Many of my mom friends have already given birth to their #2s, and there’s a whole crop of newborns in town. Anxious to learn from their experiences (and their mistakes, ha ha) and always looking for a chance to hang with my girls, I signed up—a little prematurely—for a “second time moms” class at a local parenting center. We all did this together when our firstborns were tiny, and I was looking forward to enjoying the same kind of camaraderie, but without all the drama and uncertainty that marked us as “new moms” from 20 yards away.
After E’s first birthday, I joked that best part of her turning 1 was that I’d never be a “new mom” again. While there are some moments I’ll always cherish, it was a huge relief to finally turn the corner into feeling confident and competent instead of insecure and inept. I traded my neurotic new-mom smile for a smug, been-there-mom smirk—and thought I’d never look back.
30 minutes into the first class, my smirk disappeared. Is parenthood just a never-ending run of “Ha-ha you were wrong”s? I sat there in the circle, a suddenly giant-seeming E on my lap, watching some of the best moms I know back in new baby fogs of sleep deprivation, overwhelming emotions and endless questions. What happened to knowing it all the second time around? Weren’t we supposed to have our been-there, done-that game faces on? After all, once we survived the #1s, it should all be downhill from there.
Except that these #2s have the audacity NOT to be carbon copies of their elder siblings. Didn’t they get the memo that we all learned to be parents on the babies we had first? I listened to moms of #1s that were fabulous sleepers buckling under the weight of little ones that wake up all night long to party. Reflux, nursing issues, skin rashes…there’s a whole host of #2 problems that never occurred to us could happen—because we didn’t have these issues the first time around.
Looking back to my new mom days, I remember all the challenges that tested my patience, kept me up at night worrying, and ultimately made me a better parent. E was a terrible sleeper; she needed to be held all the time. Accomplishing even the simplest tasks were challenging—brushing my teeth, drinking a cup of coffee, emptying the dishwasher. She’d wail and scream the minute she left my arms. No bouncy seat, swing or exerciser worked the magic I witnessed with other babies.
But she woke up smiling every day. She nursed like a champ, and spit up on me maybe twice in her whole infancy. I never carried a bottle or a burp cloth. As long as she was nestled in her baby sling, I could take her everywhere with me—and I did. I never needed a stroller or a diaper bag. I wouldn’t have traded her for a whole mini-van load of sleeping, stroller-loving babies.
Watching my friends juggle babies that are the polar opposites of their predecessors is humbling. They’re still great moms—but they are, without question, new moms once more. Definitely more laid-back, definitely less concerned with germs (seven dropped pacifiers in an hour and not a single run for the sterilizer!) and absolutely more confident and natural with the fragile beings we were so sure we’d drop and break the first time around. But between navigating the complicated waters of toddler adjustment, sibling issues, and babies that don’t come close to resembling the ones we learned our skills on, those neurotic new-mom smiles are back.
Maybe “humble” is the right word to capture the parenting experience. I’m going to be something I thought was impossible—a new mom all over again. My own #2 may look like his sister, and maybe he’ll share some of her good qualities (and her bad ones,) but he’s going to be his own person and show me that everything I thought I knew about being a mom can get turned upside down in the blink of an eye. And…I think that just might end up being the very best part.