In a recent blog post, I mentioned the challenges of trying to bring up baby alongside boisterous toddler. After griping about the latter throwing blocks at the former – these days the greater issue is headlocks of love and other toddler-on-baby moves that look startlingly similar to wrestling positions – perhaps I got what I deserve.
One reader wrote in to say, in a word, that’s why it’s a good idea to be mindful of spacing one’s children successfully, as she did. But that reader, it turned out, had her first child at 25, and was done by age 32. Bless, as they say in the UK. I’m glad it worked out for her that way.
Life for us primigravidas is different. A woman who starts a family with a first birth somewhere near 40 is not going sit around and wait until her child seems old enough to handle being a big brother or sister, or (where relevant) until she and her partner feel truly “ready” for another baby. Most of us conceiving children in this age bracket, whether naturally or through assisted reproductive technology (ART), know that our fertility is finite. No one knows exactly where or when it ends, and we’re likely to be pressured by doctors, as many of my friends have, to get on with it now if they hope to have another child or two.
One friend with fertility challenges, though still in her mid-30s, has been told by her doctors to start a new round of IVF, just five months after the birth of her first baby. Another friend all but forced herself to have a second baby before she felt ready, simply because she knew time was running short. Similarly, my husband and I were quick to try to conceive after having our first child because we thought it could take a long time to get pregnant again. I had convinced myself that my first pregnancy was a fluke and would be near-impossible to repeat.
In my best moments, I feel blessed to have two gorgeous children who are just a year and 5 months apart. In other moments, I feel overwhelmed at the challenges: keeping them happy and fed and warm, preventing them from hurting each other, and stopping them from feeling that they must compete for my love – though I suppose that happens at any age.
Of the primigravidas in the target demographic of this blog, I’ve met a preponderance of women who have children very close in age – that is to say, much closer than they would have preferred, had they started earlier – and women who have twins conceived via IVF.
I write about this trend neither to criticize it nor to laud it, but rather, simply to take notice of it. This is what motherhood looks like for the growing ranks of women like us. It means that more of us are coping with twins, or with children so close in age that it is, as I sometimes put it, a bit like having twins, except one has the ability to harm the other – or to smother her with well-meaning hugs. People sometimes call this situation “Irish twins,” though I suspect the term is a bit politically incorrect. So I’ll just call it what it is. Since last February, I’ve had two kids in diapers. Two kids who often demand and compete for my undivided attention. Two kids with different needs that are hard to fulfill simultaneously. (Currently, one needs to be rocked and held in the dark at exactly the moment that the other needs to be read an engaging story.) Two kids who cannot be left alone to play in the living room for more than two minutes while I cook dinner in the kitchen.
BUT WHO REALLY CARES? Only me and a bunch of women (and men) in the same situation. What I’m coming to realize is the extent to which I must stop expecting the world to sympathize with the struggles this entails. Especially, that is, a certain obnoxious flight attendant on British Airways, who during a leg of our recent trip home acted heartlessly throughout, all but yelling “schnell, schnell” as we tried to gather our things and our babies and get off the plane. I just wanted for her or her colleagues to offer a hand at pulling a piece of carry-on luggage down the aisle or to understand that when your toddler is fast sleep and needs to be carried just like the baby, it’s pretty damn hard to also carry your many accoutrements necessary for an 8-hour flight, plus winter coats, etc. Perhaps she didn’t know that strapping on your baby and negotiating three other bags takes a few minutes.
As part of this experience, I realized how attached we are to our double stroller cum luggage cart. Dear flight attendants, if you’re going to deprive us of it at the boarding gate, at least help us to and from our seats and be nice about it, the same you would as the little old lady who needs wheelchair assistance.
Of course, parenting is not a handicap. But having more than one mini-person in your charge does add so many complications that I sometimes wish people would see it that way. We move more slowly, we need the elevator, we’re dependent on our wheels. Please, I feel like saying, can’t you see I’ve got two kids in diapers? Can’t you please rearrange the universe to make it easier for me?
Again, I’m probably getting exactly what I deserve. Once upon a time, I was the person who had no clue why people with small kids needed to stop having a normal life. I was the woman who occasionally snaked off to see if she could get her seat on the plane changed (‘sure, that baby’s cute, but I need to sleep/work/read/etc.’) And more than once, I probably looked at an overwhelmed, exasperated mother of multiple children and thought, ‘well, don’t have ‘em if you can’t take care of‘em.’ I distinctly remember seeing a wayward child on a plane and thinking, ‘Sheesh, can’t you control your child?’ Control. Were it that easy! Seems almost as quaint a notion – as old-fashioned family planning.