Friday, 8 April 2016

What not to read just before you need to sleep

I've totally freaked myself out reading 'Three shoes, one sock and no hairbrush: Everything you need to know about having your second child'. The author, Rebecca Abrams pulls no punches in warning second-time expectant mothers that they're in for some shocks. One 'myth' she busts is the one that says parents worry about whether they'll love their second child as much as their first, and then of course they do. Not so, Abrams warns, or at least not necessarily, and not at first.
Apparently most mums fall into one of two camps. Camp One struggle to bond with their baby at first, and either gradually come to love it as it develops its personality or (sshhh) never end up feeling quite as strongly about it as they do their first born. Ouch. But Camp Two are, if anything, even ouchier. Camp Two are overwhelmed with love for their new baby such that it changes their feelings about their first born, who suddenly seems overwhelmingly irritating and immature. Waaahhhhhhh!!!! The pity I feel for all those firstborns, let alone my bear, being suddenly displaced from the centre of their mother's affections and having to learn to live with it is overpowering. Abrams makes a pretty convincing case that you can't expect a new person to enter into the family without it altering the dynamic and displacing its previous occupants to some extent. But if its truth it's no less brutal for it.

Abrams also raised my blood pressure just when I was meant to be getting sleepy with a whole chapter about how it is the second child, not the first, that tends to make women feel differently about their career and decide to give up work. In general the message of the book is that having one child is easy peasy but having two is completely different and totally unmanageable and everything is about to go wrong just when you thought you had things figured out.

I remember having a similar feeling panic after reading a Gina Ford book a few days before Orson was due, so i should know better than to succumb to this. Usually I'm a fan of expecting the worst and then being pleasantly surprised by reality, and ti wouldn't surprise me Abrams' sentiment while writing the book was along the same lines - better to be over-prepared than to get a nasty surprise.

But, I guess what with a pretty intense year coming up - new baby, a big move, and then a new job with only six months leave - I was needing to reassure myself that second-time-round parenting would be easier in some ways than the first time. No massive lifestyle adjustments to make. Lots of experience in getting little ones to sleep and to feed. I have lots of local friends and a support network this time around, which wasn't the case last time, plus we're in a more secure financial position and less stressed generally. And our firstborn is a very settled, well-adjusted boy who will be three by the time he meets his sibling, who loves his nursery and who has a very good level of understanding already. So I was hoping to convince myself that we are a much stronger team then we were first time around, and that this would balance out the difficulties caused by all the change and me being back at work full time with such a little baby. American mums probably think its ridiculous to think that six months is a short time of leave, but with 12 months so much the norm here in the UK I can't help but feel guilty that I'm planning to short change her even before she is born.

The book has made me worry that I need to open my eyes a bit more. I think one thing that was helpful to me with Orson was that I truly didn't have any expectations before he was born. I didn't know if I'd enjoy being a mother or not, I didn't know if I'd want to return to work afterwards. I rated myself as being fairly high-risk for post-natal depression, and I just didn't put any pressure on myself to feel anything or be anything. When it turned out I loved mothering (most of the time!) and didn't get PND it was like winning a big prize! And when it turned out that I did want to return to work and that motherhood hasn't diminished my passion for philosophy at all, this seemed a bonus too, especially now that I've figured out how to keep everything more or less in balance.

Complacent much? Am I so busy being relieved that I established what I want and how to make it all happen that I forgot that it may all change again? Its frightening being told that what you think you know about yourself might change. That future you is going to hold incompatible values. Of course, this is one of the things that makes the initial transition to parenthood so bewildering and impossible to be rational about. What I hadn't figured on was that the second time could be a transformative experience, in Laurie Paul's sense, all over again. But - deep breaths - maybe I'll be different, maybe Abrams is wrong, about me at least. Watch this space!

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