Being a mother in this society is an all-encompassing identity. Each new baby represents more claims on your time and energy, more shifting of your needs to theirs, more of them and less of you.
As I smooth the blanket over my one-year-old son, I feel an idle hand or foot drag gently across the inside of my belly. I slide a hand loosely over my stomach, checking the clock on my dresser: 12:30am. Without meaning to, a list of things I need to do starts ticking off in my head. Which is fine – at 36 weeks pregnant, my bladder is crying out for relief, anyway. I get up for my nightly ritual these days, trudging to the bathroom in the dark, hoping not to step on my giant dog that could be stretched out anywhere on the floor.
These are the last few weeks before my family of three becomes a family of four. I feel like it’s a change for which I should prepare more, but I’m not sure how. We’ve been removing, washing, and repairing the material lining all of the swings, nursing pillows, and other baby things. We’ve gotten a new dresser for my one-year-old son’s clothes, and a new (to us) fire truck bed for him to use. (He doesn’t).
I’ve also asked a few moms about the move from one to two. I will only have “two under two” for a month or so, but the prospect is daunting. The moms tell me that I should let go of expectations of how things should be. I immediately picture the cluttered state of my house and tell them that won’t be a problem.
My son will be two in a few months, but I comfort myself that he’s still my baby because at least the airlines consider him to be a lap infant. He used to take up a tiny space in our bed and we now cede an entire section to him. He’s a long, skinny, curious, and friendly little person.
I realize, sometimes, that I’m still getting used to the idea of being his mom. I occasionally find myself surprised when I see this tiny human running to me when I pick him up from school. The phase from baby to toddler is so quick, the changes so rapid, from squishy infant to little boy.
But that has nothing on the shift from non-mom to mom. I’m responsible, every day, for cleaning, dressing, and feeding this person. His entire universe is me, his dad, and this little house we bought on impulse several years ago. And my universe has moved from revolving around me to encircling him.
And now there will be one more.
A friend with a new baby told me and my husband earlier this year that he can’t imagine loving a new kid as much as he loves his first. I appreciate the sentiment, but that isn’t what worries me most about this move to two kids.
Being a mother in this society is an all-encompassing identity. Each new baby represents more claims on your time and energy, more shifting of your needs to theirs, more of them and less of you. It’s easy to see with one child how you can lose yourself in planning playdates, nap times, and constant searches for meals that your baby will eat. Your relationship to your partner becomes a baby triage of sorts, making sure there are enough clean clothes and blankets, enough favorite snacks and juice, proper bedtimes and bath times, and time to find shoes. Always the shoes.
I look forward to a new tiny baby in my arms. And — when I work my way past the daunting realities of climate change, racism, sexism, and power — I’m excited about watching this person grow up and make their small contribution to the world. But I miss the days when my time was my own, when I could thrive on impulse and the discovery of cheap flights somewhere fun. I miss long conversations with girlfriends and fun nights out that take no preparation. I guess the irony of adulthood is that even when you have more resources to use, you have less time to use them.
As I recommit to this journey of motherhood with another person, I’m hoping that I gain more of myself in the process rather than lose myself in it. I think, so far, I’ve done a good job in that department — I’ve taken my son to protests, rallies and community meetings, rather than give them up altogether. I’ve published a book and planned my annual trip with my girlfriends, even when it meant showing up either pregnant or with a babe in arms three years in a row. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can with myself and my partner about what I need to feel myself, and work to remedy it with time and self-care when I miss the mark.
In part, gaining more in this new phase also means accepting the new pace of my life – savoring the “now” of the moments cuddling tender humans and waking up to demanding midnight cries. Learning to be grateful for all I learn and appreciate in the process. I’ll set a few important goals that I’ll prioritize, and I’ll get whatever help I need to achieve them. And I’ll make sure that I embrace myself and my kids at the same time.
I’m not sure how well any of this plan will hold up as I move from one to two babies, but it’s what I have for now. My family will grow soon and hopefully I will, too.
Khadijah White is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is currently writing a book on the rise of the Tea Party brand in news.