There was a moment when I was pregnant with my first kid when I knew I had gone a bit off the rails in terms of anxious preparation. I had asked my OB-GYN if it would be ok to put multiple sheets and bed covers on the crib mattress. This kind, careworn professional just looked at me for a minute.
“Because then, you know, if the baby has an accident, I can just take off the top sheet and cover and not have to change the whole bed in the middle of the night. But then, does that count as safe sleep? Does that count as having things in the crib with him?”
She sighed and asked me to explain my query again as I waited, white-knuckled.
“That would be fine,” she said. “How are you sleeping?”
Not well, the answer would have been. In addition to the considerable aches and pains of pregnancy, my anxiety was keeping me up at night. My husband and I are both good students, historically. The front of the class note-taker type. So we had taken a class on how to diaper, bathe and swaddle an infant.
But how to keep one safe? How to care for one so small and vulnerable while still ensuring that they can experience the world? How did mothers handle this seemingly overwhelming responsibility? Before my babies came into my life, and frankly for a considerable portion of my firstborn’s infancy, I thought about this endlessly.
The answer is: we just do. You orient your days around your children’s needs while trying to make sure you care for your own, and that of your relationship. You let them play outside in the dirt. They’re going to do it anyway, so best to let it happen and make bath time a fun event afterward.
Second-time mom confidence is real. It’s the ‘I already read the books and now I could write my own even though I’m still learning’ feeling. It’s calm in the chaos, that the kids are yelling and the dog is barking and really everyone is doing just fine living their lives together. It’s a gift that I wish that I could give all first-time mothers, instead of silly things like a wipe warmer or cute outfits that will get ruined in the first wearing.
Don’t overthink it. Not sure when they last had a diaper change? Change ’em. Not sure when they ate? Feed them. If you’re breastfeeding, use that magic boob. If they’re eating food, give them the chicken nuggets and hot dogs or pasta with butter or whatever carb they’ve currently decided is all that they will eat. My youngest mostly lives on crackers. Feed them the good stuff too, but don’t beat yourself up if they don’t eat it.
Instead of rushing in to check your baby’s breathing five times in a night, try to tune in with your own and get some rest. Or, just check once. We all do. Even us second and third and fourth-timers.
Lara Henneman is a mother of two who writes fiction, essays, and poetry. Her work is featured or upcoming in Sky Island Journal, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Mutha Magazine, Scary Mommy and more. She is working on her first novel. She has a BA from Brown University and an MA from the University of Denver School of International Studies. She lives in Maryland with her growing family. Find her on Twitter @lhenpen or join her reader list at LaraHenneman.com.
This article was originally published at The Motherload at Medium.com