It’s been a while since I’ve offered up my favorite type of advice. If you’re a parent or have even spoken aloud that you someday intend to become a parent, then you know this type of advice intimately. It’s unsolicited advice, of course. So here’s a little bit more (because there’s never enough) about how to prepare for a second baby.
What to do for yourself:
- To- Don’t List. I had an awesome to-do list called “Before Baby” hanging in our kitchen. It was full of good intentions like “clean baby bottles” and “get a flu shot” (don’t worry Mom, I did do that one, promise!) But there are also things on there that just weren’t going to happen. Like, for example, “change AC filter.” We haven’t changed that thing in months, why would we do it now? (Shh. I know why). Or here’s a cute one that I didn’t even dare to put on the list officially because it would have publicly showcased my insanity, but I had this secret (but now highly public) desire that we would wash the exterior of our house before the baby arrived. Because that seems like a good thing to prioritize…
- Take care of your body. I had a visceral knowing of the ride my body was about to take me on and I knew nary a pinky toenail was going to escape some sort of physical adjustment that would be varying degrees of “uncomfortable,” as the Docs like to say. Therefore, I indulged in body treatments and care like never before. At the end of my pregnancy I was a regular at acupuncture and I had several massages. I took a bubble bath at 11 am on a Sunday while my kid watched garbage television and felt not an ounce of guilt. I bought grown-up face moisturizer for the first time in my adult life and I actually started washing my face before bed! I also just learned about this float spa here in Austin and I really wish I’d given it a spin (or a float!) while pregnant.
- Take care of your mind. For me, that means a whole lot of talking and sharing with friends. At the end of pregnancy I sent a lot, I mean a lot of text messages. I felt an intense need to gather my close female friends in real tight. I also spoke openly to Mike about deep-rooted feelings that I don’t always make space for. I listened to a mindfulness podcast for pregnant women called Expectful. I took naps. I read books that felt good (Shrill by Lindy West). I watched my favorite TV show (Transparent) by myself in bed.
- Take a walk. Actually, several walks. I took an evening walk most nights either alone or with a friend after putting Luke to bed. Being pregnant and a working mom has meant no “real” exercise this time around and I found after bedtime walks to be the best way to have time to myself and feel like I’m moving my body a bit more. I even saw an owl on one such walk. Fellow bird nerds, pretty sweet, right? I also saw a shooting star! I never see shooting stars. I’m always the person who “just missed it!” Pregnancy magic. Oh and another tip here: take off your rings before walking. I got myself into a real pickle thanks to some swollen digits. Not fun.
- Say, “No.” I am famously bad at this. It is a joke between several friends of mine that I am really one of the worst at saying, “No” (possibly topped only by my brother, John, who has literally never turned down an opportunity to do anything ever in his entire life and I think has been sleep-deprived since the 3rd grade because of it. Terrible role model.) But at the end of this pregnancy I really tried to hone this skill. I passed on responsibilities to other people at work and in my personal life and used exceptional self-control in not signing up for new activities or opportunities. Does it sound like I’m bragging? I am.
- Ask for help. And accept it when it’s offered. Mike had two weekends where he was away for an extended chunk of time leaving me with Luke and a very unwieldy baby bump. I enlisted a friend to sleep over one night (Hi, Rachel!) and hired a babysitter another time. It felt indulgent but also really, really good for my mental health and my ability to parent fully.
- Talk through your desires for labor and postpartum with your partner. Now that you’ve been through the rigamarole of birthing a baby, you probably have a better sense of what you want from your partner during these times. At least for me, it was hard for me to convey what I wanted during labor with Luke because I was scared shitless (literally!) and focused on my own experience and survival. This time, I was able to say more clearly what I thought I might like Mike to do during labor. We talked through a few scenarios and I gave him a few tips like, “I want you to field all medical questions that might make me anxious,” or, “if we can get our hands on some of that nitrous oxide gas they’re offering up these days, that would be tremendous,” or equally important, “the minute baby and I are stable you run and grab me a salami sammy with all the things (except mayo, duh). And extra salami. So much salami.” Important stuff like that.
What to do for your child:
I think this possibly warrants its own separate post but for now I’ll just say this is complicated and differs for every family. I think that because there are actual entire books on this subject from people with significantly more training than me and that’s what they say (they often have P. H. and D. after their names). I read a few (Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Laura Markham was my favorite) and some of this advice comes from books, some from my own professional background as an early childhood educator and some from the tried and true parenting method of making shit up as I go along. Here’s what we did for Luke:
- Told him about the pregnancy as late as possible. That meant we waited until I was obviously showing and we thought people would start talking about it in front of him (because, and I don’t know if you know this, but people really like to comment on your body when you are pregnant). Months, even weeks, are eternal for young children and the anxiety of knowing a baby is coming in some ambiguous timeframe far into the future is hard for a young child.
- Followed his lead about choosing to talk or not talk about “Snowman” (the name Luke had chosen for this baby). We’d occasionally initiate conversations about the baby and see if Luke wanted to continue them. More often than not, he didn’t and we left it alone.
- Read books that are developmentally appropriate. This is tricky. There are lots and lots of books about becoming a big sibling and there are also lots of books about reproduction. I tried to find a little of both that were age appropriate for a three year-old. Here are the books about being a sibling that Luke liked best: The Baby is Here by Daniel Tiger (no but really, it’s very unclear who wrote this book, probably a robot), I am a Big Brother by Caroline Jayne Church (also a version called I am a Big Sister), On Mother’s Lap by Ann Herbert Scott and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg is by far my favorite book on reproduction for young children and includes information on how all humans are born and leaves lots of room for you to fill in as many specifics about how your baby will be born without drawing any conclusions about the type of family you have or the way your baby was created (intercourse, insemination, surrogacy, etc.) or will come out into the world.
- Made a “Transition Book.” This is something I do for Luke a lot when a big change is about to happen. You simply write a story about the change that is going to happen and use photographs to illustrate. You can find the text to Luke’s book below. Each paragraph is its own page and I inserted photos to match the words. Feel free to copy and alter to fit your child’s needs.
That’s all I got. Now feel free to unsolicitedly advise me on how to actually raise two kiddos.
Here’s the text from Luke’s transition book:
Title: Luke is going to have a baby brother!
Mommy is growing a baby in her uterus.
Luke likes to call the baby, “Snowman.”
When Snowman is ready, he will decide it is time to come out and be born. Mommy and Daddy will go to the birthing center so that mommy can have help birthing Snowman.
While Mommy and Daddy are away, someone who loves Lukey will stay with him. It will probably be Nana but it could also be Rachel, Auntie Alina or Uncle John. They will take care of Lukey and play with him!
After Snowman is born, Mommy, Daddy and Snowman will come back home. Mommy and Daddy will want to give Lukey big hugs!
Snowman will sleep a lot. Sometimes he will cry. He will drink milk from mommy’s breasts.
Mommy will need to lay down and rest when she comes home from the birthing center. Having a baby is hard work! Lukey can snuggle Mommy in her bed and he can also play with Daddy and Nana.
Some things will be different when Snowman joins our family, but Mommy and Daddy will always love Lukey so, so, SO much!