Our first child was a hurricane, an earthquake, a fire-breathing Godzilla kicking over tanks and knocking down buildings in the Tokyo of our pre-parenthood existence. We were aware of this to some extent before the baby was born, and so prepared for it. More accurately, like most parents we obsessed over the approaching Godzilla, learning everything we could about pregnancy, filling out pregnancy calendars with the changes we observed every week, poring over grainy ultrasound images, frequenting motherhood websites and trying on maternity clothes in varying sizes of huge. And when the little monster came belching his first blast of fire, I knew that Tokyo would never be the same again.
The first days after my first son’s birth were pure delirium. I was unable to form any coherent thought unrelated to the baby. I careened between ecstatic highs and bitter heartbreak. When the baby awoke at night to cry, I bounded out of bed, delighted at another chance to see my boy. When I couldn’t get him to stop crying, I plunged into existential despair. Was he sick? Was he going to die? Am I a bad father?
He didn’t die, and he did eventually stop crying. That seemed good enough, so we went for another. And that’s when I discovered that having a second child is nothing at all like having a first child.
In the first place, pregnancy is much more annoying. The first time you are pregnant, everything that happens is new, and so acquires a patina of wonder and magic. Well, assuming that the pregnancy isn’t a miserable death-march. The “morning sickness” that most women complain of is a light and pleasant affliction compared to the six months of all-day gut-wrenching nausea that my wife endured. This was on top of all of the normal inconveniences of pregnancy like peeing every thirty minutes, carrying around thirty extra pounds in your stomach, dealing with lower back pain caused by said pounds, and a peculiar problem that my wife had where she couldn’t be touched at all, by anyone, lest she get an overwhelming feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia. My wife describes pregnancy as the worst thing that ever happened to her. She isn’t joking.
The most difficult part was how few people were willing to sympathize or even listen. Most women have been pregnant, and so they think they know what you’re talking about. “Oh, yes, morning sickness,” they say, nodding and smiling. “Why, I threw up as much as once a day when I was pregnant!” Meanwhile my wife carrying a barf bag with her wherever she went, and counted herself lucky if she only vomited once an hour. This wasn’t helped by the fact that when people actually saw my wife, she often looked fine. She was able to summon superhuman strength from somewhere and pull herself together to go to church or the doctor–and when she couldn’t present a good face she just didn’t go, which meant that most people never saw her except when she seemed okay. I, however, had to deal with the huddling, puking mass she became when she got home, which drove me very close to punching some of those smiley-faced people making light about the problems of pregnancy.
Where was I? Oh, yes, talking about how magical pregnancy is. The ironic thing is that it was still somewhat magical seeing my wife’s belly grow and discovering new and exciting forms of vomit. It was unique and interesting, and regardless of the cost it was a new life being knit together. The second time, however, was much less magical. We hoped that the second gestation would be less brutal than the first, and it was. Maybe 10% easier, which is still 900% worse than most other pregnancies. And the shine of novelty had worn off, meaning that we mostly just wanted the pregnancy to be over so that we could have our baby. There’s no fun in being pregnant for the second time.
Labor for the second child has the undeniable advantage of being fast. For our first child, there were roughly 38 hours from the time we were admitted to the hospital to the time we actually saw our baby. Our second child came out in under 5 hours. I found the second childbirth to be much less stressful than the first, as well. I knew what to expect; I knew when to help and when to get out of the way.
One thing did not change. Nothing could diminish the delight of seeing my second boy for the first time.
If preparing for the second child is tedious and routine, bringing the second child home is like falling into a comfortable routine. The heady delirium after our first child was gone, along with the nerves and the panic. In its place is a calm, deep joy. He sleeps like a dream, four hours at a time, leaving me and my wife fabulously well-rested. He nurses with gusto. He poops–boy does he ever poop–but after the problems we had in this area with the first, a steady supply of creamy mustard-brown poop is exactly what we want. He’s dozing next to me right now, one tiny fist held to his face, his big elfin eyes closed, an icon of serenity.
Sebastian Mircea was born April 19, 2010 at 3:43 am. He weighed 8 lbs. 1 oz. and was 21 inches long. He has great hair.