I gained 20 pounds with my first baby. I say "with" because she was literally with me at the time strapped to my chest in her Baby Björn, crying and fussing, as I, unshowered and wildly emotional, on a mission of near-religious zeal, traversed my neighborhood for pastries, muffins, cookies anything sugary and loaded with carbs, anything with which I could temporarily sweeten my mood and self-medicate my postpartum blues. Four months, 20 pounds, and a world of moods later, I was finally clearheaded enough to realize my mistake. Too late for my figure it took me two years to finally lose that weight but not too late, I hope, for the next baby, who is tapping against my uterus as I write this, a tiny, ticking time bomb.
While my friends, many of whom had their first babies around the same time I had Molly, blithely cooked up their second and even, sometimes, third children, it took my husband and me almost four years to decide we were ready for baby number two. And now, seven months pregnant, I'm still not entirely sure we're prepared. How does the phrase go? Fool me once, shame on you; drool on me twice, shame on me?
Do I sound ungrateful, glib? Believe me, I'm not. I am daily aware of my great fortune, and every day I pray to the universe that this baby will be as healthy and perfect as my 4-year-old daughter. After spending five weeks on bed rest with her, I'm no stranger to the wrenching anxiety that can characterize much of pregnancy, and the hope against hope that I'll be twice lucky, twice blessed.
In fact, that's my point. I've been through the ups and downs--some downs were so low I had to look up to see the crud on the bottom of the high-chair tray--of pregnancy and early motherhood. Having a second child has got to be the most ridiculous, absurd leap of faith a parent can take something like the biological imperative of the male praying mantis to mate, while somewhere deep inside him lurks the insect knowledge that after sex the female will eat his head for a snack.
I have friends (many of the same ones who later blissfully continued cruising down the procreation highway) who experienced the first year of their first baby's life as a blossoming of adoration and focused, Zen-like communion. Not that it was always easy, but for these women, the transition into motherhood was a bleary-eyed burst of love--a huge change, sure, but an immensely gratifying one. Whereas I recall pacing around our apartment late one night, sobbing to the accompanying chorus of 6-week-old Molly's squawking, incomprehensible screeches, wishing desperately that, instead of having a baby, we'd gotten a dog.
Here are some indisputable facts about my daughter's first months: Number one, she had colic. Not the kind of colic where you wonder, Does my baby, perhaps, have colic? That is not colic. There ought to be a different word for that kind of half-baked, maybe-colic: colique, perhaps. Colite. Molly had colic, start-crying-at-6-p.m.-and-not-stop-screaming-until-2-a.m. colic. She wailed, I wept, we walked in circles together. For three months. When she would finally fall asleep, I would look at her, lying next to me, for the two seconds I was still awake, and I would trace the outline of her sweet nose, her dark eyelashes, her full lips, and I would think, Who are you? People ask me, now, "Did it just break your heart?" I wish I were more empathetic, but the answer is no: It broke my back.
Number two, for a variety of reasons, I was unable to nurse. So I pumped for three months, which, as anyone who's been through it can tell you, is a kind of modern-day medieval torture. Sometimes I still hear the cruel whoosh-whoosh-whir of the motor in my dreams. I pumped, I fed my baby, I looked around our newly cluttered, increasingly dingy living room in dazed confusion, and then I hooked myself up to the pump again. I watched myself in the mirror once, pumping, my grotesquely swollen nipples encased in plastic and being stretched and squeezed beyond recognition, and I thought, I must stop this.
Eventually, after much wrenching debate with myself, I did stop, and then, while I slowly began to enjoy my beautiful, chubby, newly happy baby, I wallowed in guilt over my failure to breastfeed, while nursing advocates, who suddenly seemed to be everywhere, blithely informed me that I was jeopardizing my daughter's future health, body type, and IQ with every poisonous ounce of formula that slid down her gullet.
That "special first year"? Not a great time for me.
And I think now, four years later, pregnant and apprehensive--hell, terrified--that I learned a lesson early, and in a particularly traumatic fashion, but a lesson that all mothers learn eventually: Our children are strangers to us. Strangers. And inviting one stranger into your heart comes with terrible risks. Opening yourself up to two may well be just plain crazy.
Molly's straight, blond hair might have been the first clue, if I were the kind of person who paid attention to clues; it's a smooth, gorgeous cap of corn silk, and it stands out in particular contrast to my mop of dark curls. No one will ever come up to us and exclaim how remarkably alike we look. But what kind of a tip-off is hair? For that matter, what difference do her physical grace, her stubborn independence, even her right-handedness make, compared to my clumsy, left-handed, frankly clingy nature? None of these spell "stranger," necessarily, but my daughter is one to me, and she always has been, from her first fluttering in-utero fish flops to those early incessant, inscrutable cries, to her current deep and abiding love of climbing onto high, precarious ledges and jumping off.
It's the unpredictable nature of motherhood that threads through these last four years, and that's what stops me cold now, watching this new baby undulate like an alien under my skin. It's the constant challenge of maintaining a consistent and peaceful relationship with a person who, one morning, will sweetly request snuggles in bed, and, the next, will rasp like the little girl in The Exorcist, "Go. Away. Mommy!" It is, sometimes, the sheer unpleasantness of it all, the falling-into-bed exhaustion after a day when nothing has been easy and my daughter has blinded me with her will, and my self-image is battered beyond recognition.
Who will this new baby be? What if I don't manage the superhuman trick I've accomplished once already, the leap of loving beyond reason, beyond measure, the small person who, for several ridiculously long months, threw a two-hour tantrum every day, who frequently tells me I'm stupid, who always kisses my hair goodbye when she goes off to school, but sometimes refuses to kiss me? Loving and adoring my daughter turns me inside out and upside down, then shakes me hard until all the change falls out of my pockets. What kind of a masochist signs on for that kind of cataclysm twice?
What if this next baby comes out so befuddling, so unrecognizable, so humanly, unfathomably herself that I never ever manage to figure out how to love her?
Worse, what happens if I do?
Lauren Fox's second daughter, Tess, was born in the fall of 2007. Fox is the author of Still Life With Husband.