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The Sweet Relief of the Easy Second Child

Photograph by Twenty20

I gazed at my three-month-old baby girl. She gazed back at me, her cornflower blue eyes wide and shining. “Now I get why people like the baby stage,” I said to my husband.

“This is just so different than the first time around,” I added.

Nothing about pregnancy or new motherhood had come easily with our first child, born almost three years earlier.

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Our son’s birth was challenging and prolonged, and I entered motherhood already in a sleep deficit. He wouldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch for months and months. He cried often, didn’t want to be put down, and often nursed every 20 minutes. He was, as Dr. Sears described, the prototype of the High Needs Baby. Between his challenges transitioning from my womb, where his needs were all met, to this loud, bright, hungry world, and my postpartum depression and anxiety, the first months of motherhood were brutal.

Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a mother, I thought in the dark folds of night when I was awake for the fifth or sixth time. It’s not supposed to be this hard, I’d whisper to myself in the afternoons when he cried and cried, and I counted the minutes until my husband would return home from work.

When I found out I was pregnant with our daughter a few years later, I was terrified. How could I go through another nausea-soaked pregnancy, but this time, with a wild toddler to care for? What if our daughter was a terrible sleeper, too? What if I got postpartum depression again? The idea of having two children was overwhelming.

But then our daughter arrived.

Her birth was far easier than my son’s, and she slept for several hours straight that first night in the hospital. And she almost never cried! She was sleepy, and sweet, and most of the time, content. She'd wake up most mornings with an invigorating smile on her face.

Our kids, in many ways, arrive in this world already who they are.

It wasn’t until our daughter was born that I fully understood how tough our son’s infancy had been, and how much our struggles had taken out of me. His temperament had felt like a problem that needed to be fixed. But now, with a child who was more at ease in the world, it sunk in—I hadn’t been doing anything wrong.

And neither had my son.

Our kids, in many ways, arrive in this world already who they are. My son had arrived strong-willed and sensitive—qualities that can be valuable out in the world, but burdensome for new parents when observed in an infant. My daughter arrived more at ease. She seemed to be along for the ride—while our son was the ride.

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The other day I was chatting with a friend who recently gave birth to an easier second child after a strong-willed first baby, too. We talked about how amazing the differences are between our first and second children, and how these second babies seemed to just slide into place in our families. And we acknowledged how lucky we both felt that the birth order went the way it did.

“Can you imagine if we’d had the easier child first?” I asked her. My friend shook her head. “We’d just think that all babies were easy, or that we were excellent parents, until the second one was born. And then we’d be in hell.”

But having a calm, well-rested baby after a sensitive, sleepless first? By the time my daughter was born, my expectations about life with a newborn were so low that I was pleasantly surprised at every corner.

With their diverse personalities, our two kids make our family feel complete. I’m grateful their birth order worked out the way it did.

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