Life Right Now
As I write this, Walt is almost ten weeks old. Ten weeks of holding him while he sleeps, ten weeks of watching Joan fall in love with her brother, ten weeks of trying to meet my two children’s needs and not forget my own (or my husband’s). It’s the day after Boxing Day and I’ve woken with mouth ulcers, which tells me I am run down and need more sleep. Of course I do, I am the mother of a ten-week-old. Ben and Joan are presently at the shops buying nappies and yoghurt. Before they left I asked Ben to bring me a coffee and my computer, so I could catch up on on some articles I had bookmarked for reading. As I started sipping my coffee I decided I didn’t want to read, I wanted to write. Since Walt was born, many of you have sent messages asking how we’re doing. A number of you specifically want to hear about sleep, breastfeeding and transitioning from one to two kids. So, let me tell you.
When Joan was a baby I wrote a lot about sleep (see here and here). She was never one to sleep easily or for long blocks of time. Like most babies, she woke regularly for milk and contact. And that was fine - tiring, but fine - , it’s just that we couldn’t get her to sleep in her bassinet for any great length. For weeks, I stayed awake at night holding her when we simply couldn’t get her to go down. Eventually I gave myself permission to sleep alongside her and the three of us fell in love with co-sleeping (bed-sharing, rather). When my second baby was born, I knew I wouldn’t waste time trying to get him to sleep in a bassinet if he didn’t want to. I was open to the possibility he may be a bassinet-lover (after all, all babies are different. Perhaps we’d have an easy sleeper this time around?), but as it turns out, Walt is just like his big sister in the sleep department. Once again, the bassinet has become a storage unit - for pillows, blankets, teddy bears, books… (quite handy, really). People ask if Walt is a good sleeper, to which I reply, “Yes, he’s great! As long as he’s close to me.” During the day he mostly sleeps on me in the Ergo carrier, and at night he’s with me in the big bed, while Ben is with Joan in her room. It’s what keeps us all rested and happy.
During Walt’s six week check up, his Paediatrician registered the noise he makes when feeding and breathing, and how he spits up frequently (especially when lying down) and told me he has laryngomalacia - otherwise known as a “floppy larynx”. It’s not uncommon and is generally not a big deal, as long as it’s not severe (most babies just outgrow it with time). On reflection, Joan probably had the same thing, which explains why I have such a hard time getting my babies to sleep on their back for more than ten minutes, especially when they’re very little (note: not all babies with a floppy larynx have that issue, but some do). And while I was happy following my intuition regarding Walt’s sleep needs (especially after my experience with Joan), hearing my Paediatrician’s notes helped me understand why my instinct is to keep my babies close - even, or especially, when they’re asleep.
So that’s where we’re at in terms of sleep. I make sure to go to bed early, turning the lights out somewhere between 8:30pm and 9pm, as I know I’ll be woken multiple times overnight. Since he was born, Walt has had a good rhythm regarding day vs night sleeps. Once the lights are out he’s in night mode and will wake only to feed, falling straight back to sleep afterwards (note: I sleep with a salt lamp on for a soft light). I don’t have a clock in the room, so I’m unsure when exactly I am woken, but it feels as though most nights start with a decent few hours of solid sleep, before a quick feed and another block of sleep. Then from about 2am or 3am I’m woken regularly, catching broken sleep here and there, as Walt wakes more frequently at that point. Sometime before the birds start chirping (perhaps around 4:30am?) he’ll wake and have one more feed, after which I *fingers crossed* go back to sleep, but not always. Joan then wakes somewhere between 5:30am and 6am, and our day begins.
Most mornings I feel fairly groggy and need to fit in a little self-care in in order to be a functioning human. Going to the toilet helps (real talk), as does taking a shower, doing some stretches and fitting in my pelvic floor exercises. After seeing a physical therapist I am now doing exercises multiple times each day to help strengthen my pelvic floor and correct a mild uterine prolapse. Now, I get that this feels like an overshare. But the thing is, it’s such a common, unglamorous reality for women after birth. Because it feels very private, it’s hardly spoken about and, yet, hearing you’re not alone in your experience can make you feel infinitely less shit about it. So there you go. Anyway, to make all that happen, I will quickly change Walt’s nappy, put him in the bouncer seat in the bathroom and get Joan a snack. I try to think ahead and prepare a batch of bircher muesli the night before or defrost some pancakes, otherwise it’s a piece of fruit or some nuts. Joan is now three (almost three and a half) and is mostly very pleasant and independent. That is, unless she is hungry or tired. Thus, feeding her is my priority and will usually buy me fifteen minutes to do all the aforementioned acts of self-care (Walt is generally super happy to sit in the bouncer for that time. He’s a morning person, like me). Once I’m refreshed, I head into the kitchen and assemble breakfast. If Walt is still happy, he will stay in the bouncer or hang out on a rug. Otherwise I’ll pop him in the carrier. Ideally he’ll drift off to sleep easily, leaving Joan and I to enjoy our breakfast together at the kitchen bench, where we’ll talk and plan our day. Perhaps we’ll stay home and draw, read books, do laundry and build cubbies. Or perhaps we’ll go to the shops for groceries. Or perhaps we’ll have ballet or swimming lessons. Or perhaps my mother or mother-in-law will be coming over so I can work. Every day is different. Walt is mostly strapped on me in the carrier and just tags along with whatever it is we’re doing.
I’m finding this season as a mother to two small children to be both blissful and exhausting. One moment I feel like Maria von Trapp, the next I’m counting down the hours until Ben gets home. Nurturing children is a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding job, and I find the early evening hours, when Joan and I are both tired, to be the most challenging. Despite the fact that she would do well to have a daytime nap, Joan no longer has one. It’s rare that we’re in the car during the day, as Walt is a relentless car screamer (like his sister was), but on the off chance we are then she may drift off. Mostly, though, she doesn’t end up sleeping during the day, even when we have “quiet time” with books. This means come-late afternoon she’s generally a wild combination of rambunctious, tired and irritable. My antidote to this is to head outdoors, where she’ll ride her bike, collect leaves (“treasure”), draw with chalk, eat a snack and play with any neighbours that are about. When we hear Ben’s car at the end of our street, we both jump for joy.
Since returning to work following parental leave, Ben has been making more of an effort to come home for family dinner at 5:30pm. Sitting at the table together is one of my favourite times of day (my very favourite being the morning, when Walt has just drifted off to sleep and I can sit at the table beside Joan, drawing and sipping coffee). After we eat dinner, Joan will have a bath and I’ll have a shower (they’re in the same room so we can wash at the same time and have a little “us time”), while Ben stays with Walt, who will be either chatting, sleeping or screaming (fingers crossed it’s not the latter). I then get Joan ready for bed, read her two books and tell her one story, then lay down beside her until she falls asleep. Once Joan is asleep I’ll take Walt and the two of us will head to bed, while Ben will finish cleaning the kitchen and work in his study. In bed, while Walt is feeding, I devour a big snack and watch a show on Netflix. Then the lights go out and it all starts again.
I’ve had easy and enjoyable breastfeeding experiences, and for that I am grateful. Both times I experienced the usual pain, cracked nipples and learning to latch issues when starting out, but that all eased quickly. Joan was an efficient feeder, never lingering too long, and Walt is the same. One difference between them is that Joan had mild tongue and lip ties, which we never corrected as I (and her Paediatrician and Dentist) didn’t feel it was necessary. Even though Walt doesn’t have any ties, he feeds very similarly. In so may ways, he feels like a carbon copy of his sister (the sleeping, the feeding, the car screaming - not to mention his appearance). Though I do recall feeling around week 4 that he was draining me, and by that I mean it felt as though he was emptying all I had from each breast, which is something I never experienced with Joan. No doubt he was just building up my supply. In terms of when I feed him, I follow his cues and breastfeed on demand. I feed a lot. I feed for nutritive reasons and for comfort and connection reasons. If he wants, I will feed him to sleep but that doesn’t always happen (actually, that’s one way he’s different to Joan. Sometimes he’ll just lay down in bed at night and drift off on his own. There is NO WAY Joan would have done that). If he just wants comfort (say, if he’s not hungry but wants to be close), Walt will latch and just hang out there without sucking. I feed him everywhere - at home and when out and about, it doesn’t bother me. He rarely struggles to latch in public and doesn’t come off and on regularly, meaning I’m rarely “on display”. Sometimes I am, though, and honestly I couldn’t care less. Walt spits up a lot, just like Joan did when she was a baby. This eased when she was older and I assume the same will happen with Walt (it’s already so much better than it was). I just carry a lot of spit rags around. I don’t avoid any foods when breastfeeding, though I don’t eat quite as much onion and garlic as I usually do (ordinarily I eat loads). I still have one coffee a day, as well as chocolate, and I don’t find it causes him any issues. I’ll have a few sips of wine every now and then when it’s a celebration (timing it for right after a feed) but that's it. I don’t express or pump. Joan never took a bottle, as she didn’t need to and Ben and I didn’t feel the need to try it. We’ll do the same with Walt unless, of course, things change.
TRANSITION TO TWO
Joan has handled this enormous life change extremely well. I’m so happy for her, because welcoming a baby into your family is a big deal. Throughout all of this, I’ve tried my hardest to reassure her I still love her as much as ever, and that we are still who we have always been. We just now have another person to love. It’s certainly been challenging, but many of these challenges have been good - beneficial, rather. Like learning to be patient and developing compassion. Way before Walt’s arrival (before I was even pregnant, actually) she began having classic toddler tantrums. That they were already happening has reassured me that her challenging behaviours are not all about the baby. I have noted, though, that she does test me and push boundaries in a new way that is, I believe, her checking in to see how I respond - to see if things are still the same between us. I try to remind myself of this and not get frustrated or yell when it happens. It’s hard, though, especially when I’m tired. I hate yelling and feel bad when I do. But I’m not too hard on myself. I apologise and we talk about our feelings. We hug. We breathe and reboot. Lately I’ve found it easier to rise above it all and be the compassionate and consistent parent she needs. Pausing before I respond helps. So does coffee. Honestly, I am a better parent when I am caffeinated. One-on-one time is also important. It can be hard to get one-on-one time during the days when it’s just Joan, Walt and myself, but I manage to find moments here and there to connect. I make sure I’m not constantly distracted by Walt, meaning I always listen to what she has to say and look her in the eye when she speaks to me (which is hard sometimes, as I just want to stare at Walt non-stop because he’s so freakin cute). On the weekends I carve out bigger blocks of time for Joan and I to be together and give her my undivided attention. And of course we have our special time every night, when I lie beside her in bed. I’m usually fairly “touched out” at that point, but I still savour that time with her. I miss her. I miss how it was between us before Walt was here, when it felt so easy. But while this change has been challenging - for all of us - it’s also been indescribably wonderful and enriching. What a gift a sibling is. Joan lights up when she sees her little brother. When he wakes, she rushes over to him and says, “Oh, he’s awake! Little cutie…” And in bed at night, she will sometimes tell me she misses him. “I just want to touch Waltie”, she’ll say with a sigh. Judging by the way Walt smiles at his sister while watching her every move, he feels the same way. For Joan’s sake, I’m looking forward to the days when Walt can be more independent. He’s, of course, not yet able to sit on his own, and last week I could tell she was a little irritated about it. So, I pulled her close and reassured her I won’t always need to hold him so much, and that soon enough he’ll be sitting independently. She leaned her head into me with a smile, then walked away. Validating her feelings makes all the difference.
In terms of how I’ve found this transition, my first thought is that I wasn’t prepared for how deeply I would fall in love with my second baby. I never worried I wouldn’t be able to love him as much as Joan, I just forgot how intoxicating the newborn smell is, and how powerful the instinct is to nurture. My goodness, I’m obsessed with him! Because Walt is so similar to Joan as a baby (meaning there aren’t any new challenges for me in that regard), the newborn stuff feels really easy this time around. The biggest challenge has been mothering Joan. By that I mean, continuing to care for her while recovering from childbirth and looking after Walt. Ben and our family have been showering her with love, but being unable to give her my everything in the way I used to and feel as though I am meeting her needs has been hard on my heart. For three years it was just us, you know? We’ve got a new normal now, though. And it’s actually been really lovely watching her grow through this change. She’s not always compassionate and patient, let’s be real (she’s a toddler), but when she is, oh, it’s the sweetest. She’s constantly telling me to rest my vagina (I know, I know), and telling me she wants to “support” me - offering me water and such. And when Walt is crying and I can’t get to him straight away (say, if I’m using the bathroom), she’ll run down the hall, yelling out to me, “I‘m just going to support Waltie!!!”. I do make sure, though, that she knows that she doesn’t have to help me. Her job is to be a three year old - to play and explore and push boundaries and create. When a new baby arrives in the family, it’s almost a reflex to ask the older child how they like being a big sibling. I’ve done it many times. But I’ve found it important to simply pay attention to her as the person she is and always has been - Joan. Another change is the fact that Ben and I now have less time for each other. But we’re doing ok with that. Our communication has become super efficient and we relish our family dinners. I imagine we’ll eventually start making time to hang out just the two of us, even if only for thirty minutes. Lastly, many days I get hardly any housework done, as it takes all I have to care for Walt, Joan and myself. And that’s ok. Ben and I just dart around at night tidying. I also meal prep whenever I can and rely on the freezer for dinner.
As I finish this post, Walt is actually 12 weeks. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get my thoughts down. Right now it’s Saturday morning - the 12th. Ben and Joan are, once again, at the shops and Walt is, once again, asleep on my chest. I’m savouring this time to be still, write and stare at him. I’ve also been staring at the photographs Ben just sent me of Joan eating fruit toast at a cafe. One day I’ll take her out for a cafe date, just the two of us. But that’s a different season.