My (No Longer) Secret Worries about Baby Number Two

Tomorrow I’m having a baby! I should be sleeping and resting up for the big day. Yet here I am up in the middle of the night, anxious about the delivery and worried about the changes that will come. This is our second child, our second daughter. One would think that being a mother already would give me confidence and lessen my anxieties. But the truth is – in many ways because of my experiences as a mother these past nearly three years – the anxiety this time around is much higher.

Maybe it’s a timing thing. With my first, I was convinced that the baby would arrive on or around her due date – ah, the naivete of a first-time mom. Yet to my shock (and to the shock of my husband, who was two time zones away on a work trip), my water broke at 35.5 weeks and we found ourselves with a healthy – but preterm – baby. (Thankfully, my husband made it back in time for the delivery.) I was in shock most of that day and really didn’t have time to be too anxious about what was coming. This second child, on the other hand, has been pretty content to stay put ­– and with the current heat wave, I can’t really blame her. So she has had three extra weeks to grow and develop inside me. And I have had three extra weeks to worry.

Before the first, I felt pretty confident in my parenting abilities. I knew big changes were in store for me, but as an older mom (I was 37 at the time) who had experience babysitting and taking care of children, I wasn’t too worried. And while it has certainly been challenging at each stage so far, I remain confident that I am generally a good mother. That is not the root of my anxiety now. Now, my anxiety comes from a much more raw, emotional space: what I didn’t understand before becoming a mother the first time was the depths of love I could feel for another human being. I didn’t know that in every child’s face I would see the face of my own child. That every child’s cry, every child’s pain would feel like my child’s pain. The massive weight of that was not something I expected. It has been both empowering and debilitating.

And now to address those worries keeping me up at night. Rather than keep them secret and stewing in my mind, I’d like to share them here, both for myself and for any expectant mothers out there harboring similar fears: you’re not alone.

I worry that I will forget what it is like to carry a child.

I fully realize that not all mothers carry their children and that in no way does doing so define true motherhood. But as a mother who has been pregnant, this is a real worry of mine – that I’ll forget. With number two, we know that our family will be complete. Barring the totally unexpected, this is the last time I will be pregnant, and I worry that I will forget the feeling and comfort of the kicks inside me, the connection that those kicks represent. In the coming hours, those kicks and punches will no longer be mine alone. Will I remember what that felt like physically and emotionally?

I worry that I will not have enough love to give.

From talking to other mothers of multiple children, I have learned that this is a common worry. I look at my first child and wonder how could I possibly love another as much as I love her. Will my first be slighted, as my love will now be spread thinner? Can I emotionally handle loving two, when loving one has been so all consuming?

I recall asking my mother about this years ago. How did she have room to love both my older brother and myself? She answered that your capacity to love just grows. This answer always makes me think of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, whose heart grew in his discovery of the true joys of Christmas. Age has taught me that my mom is generally right, so I guess I will take her word for it that I will have the capacity and strength to love more than one child.

I worry that I will lose more of myself.

When I had my first child, a wise friend advised me to find ways to incorporate my child into my life, not the other way around. It’s easier said than done, but I have attempted to do this. I have integrated my child into my work as much as possible, but I have also sought to hold onto my identity as an academic – both with varying levels of success. Yet fitting a child into one’s life is challenging, and I am sure adding another to that mix will only make things more difficult.

Some examples: taking students abroad with one child in tow? Manageable! But two? Not sure. Asking a friend to watch one child for an evening? Pretty easy. Asking someone to watch two young children? A much bigger test of friendship, and a much bigger expense if it is a babysitter. Leaving one’s spouse/partner with one child for a week to go do research? Not a problem. Leaving one’s partner with two children? While not a problem per se, it’s much more draining on the partner. I am going to have to renegotiate my work-life integration, and the inherent challenges associated with that make me nervous.

I worry that we somehow just got lucky the first time.

It does feel weird to go backward. With a nearly three-year-old, it seems like our child is now at a point where she is relatively independent. She can articulate many of her wants and feelings. She is 95% potty-trained (pull-ups at night, but that is generally just a precaution) and she plays independently. She tends to be a good sleeper, she eats well and she has a mostly sunny disposition. All things considered, she has also been a relatively easy child. She has had some health issues, but on the whole we really have been fortunate. And other than being slightly preterm, she was also an easy pregnancy.

This new child? I have a feeling that she is going to challenge me in ways I can only imagine. If the pregnancy has been any indication, she is going to keep me on my toes. From morning sickness (well actually night sickness) early on, to the massive swelling I have experienced for the last six weeks (seriously, I have no ankles and by the end of the day can’t feel my knees), to the insomnia, to the ridiculous heart burn I have had (if there really is a correlation between heartburn and hair, this kid is going to come out looking like Rapunzel), this hasn’t been a particularly easy pregnancy.

I worry about the world I am bringing my child into.

As ready as I am to have this baby, I also feel pretty anxious about the state of the world in general. My first was born in 2015, and while there certainly were plenty of issues three years ago, it feels as if the level of divisiveness in my own country and turmoil around the world has only increased. I am concerned about the future my daughters will inherent and what they will have to deal with. From the effects of global climate change to the rise of nationalism, from concerns about gun violence to continued sexism, racism and hatred, I worry about what things will look like when they are 20, 50, 70. I realize that I am bringing my child into a relatively stable personal situation, and she will be born in a country that is experiencing challenges, but not war. We are fortunate, but war is happening, injustice is happening, famine is happening –and it affects us all. Yet I see people promoting these things, profiting from these things and it saddens me greatly. I can only hope that my children will work to better the situation, and that they will be forces for change in the world.

As I wait for baby’s arrival in the coming hours, these and other worries (including nervousness about the actual delivery) are swirling around in my mind. Relative to the worries of others, these may be small worries (I acknowledge my privilege here). But they are mine and they are real. Some of these anxieties will likely disappear in the coming hours, days and months. Others . . . well, only time will tell.

I guess I should try to let go of some of this for the time being, so I can get a few more hours of sleep. Anxiety, excitement and everything in between: none of it changes the fact that in a few short hours, I will be a mother of two!