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Does Two Under Two Shortchange the One?

By Amalah

smackdown_siblings.jpg

Dear Amy,

When my daughter is 21 months old, she will be joined by a sibling. Of course, my husband and I are beyond thrilled. We want lots of kids, and we wanted them relatively close in age…. but not that close. We planned to wait until our daughter was pre-school-aged, but oops… accidents happen! I love being pregnant and I so want to enjoy this pregnancy. Physically, I feel great but I’m feeling huge, huge amounts of guilt. Guilt for not being careful, and guilt for springing this on a 21 month old. It seems so young to me, it *is* young. A 21-month-old is still so needy, isn’t she? My rationale for waiting until she was in pre-school was that she’d have her own thing to do, without me, and hopefully, she wouldn’t notice so much that there was a new sib sucking up huge amounts of attention. Intellectually, I know it’ll be fine, and I know that people have kids much closer in age! After all, my sister and I are only 18 months apart but I can’t shake this guilt and also, some fear that my daughter will totally resent me.

Will the guilt go away? Can I MAKE it go away?
~N

You know what I hated — like hated hated HATED — during my pregnancies? I hated people who blamed every little weird emotion or worry or fear I had on the hormones. I remember talking to my doctor about…oh, I don’t really remember THAT PART, but I do remember him saying something about the hormones while I stared REALLY HARD at his cup of Ortho Tri-Cyclen pens and visualized stabbing him in the neck with one.

Anyway. Hold the phone and put down the pen, because I am TOTALLY about to pull that crap on you right now.

IT’S THE HORMONES.

Sort of, anyway. You know how those buggers work: they magnify valid-yet-small concerns into gigantic issues that you cannot let go of. So you worry and fret and there’s guilt and sleepless nights over something that just sort of is what it is. What if the baby doesn’t like me, what if there’s something wrong, what if our marriage changes, what if I poop during labor, on and on your brain goes around in the hamster wheel.

Just because you’re HAPPY about an unexpected pregnancy doesn’t mean that it’s not jarring, or that you won’t need some time to adjust and really accept the new and coming reality. We had a scare that really wasn’t a scare a few months ago — both of us admitted that actually, we’d be more than happy to have another baby, but whenever I did that math and realized that Ezra would be only 18 months old when Ol’ Hypothetical Sibling arrived…HOLY CRAP. Suddenly, I wasn’t “more than happy” anymore. I was TERRIFIED.

And yeah, I also definitely felt a little of what you’re now REALLY feeling: guilt. Guilt over denying Ezra a chance to be “the baby,” for not being careful, because oh, goodness, I’m going to be in so far over my head and I won’t be able to take care of him and I’ll expect too much of him and…hmm. You know, I am pretty sure these were the exact same thoughts I had during my very planned, very much further-spaced-out second pregnancy.

And I managed to work myself up into this state WITHOUT the hormones, all in under two weeks before the peesticks starting showing up negative.

When I am ACTUALLY pregnant, I have two predominant symptoms: puking and nerve-wracking anxiety. Even though Noah was going to be three years old by the time his sibling arrived, I struggled with all of the same worries. Was a sibling really a good idea? Were we underestimating Noah’s special needs and the impact those needs would have on a sibling? And vice versa? And he’ll be just starting preschool and then everything changes all over again and how will I coordinate getting him to and from school with a newborn in the cold weather and WHAT IF HE HATES THE BABY AND/OR US and WHAT HAVE WE DOOOOOONE?

So, look. What you are feeling is totally normal, parentally speaking, and your excessive worrying about it is also completely normal, hormonally speaking. Even in your question, you’re admitting that it’s not a super-rational fear, given your sister’s age. (Somehow I’m guessing whichever one of you is older has never wept on a therapist’s couch, tracing all of your life’s problems and parental resentment back to the birth of The Other One at a mere 18 months old. ) Maybe you’re projecting your own fears about your ability to mother two-under-two onto your daughter. “I’m not prepared for this, I’m not going to be able to handle it, thus short-changing them both and she will notice and hate me for it.”

But really, you’ll be able to handle it. 21 months old is actually pretty close to 24 months old, the exact age a lot of parents aim for when spacing their children. (Honestly, I’d recommend your spacing WAY MORE than ours: three-year-olds are gigantic pains in the butt.) At 24 months — just three months after the baby arrives — she CAN start preschool. Plenty of two-year-olds attend two or even three days a week. If you look at it like that, well, you actually aren’t *that* premature on your original plan. 21-month-olds *are* needy, but also terrifically independent and curious and can say stuff like “baybee” and oh, it’s really a great age.

So. I don’t expect that reading MY rambling thoughts about your child-spacing choices is going to really be enough to soothe your guilt and anxiety for the remainder of your pregnancy. (Pesky hormones.) I would definitely recommend keeping a journal or blog and work through your fears. Write your daughter letters. Write the baby letters. Get it out of your brain, so to speak. Plan plenty of special mommy/daughter time and fun activities…while also taking time to spend time alone, bonding with (gag, I know) your belly. I found that my fears about a second baby would fade when I took the time to revel in my pregnancy — a bubble bath, listening to the heartbeat via a doppler, prenatal yoga. Then I’d take Noah on an extra-long nature walk and revel in him. Finding the balance between the two helped boost my confidence that this was a Good Thing, and that I really could care for and love them both, separate yet equal.

I suspect your worries will not really extend past the birth, at least not at their current levels: There’s something downright magical about seeing your firstborn meet and interact with a newborn sibling that just melts everything else away. Even though there were times when Noah was clearly REALLY HOPPING MAD at us for dropping the Ezra bombshell on him, I was okay with that. It was perfectly understandable that he would be mad at us. (I preferred that he turn his anger on us, instead of Ezra.) He loved the baby, he really still loved us. We didn’t ruin his life, even if he occasionally felt that way.

Your children won’t remember a time when the other WASN’T a part of their lives. Right now, that might seem like a negative, or a loss for your daughter. Once her sibling arrives, I think you’ll find that it’s actually pretty damn cool.

Photo by Fanny

Published October 9, 2009. Last updated March 27, 2018.
Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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