He climbed up on my lap and nestled his toddler body against mine. As he shifted to get comfortable, my belly shifted, presumably his sister’s first act of defiance against her older brother. His hair was wet and he smelled faintly of baby shampoo and talc.
With his pacifier nestled in his mouth, he grinned up at me and said, “Read, Mama,” and handed me Good Night, Moon.
We read Good Night, Moon just as we had every night for the last two and a half years. His chubby fingers pointed as I read the words I now knew by heart. As we neared the end of the book, my eyes filled with tears that threatened to fall on his soft baby curls.
Though I’d read Good Night, Moon approximately 927 times in the last two years, that night was different.
That night was the last night I’d read to him as a mother of one. Our daughter was arriving by scheduled C-section the next day. And, as his head rested on my chest and we quietly rocked in the room that was to become his sister’s, I let the tears fall. I took in his smell, trying to memorize every single moment of our last few moments as “just us.”
And, when I carried him to his toddler bed, the big boy bed that was such a source of pride for him (and the source of stress for me because nap times were no longer easy), I pulled his truck and train print comforter up to his soft cheeks while he gently sucked his pacifier, and as I watched him drift to sleep. That’s when the worry fully set in that I just didn’t have enough love to share with our second child.
How could I split my love between two children?
Motherhood and the act of mothering have never come naturally to me. I was never the young girl playing with dolls and pining to be a mother. If I’m being honest, I’ve always secretly known that my life would not have been totally empty had I not been able to have children. And, although the prospect of being a parent scared the bejesus out of me, I took a leap of faith with my husband and embraced my first pregnancy.
It was a difficult one, followed by a traumatic delivery and then a crippling bout of postpartum depression leading to the most difficult year of my life. I felt cheated out of the Pottery Barn, Gwyneth Goopy experience that I was promised in the aisles of Buy Buy Baby. It was months until my body healed and even longer until I found my footing as a mother.
Two years into this motherhood gig and I was just beginning to get the hang of my role. How was I going to do it all over again, this time, with a toddler in tow? What if my son resented me? Or worse: what if I had made a mistake? I worried in the weeks leading up to her birth that I was shortchanging my daughter before she even arrived.
Late into the night before she was born, I found myself restless and unable to sleep. I paced our room, my husband snoring softly and oblivious to my panic and fears. As the night turned into morning, somehow, divinely, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a friend long before I’d gotten pregnant with our daughter.
We were at a party and my friend had her infant daughter on her lap. Her toddler son kept running by and making silly faces at the baby and she’d laugh a lusty, belly laugh of glee. My friend looked at me with a knowing smile and said, “That’s why you have a second child. No one makes her laugh like he does. He gives her something that I can’t.” As we walked into the hospital that morning, I prayed my friend was right.
Our daughter’s arrival was less eventful and traumatic than my son’s, almost as though she knew she needed to be tentative as she entered the world. As they laid her in my arms, I cried tears of relief when I realized that I instantly couldn’t imagine my life without her. Her finger curled around mine as if to say, “Let’s figure this out together and I won’t tell if you screw up once in a while.” It was then that I relaxed into my role as a mother of two.
Parenting two children has proved to be messy, chaotic and loud. There are days when all needs are met and days when I am grateful everyone is still alive and breathing. But, on the days that I struggle the most to be everything to everyone, it’s when I see my daughter giggling because her brother is reading a book in a silly voice, that I know that everyone is going to be just fine.
This post originally appeared on LittleThings.com, Fall 2016