Saturday, May 28, 2005

One-baby bubble

As I wasted nap time again the other day blog-surfing, I read a comment about the "one-baby bubble". I thought that term was so appropriate, I decided to write about it here. I would link to the comment, but I can't remember where the hell I read it.

When you have one baby, everything is in sharp focus. When the baby cries, you rush to meet its needs. When the baby smiles, you snap photos until you fill your card. When the baby poops, you examine the specimen for smell, shape, and color. In short, everything you do and feel revolves around this baby. Because it is just you, your spouse, and the baby, the littlest things can be slightly exaggerated. Perhaps you lose a little perspective, since all you can see is the baby.

This is not a bad thing. This is, in fact, the thing which allows infants to live past 2 weeks. You have to be focused on the baby to ensure it's survival. If you could put aside your baby responsibilities as easily as you can erase the work-week with a pint of lager, your baby might starve.

As the baby grows, perhaps the "bubble" enlarges a bit. You might join playgroups with other babies. Now that you are used to the baby, you are less likely to announce to the free-world every time she poops. But still it is you and the baby. The baby is your top priority, all the time.

I remember this well, with Isaac. Everything he did was so amazing, and new, and wonderful, and scary. It was overwhelming at times, even though he was the world's easiest baby. When people asked how it was going, I always said, "It's great! But hard!" And it was. But I felt in control for the most part. I knew him so well, he was all I did, all I looked at, all I thought about.

Then came the second baby. Suddenly, all that changes. Completely and irrevocably. You do not have the same bubble with the second baby. In fact, you no longer have the bubble with the first baby. You are suddenly bubble-less.

What if when the second baby cries and as you are helping her, the older baby needs something too? It is physically impossible to attend to them both at the same time. One baby must cry un-aided, until you can get to him. And many of those smiles and poops and coos that you recorded with joy the first time around slip by without notice, because you are too busy trying to wrestle your toddler out of his pajamas in time for you to get to the grocery store before the baby has to eat again. In short, neither one of them can be your top priority all the time.

This was the hardest thing for me to get over, once I became Mom to two. Instead of being able to meet the needs of my one child, I felt like I was failing the both of them. Especially since Vivian was a newborn and therefore fussy, and Isaac was 16 months old and therefore difficult. Also needy, since his whole world had been torn up. I didn't have time for his needs. I didn't have time for anything but to clean two butts, wipe spit up off one mouth and spaghetti sauce off the other and occasionally change the sheets. I mourned the loss of that bubble, oh how I mourned it.

At one of my pre-natal visits with Vivian, my OB said to me: "You'll see, one baby is one baby, but two is ten." I had no idea what she was talking about and just sort of smiled and nodded. Now I know, and she is absolutely correct.

Two babies is not twice the work. It is exponentially more than that. I cannot fathom how people have twins, though a mom once told me: "It's easier with twins than with two at different ages. With twins you just do everything twice." (I know this particular Mom had lots of help, so I take that statement with a grain of salt.)

Another thing that changes when you lose the one-baby bubble is the focus. Instead of the focus being the baby, suddenly the focus is the family as a unit. You can't focus all your attention on either one, so instead, you focus on the family. You do what will most benefit everyone, instead of always doing only what will benefit the baby most. It happens slowly, but it does happen. The babies are paramount in importance, but the family as a whole has a place in the hierarchy too. Perhaps in families with only children this same shift happens once the child becomes more independent. Or maybe it never happens. I'm not saying one is better than the other. But I am saying it is different--having one baby as opposed to two. More different than you would expect.

In fact, I think in a lot of ways, comparing raising one child to raising more than one is like comparing apples to oranges. Although I don't really know if this is true, since my experience with raising one child is limited to 16 months. And my experience with more than one is only 11 months.

I'm sure the fact that my two are so close together has colored my perception. People often look at me in horror when they see us, and I know why. Perhaps when you have kids further apart, say 4 or 5 years, it is not the same. Maybe in those instances you can still retain the bubble around each kid. I wouldn't know.

For me, the whole experience of "Isn't it so much easier the second time around?" didn't apply. Everything was much more difficult when Vivian was born. Her birth (a cesarean--she was breech), my recovery, her infancy, my adjustment--all of it was incredibly daunting. I look back at those first few months with her, and honestly, they were miserable.

Of course, now things are much better, and I couldn't imagine a world without her. Although the first months were difficult, thankfully they are a blur, and I have photos to remind of how sweet and helpless she was. Maybe our inauspicious beginning is what leads me to conclude that having 2 kids is so different than one.

I do feel like things didn't start getting better until I accepted the fact that Vivian would not be the focus of my life the way Isaac was. Until I figured out a way to include them both, equally, and still have time for me.

So what do you think? Is this just my experience, because I had them so close together? Or is there some truth to my theory that having 2 is that much different than having 1?

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