My darling friend, the Paramedic, is pregnant with her second child. Our first two were born within three weeks of one another. I’ve seen her a few times recently and each time she looks at me with her beautiful longing eyes and asks the question “how bad is it?”. If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you will realise I’m not one to shy away from the truth. I know she wants me to tell her that it’s not that bad (it is) and that it’s easy (it’s not) but I just can’t do it to her because in a matter of months she will look as I do now.
I’m only 3 months in and fully aware of the fact it is early days. The first 12 weeks aren’t called the fourth trimester for nothing. The issue is that this time around I thought I would be cool with having a newborn. Our mantra was going to be “babies cry”, said in a flippant, nonchalant I’m-cool kind of way. We wondered how we let ourselves get so freaked out the first time round. We wondered why we were late for everything (“it’s just a baby and a bag?”) and we wondered how we made such a meal out of it all. And then she was here. Girly no2. Being all angry and red and crying loudly all the time. Ragey May we call her. She wriggles constantly and she scratches and she doesn’t sleep. And she is demanding. So demanding! Her cries are like a pneumatic drill in my temple. Her scratches like a fistful of needles scraped down my chest. Her sleeplessness has reduced me to tears on multiple occasions. She has a little dry patch of skin from her eye to her ear where her salty tears run down her face (saddest thing ever, it makes me never want to put her down).
The thing is, none of these things should be a surprise. It has been just two years since I did this last time, how could I have forgotten? But I have. I guess it’s that thing your brain does in its’ efforts to make you reproduce again. Having a newborn is so bloody hard! I had forgotten about that biological thing that means when your baby makes a noise you can’t hear anything else. I forgot that I could be mid-conversation about something really fascinating and yet when hearing that noise, I become possessed. I only hear every third word that is being said to me and my shoulders rise up to my ears with tension. I want to rock back and forth chanting “make it stop” over and over again. Husband reminds me that it was the same last time. But I don’t remember. I had forgotten that you can’t always console them. Sometimes they just carry on screaming regardless of what you do. I think it’s worse this time because whilst under-going this water-board grade torture (apologies for my melodrama if ever you have actually suffered this), I’m also desperately trying to keep my little green-eyed Hulk happy. When they both cry, it is like a jack hammer in each ear. I bristle and I growl. Fortunately for me, I have a good Husband. A great Husband in fact. He has maintained many of the lessons from our first time round including a calming pace that has now pacified both of our daughters in a way I cannot. I tell myself it’s because I smell of milk but I think it is just his resilience is greater than mine. When he is not there, it becomes something of a trial in endurance, far worse than my GCSE bleep test. A trial that I’m not yet very good at, and it often ends in tears or me screaming “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck” into a pillow. Sometimes I go into my cold damp utility room at the back of the garage to “sort the washing out”. I hate doing washing. When they are both eventually at peace I analyse what happened and spend hours berating myself for not stopping them cry quickly enough, or for snapping at no1 when she had done nothing wrong. This part is the hardest.
Getting out of the house has become more difficult than it ever was before. It had become so easy. I was at the point where we whipped out the door. I took one spare nappy, some wipes and a packet of raisins to get me through a day. If I forgot them it was no biggy. Girly no1 was even starting to put her own shoes and coat on. We have regressed. Somehow, we are ready to go, and yet I find 45 minutes has passed until we are driving off our drive. This Bermuda Triangle simply requires shoes, coats and getting in the car. My logical mind tells me this is a 10-minute activity except it’s not. I know I often add 30 seconds at the end because I am doing the weewee dance where I haven’t pee’d all day, but not 30 minutes. Where do they go? Then there is all the stuff. I am permanently laden with bags. As well as all the newborn stuff, let’s not forget the sheer volume of this, I take a spare change of clothes, 4 nappies and 10 snacks for Girly no1 because if I don’t, she’ll throw herself into a muddy puddle (thanks Peppa) face down and the only way I can get her out is by bribing her with food. On the plus side, I have great guns.
Other things are generally more difficult, and I haven’t yet perfected them. The main ones that fox me on a daily basis are:
- Getting them both into the car. I ask this as a serious question – how? How do you get your baby into the car while your toddler is loose? Do you put the baby down in the middle of the grey car park in their grey camouflage car seats while you pin the toddler in? Or do you wrestle the baby into their seat whilst pinning the toddler to the muddy tyre with one knee? I opt for the latter and accept that I have to wash her coat almost daily even though this pisses me off (I obviously don’t wash her coat that often, who could be arsed)
- What do you do when you’re breast feeding your baby and your toddler is pouring a cup of milk all over the seat of a chair with non-removable cushions? You just watch. Some days you attempt to stop it. Other days you sigh and look the other way. There’s no point shouting because by the time they’ve stared you out and stamped their feet it’s soaking anyway.
- My baby cries every day from 4 til bedtime. During which time Girly no1 wants dinner. I can’t always give her ham and cheese because she needs some vegetables in her diet. These are hidden in the depths of Spag Bol we keep in the freezer. We make it in huge batches and all I need to do is defrost it and boil some pasta. Therein lies the difficulty – making pasta with a crying baby on your hip. I have to stand sideways to the hob pushing her as far away as possible and then use my foot to keep Girly no1 away from the boiling splashing water. It’s not my favourite.
- Going to the toilet. When? I can count on one hand the times they have been asleep at the same time. I used this to pick up nappies from around the house. Or throw a washload on. Or once, as a special treat, I ate some food! Wild!
- My final, and least favourite battle, is bedtime. The few times I have done this on my own has felt like a war. That I’ve lost. No2 cries constantly. No1 runs around naked and shouting, her naughtiness directly correlated to how tired she is. Every time no2 is on the brink of dozing off, no1 storms in shouting and throwing toys in her face. I have no wisdom on this time of day. I just have to get through it knowing that prosecco and vape await me.
So, to my darling Paramedic friend, whose baby will be here in a few months, here are all the things I couldn’t say out loud and probably shouldn’t be saying to you now. I sit here in the baby haze, amid the smell of milky sick looking through bloodshot eyes from under an over-grown fringe and I say to you, “honestly? It’s really fucking hard”. However. A BIG however. If you ask me how good it is rather than how bad, an unstoppable smile spreads across my face, my body becomes warm from the inside out and my tummy gets something close to butterflies. Because despite the fact I’ve gone back to cold tea, I don’t fit any of my clothes, will never read a magazine again and can no longer apply eyeliner; having two is twice as much of everything. Love, smiles, giggles, cuddles (sick, poo, tears!), all the things that make little people so wonderful. My little Hulk gets funnier every single day and is starting to demonstrate something that might be tenderness towards Girly no2. It could just be wind of course. And my baby girl is the 3rd love of my life. She is beautiful. I spend hours staring at her. She wakes up in the morning smiling and when she’s finished feeding, she looks up and me and laughs. She literally fills me with love. I adore her. I am blessed in that we have time to bond when Girly no1 is at school and in the mornings when she doesn’t cry as much. We go to yoga and we go swimming. And we lie next to each other staring at one another’s’ eyes. I am besotted (don’t tell no1!). They are both beautiful girls of course and along with Husband, we are a family. We sing stupid songs, we make each other laugh and we love nothing more than to cosy up in front of whatever Pixar film is currently in favour with Girly no1. When we are all snuggled up and I have one little person nestled into each side, I am my happiest. I even, on occasion, find myself wondering where on earth a third one goes!
Twice the yum
I feel awful admitting this but it’s taken me a little longer to fall for Girly no2. Not because she isn’t utterly adorable, not because she doesn’t sleep, and not because she sharts (definition: shits and farts at the same time, a projectile poo if you like that better) on me daily, but because I feel like I’m cheating on my firstborn. No2’s arrival has been wonderful for Husband and I, the problems are less scary and you can enjoy the good bits more. But it has been less pleasurable for no1 whose world is in disarray. She moves around the house like a lion stalking its prey. Sometimes she pounces. Most of the time I sweep no2 out of the way in time, but occasionally I’m not quite fast enough and she receives an over-sized head to the tummy and a mouthful of fluffy blonde curls sending her into blinking over-drive. No1 is doing her best but she’s struggling to really like no2. She likes the thought of her and she likes to always know where she is. But she’s only really happy when no2 is in her bouncy chair or tucked up in bed. Then her world is as it was BG2 (before Girly no2) and she has full control of her audience once more.
We talked a lot to Girly no1 while I was pregnant about the new baby. Sometimes she patted my tummy and said baby, other times she looked at me under her brow with a facial expression matching Daddys when I over fill the rubbish bag. As with any toddler, she didn’t really get it and we tried not to get her over-excited about her new non-playmate. When the joyous, by which I mean stab me in the heart with a rusty screwdriver, time came for the birth of no2, my Mum picked Girly no1 up and I barely saw her for 3 days. It was heart-breaking and one of the hardest things about no2 being born (yep, that’s despite the gooch ripping). She went on Sunday lunchtime and we didn’t come home until Wednesday afternoon. It might not have been such an issue had we not returned with the limelight thief. No1 came to the hospital on the Tuesday when we were hoping to be released and was deeply distressed by the cannula in my hand continually demanding I take it out. She looked at the new baby and did her best fake smile then as Husband picked no2 up, she shouted at him to “put it back in its’ cot”. This did not bode well, but it was early days. The next day Husband collected her and they came to take us home. Girly no1 brought with her a new facial expression, one I have since become quite familiar with. She tilts her head to one side and looks sideways, bringing her hands up to just below her chin and wiggling her fingers. She makes a little “do-do-do-dooo” noise in a high pitched squeaky voice, not dissimilar to Homer Simpson, or my Husband when he’s stealing food or looking at boobies. It was her new naughty indicator, hearing that sound now makes me drop whatever I’m doing and run! That day, she was the naughtiest I’ve ever known her. She ran in and out of the other cubicles shaking new mums’ curtains making their terrified faces tremble as they saw into their future. I tried to reassure them in a pathetic voice that even I didn’t believe. She heard nothing I said. Her body lost all form whenever I touched her. She ran towards roads and cars refusing to be held. I was devastated, who was this child? I briefly wondered if my mum had filled her with E numbers for breakfast, but deep down I knew what was going on. She was green eyed and furious. I had my very own little Hulk to contend with. We arrived home and as I sat on my ring cushion, Husband and I debated whether this was the same child from the previous Saturday. How much could one child change in such a short space of time? Husband announced he was going out for emergency supplies and I begged him not to. There was no way I could cope with the Hulk and a baby – she might smother her, or throw rocks at her head. He wasn’t going anywhere, we would use coconut milk in our tea. It would be delicious! As the days went on, she got worse. She shouted and screamed and stamped her feet, usual toddler shit but very out of character for Girly no1 who had always been more of a thinker and a watcher. We tried not to shout or tell her off too much even though she was being a pain. It wasn’t her fault she had all these new feelings she didn’t understand. Her eyes were full of hurt and she wanted her mummy and daddy back. It was horrible and I felt bad but also really hard work. I began to dread the next 12 months, I even looked into whether you could change your length of maternity leave and what our childcare options would be. There was no way that Hulk and a baby would be fun for the next 12 months. I scrapped that idea when I remembered I would actually have to go back to work and also it wouldn’t help me avoid night times, which always seemed to be worse because she was tired. One day I was running a bath and had Girly no2 in a seat on the floor. I was sat on the toilet – lid down, not poo-ing, though it’s not unusual for me to have to poo with an audience of at least one. Girly no1 was swinging between my knees. I bent down to check the temperature of the water and when I turned around, no2 had a chubby foot on the baby’s head saying “I stand on baby now” in that do-do-doo singsong voice she had adopted for her jealous moments. I wonder now whether my baby’s head would still be round if I hadn’t looked up at that moment. Whenever I was feeding no2 before bed, no1 would do whatever she could for attention, often throwing herself across my chest declaring how much she loved me, suffocating no2 against my over-full breast. BG2, this had been our quiet time of the day where we cuddled up for milk and the Night Garden. We were still trying to maintain it but one particular evening I was on the receiving end of two flying head butts, the second of which nearly cracked my cheekbone. It was a bit of a wake up call. I was fine, but it was only a matter of time til our baby or I were hurt by this little MMA fighter who was now in our presence. So far Girly no2 had got off lightly with a few white knuckled hand holds and some overly aggressive pats, but their heads had missed by millimetres on this occasion and I worried about the softness of my newborns’ skull when up against my toddlers bucket-of-concrete head. We needed to do something about her behaviour. Enough was enough.
The next few days were tough with what seemed like lots of telling off. I’d become that mum who continuously shouted her child’s name. We tried lots of things. We tried counting to three in an attempt to get her to listen; “one…two…” was met with “three’s next Daddy!” and a proud face. That didn’t work. We confiscated bedtime stories; until one night the whole book case was removed. We looked into rewards charts but she just got obsessed with the stickers and gave them to everyone with a big smile and a “well done!”. I did some reading and watched a few episodes of Supernanny, and we made some basic changes:
- Lots of face to face conversations at eye level. Our knees are now shot but on the plus side my bum is starting to firm up from the squatting!
- We worked on our stern mum and dad voices so she knows when we’re being serious. Official parent voices.
- We tried to deliver short concise instructions no1 can understand and repeat back. This is a little hit and miss. Imagine trying to explain in 3 words why you shouldn’t shake the bouncy chair to the point the baby lifts out of it, when the baby is giggling her little head off.
- We got her and baby into a routine so we have specific time to focus on no1. We make sure we do fun things in that time so she appreciates it – play doh, painting, crafts – things that make my house twice as messy (I give up)
- We introduced the concept of the toy-free, mummy and daddy-free, no talking naughty step, the threat of which so far has been enough that she hasn’t been on there
- We mixed up the bedtime routine so she still means she gets one-on-one cuddle time with Mummy or Daddy.
These changes have definitely made things better. I found that once life went back to normal with school and naps and it was just the three of us at home, this also helped. The thing that made me feel better about the situation was other mums telling me that their firstborns had turned into angry little Rottweilers too. I gave myself the benefit of the doubt once or twice, maybe it wasn’t all my fault and maybe her life wasn’t completely ruined forever.
Consistency is key with our first Girly. We still have flare ups of the Hulk. Too much coo-ing over no2 results in tickles that are more like scratches, a lean on no2s tummy that makes her sick or kisses that come with a small head butt. But we focus on the positives and tell her when she’s being a good big sister and try to share our attention around. At the beginning I had to sneak kisses to Girly no2 when her big sister wasn’t looking and I could only talk to her when no1 left the room, but now my affair is out in the open and I can love them both openly. I’m still laden with guilt but every day gets better. I hope it won’t be long until no1 can’t remember a time without no2 here and I live in hope that she will start to enjoy her baby sister. Just this morning we were all snuggled in bed and she declared “we’re all togeffer Mummy!”. And as she snuggled in next to me, she put no2’s feet in her lap and sat gently patting them. Progress!
Do do dooo