Almost two weeks into having two children and we are still keeping our heads above water, somehow.
The shift in my emotions was sudden and almost visceral. Like a strange game of Tetris, I can feel myself shuffling and reorganizing as the center of my universe expands to make room and fit another piece. It used to be all about Thora. She was my one and only, my love, my life. My sun and moon rose and set around Thora and Thora alone. But now there are two. And it's an amazing feeling, falling in love with my second daughter. I didn't know I could love anyone else this much. Freyja is beautiful. She is alert and aware. She looks like a porcelain doll, very dainty and a little fragile. She makes adorable faces and she looks just like her daddy. And I love her like crazy. It's so weird, it's like someone took half my (vegan) eggs out of my basket and added them to a second basket. But then suddenly are were twice as many eggs, because I don't love Thora any less than I ever did. I look at her and my heart swells like it always has. She is smart and funny and heartbreakingly innocent. I love being her mother. Now there is duality to the center of my universe. There is still only one center, but it has two names, two faces. Two sets of responsibilities, of worries, of details to remember and personalities to learn. And twice as much love as there was before. My daughters. I can't even believe it. I am the mother of two.
This is a tough job. Anyone who thinks going from one to two is a breeze is someone I'd like to meet. It is hard, hard work. If I thought my wants and needs came in second before, now they are so far on the back burner I can barely even remember they're there. We are juggling trying to recall everything we learned in childbirth class (because who has time to re-read the baby books when you have another child?) and worrying about nursing, changing, bathing and caring for a newborn with talking about nursery school and using the potty and an obsession with Elmo. It's a little insane.
Thora is taking everything as in stride as she can. She loves the baby and is always excited to see her and kiss her and hold her.
But the clinginess of the past few months has gotten a thousand times more intense. Much of the time, she is like velcro on me. Or glue. When she's like that, I can't get her off me. When I'm up, she wants me to carry her all the time. When I'm sitting, she wants to be in my lap. She holds her arms out and says "Up! Up!" and "Kiss?" When she's in this mode, she hugs me like she never wants to let go and she sighs these deep, dark sighs that just should not come from a child. She holds me close to her, with her hands on my shoulders, on my ears or in my hair, looks at me seriously and tenderly, and kisses my face again and again and again. And sometimes she looks so sad, like she believes she could lose me at any minute. This breaks my heart in a million little pieces, but fortunately she is easily distracted back into happiness. The magic words at this point in her life are "park," "out," "laptop," "Elmo," and "draw," and when all else fails, there's also "ice cream." Here she is "working" next to Mama.
We have developed a routine for goodbyes which avoids a separation anxiety-induced meltdown. When I leave, she walks me to the elevator and presses the button. Then we kiss and say goodbye. Normally she is happy to do this and will turn right around with Johnny and go back home without getting upset. We use this tactic when she sees something in a store that she wants. I let her hold it or play with it, and then we walk it back to where it came from and kiss it goodbye. This works like a charm... for now.
Not that I don't love all this affection and attention. I do! But this isn't Thora. She is normally strong and independent and she still is much of the time, but it's hard to see her break down. So I am doing my very best to validate her need to have time with me and to be reassured beyond the shadow of a doubt that I love her and hoping it all passes. And she looks so BIG to me compared to her sister. And it's true, she is such a little girl now. But in many other ways she is still a baby too. I am trying to remember that she became a sister at the very moment that she exploded into full-blown toddlerhood. And either thing would be a lot by itself.
Toddlerhood as we've experienced it so far reminds me a lot of adolescence. Or maybe it's that my daughter reminds me of me as a teenager. She needs validation and reassurance, but at the same time she's nervy and bold. She is affectionate and also stand-offish. She is silly and giggly, but also very serious and almost melancholy. She is so many things at once and her emotions and mood change like the breeze. It's kind of amazing to watch. She is learning many new words and her pronunciation and word usage are improving. She repeats everything, absolutely everything! New words and phrases this week include thank you and stroller and okay, and she will count from one to five on our fingers. She draws every day and discovered finger painting this week. We painted on paper and noses and bellies and, accidentally, the floor.
When I am not being showered with love from my needy toddler, I am busy staring into the beautiful eyes of my newborn. Freyja is very little. She's a small, small baby. She was only in the 9th percentile for weight at birth at 6 lbs 12 oz, and as many babies do, she lost a lot of weight in the first few days. Once my milk came in, she started nursing well, but she is a "sleepy newborn" and needs to be woken up to eat. It's not easy to rouse her and it's even more difficult to keep her awake. So she hasn't gained as much weight back yet as I'd like. My midwife and Freyja's pediatrician both say she's fine and that they aren't concerned because she's nursing well, peeing and pooping well, and she is gaining weight. However, the contrast to Thora, who has never dropped below the 95th percentile for weight yet, is startling and upsetting to me. Thora has always been a good eater, like me. Freyja seems to be more like her father, who even at 32 needs to be reminded that he hasn't eaten in six hours and really needs to sit down for a meal. But this is not easy to do when your baby is sleeping peacefully and you yourself are sleep deprived and exhausted.
I keep thinking about what I might have done during my pregnancy to make this happen. Basically the whole time I worked myself to exhaustion and carried a 30 pound toddler around in all my spare time. I didn't work out or do prenatal yoga or take care of myself the way I did through my first pregnancy. I drank caffeinated tea every day. I ate more. I barely slept. I had agonizing back pain. I experienced the worst tragedy I've ever experienced in my life and was miserable for the last five months. Is her tiny size my fault somehow?
We have been calling her "Teeny" or "Teeny Bop" (which is from an anime Johnny loves). Even Thora calls her Teeny. I am now on a mission to de-teenify our little Teeny Bop. I am now waking her every two hours or so to nurse instead of three hours or so. (So every few hours at night I set a ridiculous alarm for myself to the sound of a rooster crowing and it flashes "Feed Freyja! Feed Freyja!" This would be hilariously funny if I weren't a) totally exhausted and b) worried that I might sleep through it and accidentally starve my child.) But it's helping. Her appetite has improved a lot since I started this. And now she roots much more enthusiastically, trying to French kiss my face or my shoulder or my cleavage, depending on how I'm carrying her, until I can shove a nipple in her mouth. Also I am holding her upright for longer so she barfs less. And of course, like a good Jewish mother, I am worrying.
Here she is having her first bath at a week and a day (she hated it):
And here is Thora's, at five days old (she hated it too):
They are so different, yet they already look like sisters and remind me of each other.
One interesting turn of events is that unlike her sister, Freyja will happily take a pacifier. I still have mixed feelings about it but this does mean that when she is sucking in her sleep we can put her down and leave her rather than have to sit there because we are attached at the pinky. Ironically, Thora, who refused every brand and style of pacifier for the past twenty months, suddenly sees them in a different light. While she doesn't quite comprehend what one does with a pacifier, about half the times we give one to Freyja, she insists on having one as well. If this is regression, I'll take it. It could be so much worse! I have cleaned several Duane Reades completely out of their Soothie inventory because with two children playing with them, sucking on them and dropping them, we go through them like you wouldn't believe.
Johnny and I take turns being the glue that bonds us all. He helps me keep it together by reminding me that the doctor isn't worried about Freyja's weight and that Thora and I both need to stick to our routines to avoid melting down. He makes sure I'm drinking water, taking my vitamins, getting naps, going outside every day. He does the laundry and the dishes and handles Thora's poopy diapers and almost anything else I ask of him, even the cat box, which I no longer have a valid excuse to avoid. And I know how much he loves all three of his girls. You can see it on his face and in everything he does. So when he feels overwhelmed or stretched, I try my best to return the favor and give him a break. Yesterday I took the girls to visit their Nana and Poppa so he could have some alone time to play bass or his latest video game, but when we came home a few hours later, the floors had been cleaned, the dishes were done, the bed was made and the apartment sparkled. I felt so lucky!
This week we had to take Freyja for her newborn hearing test. This is a test that is normally done in the hospital, so when you have a home birth you have to go get it done somewhere. So we drove down to the NY Eye and Ear Infirmary on Monday morning but we could not find a parking spot. After going around and around so many times that we were now fifteen minutes late, I volunteered to take them both upstairs while Johnny looked for parking or just waited for us at a hydrant. Thora was horribly cranky and ready for a nap and Freyja was hungry and vocal about it. Just getting into the building and onto the crowded elevator was challenging. By the time we reached the audiology wing, Thora was clinging to my leg and I was trying to nurse Freyja, holding her precariously in one arm. I felt harried and frazzled when we arrived, late and disorganized as we were, and apologized repeatedly to the staff and did not bother to correct them when they filled everything out for "Friyja." Luckily they called us in right away. We were crammed into a soundproof booth where we were told we could not make so much as a peep as little buds were shoved into Freyja's ears. Of course within thirty seconds both babies were crying. I stuffed myself into a little chair with Thora and Freyja both in my lap. My arms were around them both: my left pinky was in Thora's mouth and my right pinky was holding Freyja's pacifier in place. It was maybe seven or eight minutes before the test was completed (and she passed just fine) but I swear the whole experience aged me seven or eight years.
It's all a learning process, this juggling act. I have taken five- and six-mile walks with Freyja in the Moby wrap, reacquainting myself with being out and about with a newborn. Because she's such a good sleeper, she's easy to travel with. And miracle of miracles, she doesn't seem to hate the bucket car seat the way Thora did, so when the four of us are going somewhere, we tend to opt for the car over the subway. I have even driven the car alone with both of them in the back enough times that my confidence is growing. I've pushed Thora in her stroller while wearing Freyja, but I haven't braved the double stroller yet and, apart from that hearing test appointment, I haven't been courageous enough to tackle the city with them on my own. Yet.
Tomorrow is another day!