E struggled to cope with the change to the family dynamic when her second baby arrived…
I have two lovely, scrumptious daughters, A who is nearly four years old and B who is just over a year old. The first year of B’s life has been the most difficult year of my life so far. I had no idea that mothering two children would be so hard for me. A was a happy baby, as long as she’d been fed and held when she needed holding, which was often—with only one child this was not a problem. I thrived as her mother. I was patient, loving and happy to be with her and to meet her needs.
When A was almost two and a half years old, I gave birth to B. I had a wonderful, quick and easy natural homebirth while A had been a ventouse delivery after a long labour. I dread to think how much harder B’s first year might have been had we suffered from birth trauma.
Thankfully, after such a wonderful birth, breastfeeding got off to a very easy and natural start (in contrast to the months of pain I had when initially feeding A). However, this calm in which my role as a mother of two began was unfortunately not to last, as it became apparent that B was going to be a very intense, alert baby, a sensitive and fragile soul. Mothering A had not prepared me for coping with such sensitivity.
B became colicky. I tried various things including block feeding, eliminating dairy from my diet, cranial osteopathy and elimination communication until eventually her crying settled down a bit. Feeding on cue and carrying her frequently in a sling were both mothering tools that I had used with A, and while both of these may have helped B, she had had them from birth and not in response to her crying. As B’s particularly intense colicky period began to pass, I really began to struggle with mothering A. I imagine it was a combination of her age and the fact that she had a new sibling—I found her behaviour to be very challenging.
I began to turn into a mother that I did not want to be. Clearly programmed to be unable to ignore B’s crying, I did at least know that her distress was not her fault. Unfortunately, this meant that when B cried, I often took out my stress and frustration on A.
Since B’s birth, I have become aware that there is not a lot of openness about how difficult mothering two children can be, especially if one of them is an intense, high-needs child. While I found Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower to be an interesting and useful read (I was and am still tandem feeding), for me, the tandem feeding was just something normal that we were doing. I was struggling rather with mothering two and I don’t think life would have been any easier had I not been breastfeeding them both. I initially struggled with oversupply in B’s early months and I found feeding a toddler on demand was not helping to reduce my milk supply to allow B to cope. So I restricted A’s nursing, which I am sure must have been very hard on her and probably contributed to my struggles with mothering her.
I recently realised that continuing to breastfeed A has probably played an important role in saving our relationship. I was not prepared for how my feelings towards her would change with the arrival of a new baby. Looking back, I think that the only time we really cuddled was when I was nursing her. My heart hurts to think how much she must have needed the love and cuddles that she was not getting. This makes me so thankful that I kept breastfeeding her, that at least she was getting some cuddling and mothering time with me.
Having a high-need baby and no family nearby meant that A and I very rarely, if ever, had any time together just the two of us. When my husband was around, he would take A, as B really just needed me, and we assumed that A was old enough to cope. I don’t think, based on our family situation at the time, that we could have done it much differently. However, we probably had unrealistic expectations of what she could cope with, especially so soon after the arrival of B. A was still so young and, in reality, she probably needed more love and attention than she got, but it was not easy with a colicky sister and two parents who were struggling to get through each day.
I hope that by speaking honestly about this subject, it might help other mothers at the start of their journey of mothering two. I know some mothers cope just fine with two children, but I know so many others who have struggled as I did. The number of women who have been near tears when we have spoken and they have then realised that they are not the only ones to feel as they do has really made me want to make sure no mother of more than one child suffers on her own, thinking that she is the only one feeling this way. I have often wished that La Leche League published a book on mothering two, related to but separate from tandem feeding, along the lines of What Mothers Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen—I found this to be an excellent book.
Life is starting to look up. B, while still very intense—which makes getting her to nap difficult and stressful—will happily spend time on the floor, playing and crawling around. While not yet walking, I can see that she is becoming less of a baby and more of a toddler. She and A get along well and spend time playing and laughing together. It makes my heart overflow to hear them giggling and laughing in the other room. There have even been moments when I get a glimpse of what people mean when they say that having two children can actually be easier than having one. I feel like a dark cloud is starting to lift. We have recently moved to Oxford, and being in a city that has LLL meetings has really helped me: watching other mothers of two display such patient and loving mothering is inspiring.
I still struggle on a daily basis but I am working hard on trying to be the patient, loving mother of two that I was to one. And slowly but surely we are getting there. Most heart warming of all is that my relationship with A is getting better. This new normal is not as heartbreaking as it was right after B was born. I imagine that our relationship will continue to change over the years to come and I hope I will get used to these changes. I am enjoying nursing and cuddling A. She is making me smile and laugh with such pride and joy as I watch her running around, talking and learning. I have reduced my restrictions on her nursing and try to nurse her when she asks, which I think she needs. Of course we still have our days when we push each others’ buttons but I can honestly say that we have had full days of relative peace and calm when I totally enjoy being a mother. I am beginning to find happiness and calm in mothering two, in a way that I could not have imagined six months ago. It has been a hard year for me and I am sure we will continue to have ups and downs. However, I can certainly see glimpses of me as the loving, patient mother of two that I strive to be.