Thoughts on a baby #2

 

Let me start off by saying no, I’m not pregnant right now. And also, everything I’m saying here is a reflection of my experience with motherhood and doesn’t make whatever you’re going through/have gone through/will go through wrong or bad, it just might be different.

I want to talk about something that came up with a good friend of mine last week who I talk all things business and life with: the conversation about a possible baby #2 (for me). First, here’s some context…

My friend and I each have one kid under 5 and both work full-time. She’s a full-time entrepreneur and I have an office job and a business on the side, so we each have a ton of responsibilities with work and parenting. We also both perform the endless stereotypical mom/womxn household and care taking duties, including the invisible labor our husbands don’t always see, understand, or appreciate.

The meal planning, food shopping, cooking, cleaning, scheduling appointments, remembering to show up at said appointments, coordinating daycare pickup and dropoff, sending our kids to school with treats to share with their class on their birthdays, carefully crafting homemade Valentine’s, paying bills on time, making sure our kids have extra clothes in their backpacks for the days they splash in big puddles and soak themselves, I could go on… but I’ll pause here for now.

While both of our husbands are very involved dads and helpful around the house, we still find ourselves having to make the ask for them to take on some of these invisible tasks since they’re not mind-readers, which is additional emotional labor on our ends. And, I recognize that the two of us aren’t unique in this with so many moms in the workforce. (And if you’re a SAHM, your job is equally taxing if not more so!)

In the past, my friend and I had discussed how we don’t know how moms with multiple kids manage because some days one kid feels like too much, especially for me with a toddler who’s constantly pushing boundaries. Then this past week I found myself admitting for probably the first time out loud that I actually do think I want a second baby, but it terrifies me.

I’m pretty self-aware and know my limits (most of the time), so I’ve come to terms with the fact that it would be too much for me and my mental health to bring another child into the mix with my husband and I both working full-time outside the home, which is what we need to do to afford our current lifestyle.

It’s taken a lot for me to step back and look at the full picture to come to this realization; it’s not that we don’t want more kids, but life as we know it wouldn’t support that decision - something would have to give.

Most often with my friends and clients who are moms, I see how much is on each of our plates in terms of work expectations, maintaining our homes, spending time with our partners and friends, and keeping our kids not just alive but also really nurturing them and integrating them into our lives. Oh, and also attempting to take care of ourselves so we can look and feel our best. It’s no wonder we’re often caught in cycles of stress and overwhelm.

I think the self-care culture has become a little over-the-top and missing the mark, too. Companies are getting really smart with marketing products to over-stressed, overtired womxn - especially moms - and make us feel like if we don’t buy what they’re selling and doing all things self-care every single day, we’re failing at just one more thing on our never-ending, never-completed to-do lists.

Fortunately that’s not true; there are ways that we can carve out time and space to really nourish our souls and calm our nervous systems, but most often it requires asking for help and receiving the necessary support.

This can feel hard and like a weakness because of what the current patriarchal model puts in front of us; the messages that say we womxn wanted this (to have babies and careers) so we should be able to do it all ourselves because that’s what we asked for - which is bullshit.

But, in order to get to where we want to go in our careers while creating the families we crave, we have to break the mold and allow our families and communities to help us. It’s a gift we can give ourselves so that we can continue to function not only as moms but also as individuals.

We don’t have to wait until our babies are off on their own to rediscover who we are, but we do have to commit to not losing ourselves in motherhood by taking time to regularly connect with the womxn inside of us and tend to her needs and desires.

For working moms, the demands on all sides are excruciatingly high. Once mothers began to enter the workforce as “equals” (even though we all know that’s not the case with the current wage gap between women and men) it didn’t necessarily mean that the work at home was split equally, too. Instead, it usually meant that moms could choose to get a job ON TOP OF all the shit they had to do for their families and homes. Dreams really do come true!

“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.” Annabel Crabb

Our bosses expect us to work as if that’s our #1 priority and to basically forget that we have kids at home while we’re in the building, and while we’re at home we put pressure on ourselves to spend time with our families and attempt to forget about all the stress and work left to be done once we get back in the office. We’re biologically hard-wired to make sure we do everything in our power to keep our babies alive, so pretending they don’t exist while we’re away from them isn’t exactly possible.

Some moms aren’t even able to leave their work at work and are expected to be on call 24/7. I have friends with multiple cell phones to keep on top of for work and personal life, and they feel like they can never really turn them off and are constantly in a mindset of “someone needs me, right now” which would bring me to my knees (if that’s you, I’m so sorry and I hope it’s not forever).

Me and my son, Bodhi, on my first Mother’s Day in 2016.

Me and my son, Bodhi, on my first Mother’s Day in 2016.

Personally, I got to spend 3 beautiful, long, challenging months at home with my son after he was born while my husband and I were in the middle of planning our wedding and buying a house (we did things a bit non-traditionally). We even lived with my amazing in-laws at the time while we were house-hunting so we had a TON of help, which made things a lot easier and yet they were still so fucking hard.

I was one of the lucky ones because my state actually offers 13 weeks of paid maternity leave, and my company and supervisors were understanding and flexible about how I returned to work. Initially I got to work from home 2 days a week and go into the office the other 3 days, and then ended up cutting back to working 32 hours a week in the office for about an 8-month period before going back full-time.

It helped, but it still didn’t feel like enough to me. And I felt shitty for thinking that because I read all the terrible stories about moms returning to work after 6 weeks postpartum because they didn’t have a choice due to their financial circumstances or the potential for losing their jobs if they stayed home longer.

A big part of why it didn’t feel like enough was that for the first 9 months after I returned to work, I still wasn’t sleeping more than 3 or 4 hour stretches at a time because of nursing and my unwillingness to attempt sleep training (I couldn’t stand to hear my son scream), and the sleep deprivation was truly torture. My husband would often sleep in the guest bed and Bodhi and I would co-sleep so I could just get a few hours of rest. Every day I would wake up utterly exhausted, not knowing how I'd make it through. But somehow I did.

Also, while I was at work I had to pump 2-3 times a day so my son would have breast milk for the next day at daycare. Still, the expectation was that I’d work 8 hours a day because I’m an hourly employee, so I was usually on-site for close to 10 hours to accommodate for all those “breaks.” Not to mention the fact that I had limited vacation time and it was mostly going to appointments, or I had to use it to stay home with my sick son (that first year of daycare was a bitch) instead of taking time off to actually recharge.

I had so many breakdowns the first few months as I adjusted my new role as a working mom. I harbored resentment about having to come home and clean all the pump parts and bottles for the next day, making baby food, washing diapers, and tending to all the other household chores I had waiting for me because it meant that I had even less time to spend cuddling and playing with the sweet infant who had been waiting for me to get home all day. Eventually, my body stopped producing enough milk well before I was planning to stop nursing because of all the stress I was under and how much time I was away from my baby.

Our bodies aren’t machines (even though we often treat them as if they are) and they usually signal to us when enough is enough. I hit my breaking point around 10 months postpartum and introduced formula and stopped cloth diapering, which both left me feeling like a failure as a moms and also provided a huge sigh of relief.

Once I started sleeping more and regained some sense of myself after my son turned 1, I also realized I had been dealing with significant postpartum anxiety. In the really early stages I found it difficult to leave the house alone with him because my brain immediately went to the countdown. In 2 hours he’ll need to eat, and be changed, and what if he screams in the store - how will I deal? I took me ages to confidently leave the house with him alone, which definitely had an impact on my psyche.

While on maternity leave, I also didn’t opt-in to any of the local mom and lactation support groups because, as an introvert and sleep-deprived new mom, making conversation with strangers and having to be somewhere at a particular time was the last thing I felt capable of.

I spent countless hours awake at night alone after my son would fall back asleep because it felt like the only peace in my days when someone wasn’t demanding something from me, but really it just made the sleep deprivation and anxiety worse.

To add insult to injury, not long after I had baby #1 I felt like people were already asking me when the next one was coming. Maybe for some families this is a quick and easy decision, but for us it hasn’t been. Sometimes it filled me with anger and I wanted to scream “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THAT WOULD MEAN?!” because I felt like no one asking this had any insight into how hard my life was feeling and the internal struggles that were ever present.

I get it, it used to be pretty standard - people often had lots of babies close together back in the day. This is also when it was the norm that mothers stayed home with their children and dads worked outside the home, and there was a stronger sense of communities and families raising kids together. I feel like we’re kind of circling back to that idea as a culture but it’s still pretty new and not fully implemented yet, at least in the U.S.

The well-intentioned comments of “but Bodhi needs a brother or sister!” are both sweet and also frustrating. I know not everyone understands why it’s a touchy subject for me and honestly it was hard to articulate why it made me panicky until more recently. My husband and I haven’t ruled out more kids so I can’t reply with an easy “nope, one and done” - it’s more complicated than that, and people generally like a black and white answer; they can’t always understand the hesitancy if it’s a “maybe.”

I grew up with 3 siblings and spent a lot of time with my cousins, so I totally value larger families and how fun and entertaining it can be.

But as an adult, I can also see how thin it stretched my parents and how it’s the reason why we grew up with little individual attention, ate cheaper foods that weren’t super healthy, never took big family vacations, and why I didn’t get a lot of the things I wanted that cost money. There was also a lot of chaos and shuttling around to all of our different activities, and I definitely don’t thrive in that type of environment.

Parenthood has provided me with opportunities to reflect on this as well as allowed me to decide what it is I do want for myself and my kid(s), and what I have to do to be able to create that life.

As a family, we value things like caring for ourselves and our environment, so we make choices to reflect this.

We shop at the farmer’s markets and local grocers with high-quality (and more costly) options. We choose to purchase the expensive, organic fruits, veggies, milks, meats, etc. because we care about the sustainability of our planet and its resources in addition to our family’s health.

We buy the “hippie” chlorine-free plant-derived diapers because - again - caring for the environment as best we can is important to us (and we ruled out cloth diapers for reasons mentioned previously).

I buy very specific and higher-end skincare, makeup, sunscreen, and all that jazz because I know what I put onto my body (and my son’s body) is just as important as what I put into it.

We also want to be able to travel and do fun things on family vacations that require setting aside the time and funds to do so.

And with more kids, all of these things would need to be taken into consideration because it would stretch us further financially and would mean we’d need to change the way we live and potentially compromise on our values. Paying for full-time childcare for 2 kids alone would mean that a lot would have to change, and we still have 2 more years of that with our firstborn so it would be a given.

It also means that our time would become stretched even more, and for me as a mom I’d have to go through all the same things I outlined above: nursing, pumping, sleep deprivation, etc. which is hard for me to fathom at this point even though my son just turned 3.

It means my body would go through a lot again physically, mentally, and emotionally during pregnancy and in the fourth trimester. While I have no doubt that my heart would swell to be able to love two kids, that wouldn’t diminish my need for time away to stay patient and sane, and it would be a lot harder to get that.

On top of parenting, work, and household responsibilities, both my husband and I have several hobbies and interests that we like to explore on our own, too. We’ve found a great rhythm and ability to do so while also spending time together as a couple and a family, but with a second kid in the mix, we’d have to reevaluate all of that as well.

It doesn't mean it’d be impossible and I get that it’d be a temporary season of life, but it would require change. We’d have to determine what could be sidelined for now, which would be hard for both of us because they’re things we love and fill us with a sense of purpose and pleasure that we each deserve.

The longer my husband and I wait, the more intimate insecurities bubble up, like “how long can I wait but still not have a geriatric pregnancy because it means potential for more complications?” or “what if it’s not as easy to get pregnant next time?” because, like most things in life, there are no guarantees.

As we continue to rattle the possibility of more kids around in our brains, one thing I’m working on is actually beginning to lay the foundation for a life that could potentially support another kid.

This is why I take time away to continue to build my business and figure out if working for myself full-time would be an option, because remaining in my job at the capacity that I am (a project manager for a team of 8 going on 13 employees) isn’t feasible as a new mom to 2 kids, for me. And I’m giving myself the permission to say that while this may work for other moms it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to fall victim to our circumstances when life gets hard, or when unexpected things happen that force us to adjust (hello, unexpected pregnancy with baby #1). But the truth is, the way we design our lives includes a lot of choices, too. And by making these choices to support what we need and want instead of what society may expect from us, we’re tapping into our personal power and standing up for womxn as a collective. We’re saying “this model isn’t working for me, so I’m going to do something different,” and giving others permission to do the same.

As womxn, we need to support one another through these processes. This is why we need our friends. Our womxn’s circles. Our covens. To remind us that we’re not crazy, we’re not bad, and we’re doing the best that we can with each thing life throws our way. We need to able to talk about hard things and how our society makes being a full-time mom and full-time employee feel impossible, and what we might be able to do to change that for the moms who come after us.

The more we can each stand up for what we want and deserve, including exiting the current patriarchal model that’s in front of us that clearly isn’t working, the more womxn will feel empowered to do the same.

So for me, instead of simply surrendering to the thought that a second kid seems like an impossibility, I’m paving the way for it to be an option in the somewhat distant future. I don’t know when it’ll happen or if it’ll happen, but I find comfort knowing that it’s our choice. That we have options. And that neither way is wrong and our family will be complete no matter what.

You can keep asking when baby #2 is coming, and now you know the depths of what my “I don’t know, maybe someday” answer truly means.

Love,

Kendalyn