth and started to get more sleep and established a routine with the baby, I could confront both what I thought I’d lost and what I’d gained with clear eyes. I asked myself why I felt I should somehow be unchanged by this monumental and fundamentally altering experience. Why should I remain my “old self”?

As a mom of three now, I think I’ve had to rebuild my sense of self each time (third one in progress), and each time, I’ve been able to interrogate who I thought I was, who I want to be, and in the process, I think I’ve come out as more myself than before.

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How I Went From One Kid to Two Without Losing My Mind