Having a second baby healed me

The night before I gave birth to our second child, I was sure I had ruined my life. The hours crept ominously forward towards my scheduled C-section, and I tossed and turned, increasingly frustrated that my mind felt so frantic while my body felt so huge. I tried to sleep upright, but found myself crying. Exhausted, uncomfortable, and not even postpartum. I anxiety-spiraled about what lay ahead: Sleepless nights, surgical birth recovery, starting over with breastfeeding and a new routine. Would my toddler think I abandoned her? Would I ever forgive myself for this? When my husband reached for my hand, I balked. The fear was all-consuming.

I knew my apprehension was earned; I became a mom for the first time in March 2020. Our daughter was born two weeks after the emergency declaration, and everything about the newborn period was touched by that experience. There was my episode of transient aphasia at three days postpartum where I listened to a symphony of Covid patients’ monitors while my own doctors tried to rule out a stroke. As I lay there, alone, with my husband and daughter at home to stay safe from the virus, I was unable to speak or process language. It occurred to me I might never see them again.

There was the calculation of whether to bring our daughter to the pediatrician, first for dangerous newborn weight loss and then standard check-up appointments. Every outing was a game of chance, and every limited human interaction required extensive precautions. There was no one to tag in when my husband and I needed rest. No carefree introductions of family to the baby. No errand we could run just to get out. 

I spent days sobbing on the living room floor, begging my daughter to breastfeed, thinking that she was going to starve and I was going to collapse. We saw no one. We went nowhere. We had no help for months. 

Some days, I thought I would drown from isolation.

As a result, we thought pretty seriously about not having a second baby. It didn’t occur to me that the newborn period could be tolerable—let alone therapeutic. So as we drove to the hospital to deliver our second-born after deciding the initial struggle would be worth it, I cried tears of panic, then rage, then grief. 

And then we brought our son home. And our whole world changed. 

Despite a gnarly surgical recovery and sleep deprivation, it turns out I had wildly underestimated our competence as parents. With three years of experience, the newborn skills came flooding back. We knew how to change diapers and what breastfeeding techniques to try. I knew what postpartum underwear I liked and how to operate a breast pump. My husband and I were confident about how we’d work together as a team, and we quickly found a balance between encouraging our son’s independent sleep while soaking up those gone-too-soon baby snuggles. When things felt hard, I was able to pull from what I had already been through. The stigma of struggling didn’t crush me the same way. I could remind myself aloud that everything was temporary. We could do this. We had done this. And this time it was so much better.

If there was one thing I knew I wanted to avoid, it was a repeat of that 2020 crying-in-the-living-room habit. Sure, at the time, there wasn’t much I could do. I was trying to protect my family as a first-time mom and spouse of a doctor. But three years later I refused to relive that solitude, and this time I treated getting out as a non-negotiable. The practice fully transformed my ability to parent—and enjoy the experience.

Walks to the farmer’s market, outings to the orchard. Playdates. The zoo. I joined a local mom group one afternoon a week. Even doctor’s appointments felt like a luxury. I relished the opportunity to be out in public—something that was totally out of reach with our first baby. This time I had a particular gratitude for even the most mundane errand: Walking around the grocery store, my son in his sister’s hand-me-down carrier, picking up chocolate covered pretzels or my favorite Italian combo deli sandwich. It all felt so special—I got to be in public with my baby. The nature of the outing never felt important; if I was able to be out and about, that’s what I prioritized. The logistical hurdles of excursions with kids were nothing like the darkness and guesswork of being a first-time mom in 2020. 

And oh, my gosh, the help. We had help! I knew we would need it, and so this time I asked (including, of course, a request to get vaxxed). My mother-in-law came to take care of our daughter while our son was being delivered, and stayed for two weeks. Then my dad and stepmom. Then my aunt after that. Another aunt came to visit and filled our entire chest freezer with prepared family meals and juggled our daughter. My sisters took turns and set up a meal train. We had a postpartum doula for overnights (a support option that was life-changing) and a list of babysitters on-hand for extra support. There were meal drop-offs and flights booked from friends and offers for everything from company to cleaning. I lost count of how many times I wept to my husband, “We are so lucky. Our family is so loved. I did not realize I could feel so healed.” 

Watching our kids figure each other out as playmates, with all the laughter and negotiating that entails, has been the true cherry on top. They shriek, they share, they roughhouse, they cry, they learn to try again and laugh at each other. In many ways, having two kids has been easier because we aren’t our daughter’s sole source of entertainment. And, frankly, for better or for worse, our son would follow his sister off a cliff. 

Redemption isn’t promised—with another baby or anything else in life. I couldn’t have known what our son was going to mean for us. I couldn’t have guaranteed he’d bring such joy, contentment and peace after what 2020 took away. But when I look back on the night before he was born—that voice in my head spewing panic and regret—I wish I could tell myself what I know now: Our choice to try again and grow our family was the ultimate act of optimism and reclamation, mending a sense of loss we didn’t think would dissipate. And with both kids in my arms, it’s like that voice never existed at all.

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