I was pregnant with my second baby before my eldest had turned one. It had seemed like such a good idea to just crack on with having another; I wasn’t getting younger and we still had the Moses basket, the muslins, the blackout blinds. I knew we’d wanted more than one. I’m from a big family and I’d always hoped to have a busy, noisy household like the one I’d grown up in. But as my tummy swelled and the due date got nearer, a feeling of panic began to wash over me.
“TWO UNDER TWO!” people would shriek at me, wide-eyed, when I told them I was expecting. We lived in an upstairs flat, with steep steps to the front door up which I had to bump, bump, bump the pram up and down every day. My 11-month-old baby was not sleeping through the night and he was months off being pottytrained. My husband worked long hours, I didn’t have any help or nursery days to fall back on. It would be these two children and me every day, all day. Were people right – would I struggle to cope?
But I did cope, and you will too, if you stick to this sage advice: lower your standards to absolute rock bottom. The key, I discovered, to the transition from a mother-of-one to a mother-of-more-thanone is to decide that it’s ok not to be perfect. In fact, it’s ok to be adequate. Rid yourself of any desire of doing it brilliantly. Just get through the days until it gets easier. Everyone can have boiled eggs and soldiers for lunch and supper every night. Let your older child watch hours of CBeebies while you breastfeed – it’ll do him or her no harm. Your toddler doesn’t need a bath every day and he won’t be permanently scarred by not having regular trips to the Natural History Museum for a bit.
Luckily you won’t need to force yourself to be more relaxed, you just will be. Your second baby will probably cry a lot more than your first because you simply won’t be able to go to him every time he squeaks and you will drive yourself mad if you try to. My children are not babies any more and there are still times when they are both screaming at window-shattering volumes, strapped into their car seats, as we drive on a motorway. This is when you tap into your Zen, keep your eyes on the road and remind yourself that no one ever actually died of crying.
You won’t be nearly as worried about your new baby as you were first time around. Remember with your first child, when each rash was meningitis? I think I’ve barely taken my younger child’s temperature, much less Googled every minor ailment, as I did with my first. In fact, as a mother-oftwo, my new-parent anxiety was redirected towards my toddler. In the run-up to the birth of my second baby, I felt a tearful mix of guilt and nostalgia at the prospect of never being able to go back to it being just him and me. I would look at him asleep in his cot and, pregnancy hormones racing, my heart aching, whisper mournfully to him that he’ll always be my first.
I could have ten – even forty – children and would love them all the same (the well of a mother’s love is bottomless) but, as a middle child myself, I’m know first-hand how standards slip sharply with every subsequent child. (I don’t think I wore a single item of new clothing until I was about 14.) My first baby was dressed in crisply-new organic cotton babygrows for his first few weeks, with co-ordinated cardigans and bonnets. My second? Ratty old onesies with questionable stains and his brother’s jumpers. When I was weaning my first child, I felt positively smug about what I was feeding him. I actually had a special freezer container in which I would dose perfect portions of food for him: quinoa! mackerel! spinach! When it came to the second kid? Cheese and crackers.
The first baby had a wonderful bedtime routine involving massage and lullabies; the second was lucky to fall asleep on the sofa in front of an episode of the The Wire with my boob in his mouth. But, you know what, they’ve BOTH turned out fine. Which brings me to my favorite motherhood motto of all, told to me by my friend Sophie. It should be handed out, laminated, to new mums in lieu of Bounty Packs. “Get through it. Keep sane. And keep them alive.” Do whatever makes life easier for you: let them sleep in slings, give them a dummy. Love them, keep them fed, warm and dry, and nothing you do will be wrong. And I promise, it will get easier.