The night I took the pregnancy test, two-year-old Beatrice was sleeping over at my parents’ place, which meant I could cry as loudly as I wanted. And I did—though they weren’t happy tears.
I sobbed because it happened way faster than my husband, Scott, and I expected, and I wasn’t sure we were ready.
The “having another” talk had turned serious a year earlier, when Beatrice turned one. While we loved her fiercely, we were truly considering stopping there. It’s not that she was a handful—she was a sweet, lovely baby—nor was it that we were drowning in responsibilities, because my parents lived close by, and we were spoiled with help (including homemade dinners and diaper drop-offs). We may have had it a little too good. Why would we spoil it? What was the sense in tempting fate? But even with all of that, parenthood was a shock to the system. Sleep was still a struggle, I was depressed by the daycare dash (and fees), and money was tight. We weren’t sure we could do it all again.
Consequently, most conversations consisted of Scott and me reassuring each other that Bea would be fine if she ended up an only child. I researched the topic and not so coolly polled all the single-kid families we knew for the certainty we needed. At the height of my turmoil, Time dropped a cover story that spoke directly to me: “The Only Child Myth.” “They’re supposed to be selfish, spoiled and lonely. In fact, they’re just fine—and on the rise,” it read. And the author’s name was Lauren. Did I need any other sign, besides this dog-eared current affairs magazine I was carrying in my purse like some kind of talisman?
And yet. Is there ever certainty in parenthood? Scott and I both had siblings two years apart from us. Siblings are important and character building. Wouldn’t having another assure there would be at least one person to care for us in our old age? Plus, I really did love pregnancy and breastfeeding (childbirth, not so much), and Scott had perfected swaddling and one-handed diaper changes. And we already had all the stuff.
We decided to stop talking about it around Bea’s second birthday. Once we cut out all the noise, we realized we wanted a second kid. Mostly. But maybe not right away. We wanted to be able to change our minds. We’d go with the flow. It had taken almost five months to conceive Beatrice; surely it wouldn’t happen right away.
But it did happen right away, on holiday in Mexico, after too many mojitos at the pool bar. And my grief-regret mash-up of a hangover lasted the first 20 weeks of the pregnancy, during which time many more tears were shed. They silently rolled down my cheeks as I snuggled beside Bea in her twin bed, once the stories were read and the quilt tucked in. As she slept, I would whisper earnest (and absurd, in retrospect) apologies in the dark: Sorry for ruining your life. You have no idea what’s coming for you. You poor, unsuspecting daughter of mine.
One day, as I agonized again—still—over how I was surely betraying Beatrice, my wisest friend cut the sh*t and asked what I was so afraid of.
“My relationship with Bea is so perfect. I don’t want it to change,” I said, tearfully.
“It’s never going to stay exactly as it is now anyway. Life doesn’t work like that,” she replied. So simple, no-nonsense. She was right.
It was that conversation, and the 20-week ultrasound, that snapped me out of my funk. This baby was real and had a cute button nose and wild arms, and he (or she) was coming. And soon. Mourning my relationship with our one and only Beatrice (which is normal, as my midwives kindly assured me) soon made way for anxious preparations.
During a second pregnancy, unsolicited observations are still lobbed at you from friends (frenemies?) and strangers alike. Comments included the usual, “You’re only five months?! Are you sure you’re not having twins? You’re sure?” along with this way-too-common proclamation: “Your first is so good, your next will be a little troublemaker!” Just as people like to predict sex and size, forecasting the temperament of your unborn offspring is also a thing. If we had it “easy” with the first, surely we were destined to pay our dues with the second. Apparently there’s no way a person could have two well-behaved babies without upsetting the balance of the universe.
Well, guess what, all of you darkly vengeful-disguised-as-well-meaning onlookers? Mostly, it actually got easier. Beatrice was old enough to be excited when we shared the news. She called her unborn sibling “Pompom” and circled my belly with sweet kisses daily. When our boy, Orson, was born via Caesarean after I fought hard for a vaginal birth (again), I was not defeated and scared, as I had been with my first C-section. I felt stronger and more purposeful. In stark contrast to my traumatic first delivery, this one was smooth and happy. It was Dec. 21, and I knew I had a daughter at home who needed an extra-special Christmas. Let’s get this baby out. I’ll never forget that first night with Orson sleeping on my chest, a bit of snowy air blowing in through an open hospital window. All happy tears this time.
OK, some frustrated tears too. With Orson, I was completely caught off guard by how unpractised I felt at breastfeeding. I had happily nursed Bea to 16 months, and here I was studying Dr. Jack Newman videos online in the middle of the night and obsessing about my latch to anyone and everyone. At home for a year with an infant and a three-year-old, I would text Scott like clockwork around 4 p.m. every day, asking if he was on track to leave the office by 5 p.m. so I could time my reprieve to his return. The double dinner-bath-bedtime circus while cradling a baby in one arm sucked, so neither of us liked to leave the other outnumbered often. It was largely a tag-team, divide-and-conquer effort for the first few years, but with a difference: Nothing felt as urgent or as dire. We knew that as awful as the sleepless jags were, they weren’t forever. We knew that if Orson didn’t eat this supper, he might eat tomorrow’s breakfast. Or not. He wouldn’t starve. (With Bea, I’d been convinced on a daily basis that she was starving—today she eats capers and figs, and tells me when something needs a touch more lemon zest.) When a newborn Bea was napping in the bassinet, I had bustled around the house, getting things done. But I spent the early days with Orson frogged up on my chest while the hours melted away. The only thing I wanted to do was sit still with him, as much as I could. The second kid—or rather, the experience of having two—has made us more relaxed about the innumerable crazy-making questions of parenting.
These days, there’s very little dividing and conquering. We no longer have a kid and a baby. Beatrice just turned eight, Orson is going on five. We are a tight team of four, and I love it. But even more than that, I’m intrigued watching their team of two. All the qualities that made Bea a charming Type A only child for three years make her an efficient Type A big sister. (Side note: There’s nothing more horrifying yet oddly entertaining than hearing your shrill parenting ultimatums parroted by your mini-me.) She has passed her passion for drawing along to him, and he has taught her to love Lego. They spend weekend mornings working side by side at their creations while Scott and I sleep in—an unexpected perk of having two and a great reward for all those nights the baby would wake the older kid or the older one’s night terror/nosebleed/barf bug would wake the baby.
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a parent of two, it’s to always expect change. Just because it’s good now doesn’t mean it will always be so. And the messy stuff? It usually passes, too. In the meantime, we laugh at it more than we cry. They occasionally fight over toys or get shovey when we force them to share the bathtub, but for the most part, it’s all pretty peaceful. We’re soaking it up before the arrival of the preteen years, lurking around the corner.
In the bleary days after Bea was born, my mom would coo over her first grandchild and ask Scott and me, “Can you remember a day when she didn’t exist? I can’t!” And we would share a knowing look, without saying aloud what we were both thinking: Damn right we can. A full night’s sleep? Spontaneous dates? We remembered those days way too fondly. But now I can honestly say it’s tough for me to recall the family of three that came before Orson. We are a team of four, forever more. That’s one thing that won’t change.
A version of this article appeared in our November 2016 issue with the headline “And then we were four,” p. 80.1 Comment