Second Baby: The Benefits of A Five-Year Gap

Waiting five years to have a second baby wasn't something I planned; it just happened that way. As it turned out, the large gap suited me well. Sure, there was a small learning curve to master regarding changes in the labor and delivery process. But for the most part, having an older child made it easier to handle my second pregnancy. My daughter was four-going-on-five when I told her she was going to have a younger sibling, and she couldn't have been more excited. There's no doubt my second pregnancy was special. Here's why.    

  • I had less time to worry about my symptoms. Okay, I admit to being nervous throughout the entire nine months of my first pregnancy. From morning sickness to labor pains, I feared the unknown. Like any second pregnancy, I now knew what to expect. Happily, busy days with my daughter occupied my thoughts this time around. At her age, she could carry on a conversation, she was potty-trained, and she was well on her way to forging her own friendships. Life was good -- and easier than it had been for a while.  

  • My first child was old enough to understand. Now that my daughter was more mature and had plenty in her own life to focus on, jealousy over the new baby wasn't a problem. Other than making arrangements for a babysitter during the labor and delivery process, there wasn't much we had to do to prepare her. We simply needed to engage her in the process. As soon as I saw the "Welcome Home" signs that she made to greet her new brother, I realized there were several small tasks she could do to feel special and included.  

  • It wasn't impossible to get the rest I needed. One of the biggest challenges of any second pregnancy is that there's less time to rest because you're busy taking care of another child. Because my daughter was five years old, I didn't have to carry around a heavy diaper bag, and I certainly didn't have to carry her. Even better, she understood that I occasionally got tired. If that meant spending some extra time watching her favorite show, coloring or solving a puzzle, we didn't sweat it.

Everything comes with some challenges, and a five-year gap in pregnancies is no exception. For starters, five years is a long time in today's fast-paced world of fashion. Truth is, my maternity clothes from the first pregnancy were already out of style. I also had to educate myself about some minor updates delivery process. None of this was a big deal, but necessary all the same. Today I can happily reflect on my five-year gap between pregnancies. It was a special time for all of us.    

Second Pregnancy: Having Twins this Time Around

Twins run in the family, but I never really thought about it. My oldest, Rowan, had bad reflux and was up a lot crying, and we thought, ‘We’ll just have the next baby close to this one. That way we’re not doing this for 10 years!’ We didn’t think it would happen so quickly.

When we had the ultrasound, I think my husband, Michael, was probably more shocked to find out we were having twins than I was. He said, ‘I have to sit down, I don’t think I ate breakfast.’ I’m a planner, so I immediately thought, ‘Okay, how are we going to do this? What are the steps?’ There are only 16 months between Rowan and the twins!

During my second pregnancy, I wondered how I could share my love with another child so soon after the first, let alone three children. That was one thing I had to realize would all work out. I didn’t know what to expect from Rowan, and everyone said to me, ‘Oh, she might be jealous.’ But honestly, she was too young to know. As a 16-month-old she was very self-absorbed and she just did things the way she wanted to.

Physically, it’s hard; there you are with two car carriers. I think my arms were in the best shape they had ever been!  And Rowan was young, so doing everything was a lot more time consuming. You don’t always want to go around with a stroller for three -- it’s physical juggling.

One of my good friends had twins, and her main advice to me was to schedule. You need to be as scheduled as possible, and don’t let those two babies deviate from each other and Rowan. That’s not as true at the beginning, but as soon as we could get them situated on an eating and sleeping schedule, we stuck to it. It really did work and that was probably the best advice I’ve received.

The best advice I can give: Leave extra time for everything. That way you have a few extra minutes to catch up if things don’t go perfectly. Oh, and always take a change of clothes for yourself, because now you have two kids who might throw up on you instead of one.

Consider yourself lucky to have twins the second pregnancy. You learn so much from the first baby. The transitions through stages for the twins were so much easier because I’d already done it with Rowan. You think to yourself, ‘I’ve seen this before.’ I really thought I was remembering it all. As I got older, I thought, ‘What was their first this again?’ There are days when you just feel like you have no idea. Just go on with the next thing. Try to enjoy it and realize that it is different and it is special.

It’s really been great. The kids always have someone to play with, and my first three have always had each other pretty much from the start. They have their own unique relationships with each other, and for Rowan, it’s an experience that others don’t necessarily have, having twins as siblings. I think that’s been a pretty neat thing. We can’t imagine it being any different.

The Reality of Being a New Dad

To say I was excited when my wife was pregnant with our first child, Morgan, would be a gross understatement. While this overwhelming sense of joy continued to grow along with her belly, I could never have prepared myself for the days and months ahead as a new dad. I imagined fatherhood as one thing, and turns out, my thoughts and emotions were pretty spot on -- times 100.

Expectations: What I Thought I Felt

During my wife’s pregnancy, I wasn’t nervous; just extremely excited. I looked forward to knowing there was someone who would come to understand they could turn to me for anything in life. The only nerves I had as a dad-to-be, were tied to ensuring my baby was a healthy one, and knowing how to respond in different situations. Now I like to think of myself as a smart guy and efficient problem solver, making unplanned decisions every minute of my workday. I constantly get thrown curveballs, and am able to use knowledge and reasoning to figure out the best solution. Why should a baby be much different?

I felt like I did everything new dads are told to do to prepare: read The Expectant Father, talked to other parents. They helped me understand my wife’s experience, -- physically and emotionally -- my own experience, and what was in store once the baby made her first appearance. I looked forward to all the firsts, and to share my favorite things with our child.

What didn’t make me jump for joy was the actual birth part, as I knew I had to be strong for my wife, but having a sensitive stomach, I felt queasy at the thought of watching this oozy miracle happen before my eyes.

 

Reality: What I Feel Now

When my wife was pushing out our child, all queasiness left the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes: I was witnessing our creation come into this world. The minute my wife held our child, I was pleasantly surprised at what a natural she is. All of her nerves went out the room and her maternal instincts kicked into high gear. From day one, my wife showed confidence, love, knowledge, and connection as a mother.

I, on the other hand, began questioning everything. I had difficulty advising my wife on decisions, solutions and actions. I simply didn’t know the answers (maybe Google would?) I was surprised by how much more cautious and nervous I felt, when in my head I thought I would always be a cool and collected new dad. Did she eat enough? She’s hungry again? Why is she crying? Why isn’t she crying!

Despite the worry, the overwhelming joy I thought I felt during my wife’s pregnancy was put to shame each time I looked at my baby. I felt extreme pride at Morgan’s firsts -- lifting her head during tummy time, smiling, playing with toys on her own. I couldn’t believe I felt excited and relieved at each poop, each burp, knowing everything was functioning properly. I felt happy when Morgan slept, knowing she was getting the rest she needed, and happy when she woke, knowing she wanted to eat (and was still breathing!)

Watching a baby experience and learn something new every day is fascinating. Hearing ‘dada’ for the first time and watching Morgan take her first steps as she walked into my arms created incomparable pride. I knew being a dad would be great. Yet there is no way your expectations of greatness are in line with how truly remarkable the experience is watching a helpless thing grow into an independent mover and shaker.

Toddler Care When You’re Expecting

Being pregnant with a toddler running around can be challenging, to say the least. You may not always have the energy to keep up with your little one, and getting ready for a new baby can rob you of precious together time. But it is possible to bond with your older child, tackle your new baby to-do list, and even reserve a few hours for yourself during these months. Check out these tips for making pregnancy with a toddler in tow as smooth as possible.

Take advantage of naps. Your new best friend: the afternoon nap. Life with a toddler while pregnant leaves little downtime, so use his naptime to catch some shut-eye yourself. Pre-nap, wind down together with a calming activity such as reading a book or listening to music, which will help prepare him for sleep. He will love the extra cuddling with you and you’ll appreciate the peace and quiet. Afterwards, head to bed for much needed rest.

Bring in a babysitter. Consider hiring a mother’s helper for a couple of afternoons a week. Your child will enjoy the additional attention during this phase when so much focus is on the new baby, and you can use the afternoon to catch up on your rest or do a few things outside of the house. Schools and places of worship are great places to get referrals for local mother’s helpers. If you’re not comfortable leaving your child alone at first, you can always stay at home in a separate room.

Involve your toddler in baby preparations. Toddlers will delight in helping you get ready for your new addition, and you’ll simultaneously be able to check tasks off your new baby to-do list while hanging out with your older child. It’s a great opportunity to bond and talk about what to expect after your new baby arrives. Your tot can help fold baby clothes, place clean diapers in baskets, or arrange baby books on a shelf.

Prioritize your time. Accept that you may not be able to do everything you'd like to when you’re pregnant, with a toddler in tow. Let a few things slide in order to fit in special bonding time. Mopping the floors or updating your blog can wait. Spending those extra hours with your child before the new baby comes will help your toddler feel secure during the transition.

Remember to give yourself a break if things don’t go exactly as planned. This is a big change for your household! Before you know it, you'll be watching your firstborn become a proud big brother or sister to your new baby.

Your Preemie: Preparing for Discharge

Having a baby in the NICU is a challenging time where hopes and fears can change daily. When your baby is born prematurely, the neonatologist will be looking to make sure that heart function, lung function, weight gain and ability to maintain body temperature are all stable before discharging your preemie. The length of time that can take will vary widely, according to how early your baby was born.

You’re still dealing with all the things that parents of babies born at term have to handle, such as choosing a pediatrician and installing a car seat. On top of that, your preemie has special needs. You surely wish you could take him home right away, but your premature baby requires more medical attention that you may have anticipated. Take heart -- there are things that can help parents of preemies along the journey to taking your baby home.

Recovery: A silver lining is we can use the time our baby is in the NICU to recover from the birth: to rest and be well nourished. Travel back and forth can be tough, but it’s critical to realize you will not serve your premature baby well by neglecting yourself. Just as the NICU is extending baby’s gestation phase, a new parent needs to take care of themselves to be ready for when your preemie comes home.

Educate: Take an infant CPR class before your preemie is discharged. If your baby is being discharged with a heart or apnea monitor, you will have to attend training on how to use these monitors before you take your baby home. If you plan to breastfeed, find an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant who can work with you to maintain breastfeeding and weight gain once you're home.

If there are older siblings, explain that things will need to be calm for the baby at first, and establish strict hand washing protocols to prevent illness. Your hospital may also have a transitional stay room, where parents can practice taking care of baby for a day or two before coming home.

Support: Line up your support system, both physically and emotionally. First time mothers -- especially of preemies -- can feel very isolated. There are many online forums and support groups to connect with other moms going through this same experience. With babies, and especially with multiples, an extra pair of hands helps. As our job will be to care for the baby, help with shopping, cooking, and laundry becomes very valuable. Enlist friends and family so that you have more room to focus on the baby.

Time and Transport: Preemies can usually only travel an hour at a time. In urban environments or hospitals far away, anticipate a rest stop on the way home. Once your baby is home, you will not have time to waste on finding papers or scheduling time off. Establish a baby medical file -- log doctor and insurance company phone calls. Extend, space (e.g. use one week to take every Wednesday for five weeks) or delay maternity or paternity leave to map out which parent is with the baby and when, and pull in relatives or childcare where necessary.

Coming home from the NICU can be filled with relief but also trepidation. While it is natural to be nervous about being up to the task of taking care of such a fragile baby, obstetrician Dr. George Mussali puts it beautifully: “The fact is that a preemie parent matures faster as a parent due to the adversity they faced at the beginning.”