Two nights in a row recently, I had dreams about pregnancy. Specifically, about being pregnant with my second child (which I absolutely, certainly am not). In both of these dreams I found myself suddenly at the end of pregnancy, just days away from giving birth, and I don’t even know how I got there. It’s not that I didn’t know I was pregnant, but more that I figured everything would come together after the baby was born. (And all the moms laughed.) When I (Dream Brittany) realized how crazy that was, panic overtook me as I frantically tried to set up a nursery, pack a hospital bag, and dig the Rock n’ Play out of the crawl space as time crept closer and closer to my due date. I felt hopelessly unprepared.
It doesn’t take Freud to interpret this dream for me: in real life, I feel just as hopelessly unprepared to have a second baby.
I’ve changed my mind a thousand times about when we’d try to have a second child. My first pregnancy was easy, and Selah’s birth was about as smooth as it could be, so I came home from the hospital thinking that maybe two under two wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Despite a smooth birth, however, I had some trauma later on in my recovery. This caused me deep, debilitating anxiety as the darkness of postpartum depression simultaneously closed in around me. Until Selah was many months past her first birthday, I wondered if perhaps she’d be an only child.
It’s just in the last few months that I’ve felt healthy and whole enough to even entertain the idea of a second baby and all that comes along with it—a second pregnancy, a second birth, a second recovery, a second round of broken sleep and clogged ducts and physical therapy and going back to work too soon.
I can understand the appeal of having two kids close in age. For all the difficulties that come along with having two (basically) babies in the house, you never fully get out of that baby stage—which means you never have the luxury of catching your breath and actually enjoying that feeling.
As Selah gets closer and closer to two, she’s becoming more independent, and it’s a well of relief. She was not an easy baby and she has not been an easy toddler . . . but she is a surprisingly good listener who loves to help and participate in our home life. She can bring me her shoes (usually the correct pair). She can walk out to the car while I carry the diaper bag. She can help get herself dressed, sticking her arms into her sleeves, pulling the wrist cuffs over her hands, and giggling when her fingers pop through. She can be trusted to play by herself for two minutes while I pee. She sleeps all night and naps well and doesn’t need me all day long.
I love it. I love this stage. I love her so much I sometimes think it might kill me.
The thought of going all the way back to the beginning feels like being sent backward in Candyland. Sure, it’s still sweet, but it took me so long to get within striking distance of that candy-castle reward.
While the thought of reliving the trauma of my recovery and the difficulty of that first year still make me cringe, I’m also feeling a strange new sensation lately: my heart melts into a syrupy puddle whenever I see newborns. The way their fingers curl into fists as they stretch their tiny limbs, the yawns that take over their faces, the curve of their cupid’s-bow top lip. I want to feel the impossible lightness of a swaddled baby in my arms; I want to breathe in the scent of that fresh-from-heaven hair; I want to watch the squirminess as he or she settles into sleep. I want to feel the joy of that positive pregnancy test, feel the first flutter of a baby foot against my abdomen, feel ready to burst with new life.
In some ways, I’m more prepared than I was the first time. I know how to swaddle and breastfeed, and I know that when people say everything is just a phase, it’s actually true. I’ve made it to the “other side” of recovery and postpartum depression and short naps, and I can testify to the fact that it does actually get easier. I have felt a turn inside me as I’ve slowly become myself again, making time to read and write and sleep and go on dates with my husband. I’ve been around this block before.
But in other ways, I feel even more terrified than I did when we decided to have a first baby, for precisely that reason: I’ve been around this block before.
In the second episode of this string of pregnancy dreams, I expressed my deep anxiety to a friend from work. I confessed that I’d done nothing to get ready for the baby, and I didn’t think I could do this again, and how could I let myself get to two days before my due date without buying a single pair of baby boy pajamas? My dream-friend looked at me quizzically, consulted her calendar, and asked, “Isn’t your due date still two months away?”
The breath left my lungs in a whoosh of relief, as hope took root where there had only been fear. There’s still time to figure this out.