How do my husband and I describe our first year with two kids? As the BHP Iron Ore Train. Every December, we do an annual planning meeting where we take stock of the year that just passed, and plan for the year ahead. And this was the very first thing we wrote to describe the year 2013.
What exactly is the BHP Iron Ore Train, you may ask? It’s the longest, heaviest train ever to run in the entire world. 682 cars, with 8 engines distributed along its length. We learned about it from a book we read (and re-read, and re-read) to our oldest son: The Usborne Big Book of Big Trains…and Some Little Ones Too. And it seemed to fit our experience to a T.
I admit the exhaustion of that first year with two kids caught me off guard. My boys are 26 months apart, so we were two parents working full time with two kids in diapers. (Parents of twins: you are my heroes.) I knew I’d have my hands full, though I somehow convinced myself that two years of parenting experience would have lightened the load a bit.
No dice. Yes, certain things were so much easier the second time around. Breastfeeding was less of a struggle for me. We knew our way around diaper changes and swaddles with our eyes closed and hands tied behind our backs. I was able to pump milk so much more easily and got so much more at each pump session. Weird baby sounds didn’t scare me (as much).
But the accumulated overwhelm felt crushing. 1 child + 1 child felt like 85 children. For a long, long period of time, it seemed that no one in the house was sleeping. If one child was waking up to eat, the other was waking up to go potty. And as my older son exclaimed daily, “Mommy holds you! Daddy holds baby!” I was starting to wonder if my fears about depriving my older child of attention were actually coming to pass.
That year was simply unlike anything I had ever experienced. Wonder and horror all wrapped up in one.
Fast forward a few years. My boys are now 5 and 7. I’ve since learned that there is actually something called “second child syndrome,” which I learned about from Anne Marie Slaughter’s great book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family. And which studies have shown impacts women’s careers. “Most women are totally unprepared for the impact of a second child on their working lives. It isn’t just the cost of childcare, although that’s important. It’s the lack of time, the strain on relationships of having both parents in work, the complex logistics of working life with two children. All these factors together prompt – and sometimes force – women to re-evaluate their priorities,” says Rebecca Abrams, the author of Three Shoes, One Sock and No Hair Brush: Everything You Need to Know About Having Your Second Child.
In other words, it wasn’t just me.
So if 1 + 1 felt like 85 that first year, was it worth it? Unequivocally YES. Of course, I cannot imagine life without my youngest. I learned some good skills around spending quality time with each child, too. I upped my delegation and outsourcing game. And I fine-tuned a whole bunch of other working mama ninja skills that are useful both at home and a work.
More importantly, though, I learned that there is nothing – and I mean nothing – like watching sibling love. The way my boys have been able to make one another laugh, almost from the very beginning, is magical. Seeing how they defend one another fiercely (in public, if provoking one another in good measure at home) is heartwarming. And at this stage, there are actually times when they both go off to play together (gasp!), and we don’t hear from them for a long stretch of, oh, say, 20 minutes.
You know that saying, “the only way out is through?” That was absolutely true for me in this first year with two kids. Notably, our BHP Iron Ore didn’t crash. Our kids are fine. And though my husband and I may have a few more wrinkles and grey hairs, so are we. We see much more of our pillows now than we used to. And the experience of surviving that year really did give me a huge confidence boost.
After all, if you can pull the longest, heaviest train ever on record, you can certainly pull any shorter, lighter one that comes your way.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.