So I was sitting on my bed, laptop perched on my lap to accommodate my burgeoning belly and obediently doing my Kegels. (Isn’t it ironic that I’m encouraged to exercise the one part of my body I’d actually like to see get a little bigger during pregnancy?)
As I quickly typed, trying to shoot out one last email, my 2-year-old daughter begged for another taste of Toddler Crack (“Elmo, peas, Mommy! Peas! Elmo now peas!”). I never thought a furry, red monster could be so addictive, but Madeline sees me pull out the laptop and she starts shaking like a strung-out junkie knowing that her next hit — an Elmo’s World computer game — is just a click away. I patted my little addict on the back. “Baby, let Mommy finish this one thing and then we’ll play Elmo.” Amazingly, this seems reasonable enough and she returned to her Pollock-like piece of art, filling her white paper with varicolored, wavering lines of scribbles.
Meanwhile, I’d forgotten all about my Kegels.
I can’t help but think that even my pelvic floor muscles have already slighted my second child. I religiously did at least 50 Kegels a day with Madeline. With this butterbean, I’m lucky to get in a few token squeezes.
I know this is just the way it’s going to be. From the moment my husband Dave and I held our firstborn, Madeline became the center of our world. She bobbed her springy head and smacked her rosebud lips. I started nursing her. She picked her nose for the first time. We caught the milestone on film (good blackmail material for when she starts dating). Nowadays when she asks me to read The Hungry Caterpillar for the umpteenth time, I oblige. (And then I curse that fat, little caterpillar for making me feel hungry again and gulping down a piece of chocolate cake, ice cream cone, pickle and maybe even some cheese and watermelon.) Our house is covered wall to wall with photos of Madeline. Her baby book reads like Faulkner; I’ve included long, detailed narratives recounting all the minutiae of her existence.
But before I’ve even pushed baby No. 2 out into the cold, unfair world, she’s already being snubbed. Not only do I forget my Kegels, I occasionally eat soft cheeses and grab a bowl of cereal instead of egg whites, sliced strawberries and a whole-wheat piece of toast (a typical prenatal breakfast during my primgravida days). I don’t get enough sleep. I regularly pick up a 28-pound package (Madeline) despite warnings not to strain myself, and some days I need a real cup of coffee (or two).
To make matters worse, we’re having another girl. Don’t get me wrong — my husband and I aren’t one of those couples who have to have a boy. Besides, we plan on having a big family, so there’s not a lot of pressure to have one gender over the other. I was actually thrilled that I’d be able to use Madeline’s vast wardrobe (courtesy of the grandparents) and nursery bedding again. But that’s just it. This little girl won’t have my undivided attention or a brand-new wardrobe. She’s our second-hand child. The one who gets our second favorite girl’s name, her sister’s hand-me-downs, board books with chewed corners, previously slobbered-on teethers and even a potty that’s been well christened. She’ll even eventually have to share Madeline’s room. It won’t ever really be her room because Madeline had it first, just like her big sister had first dibs on my breasts, love and attention.
Sometimes I worry there’s just not enough love to go around. I can’t imagine a child as worthy of my love as Madeline. Other than some sleep struggles, Madeline has been a sweet-natured, no-hassle child. The “terrible twos” have been terrific. Even her withdrawal symptoms from Toddler Crack have been manageable.
So there were moments when I felt this baby’s little jabs in utero and couldn’t help but wonder: How can I possibly ever love this little girl as much as I love Madeline? What if she cries nonstop as a newborn? What if she transforms into a tyrannical terror as a toddler? What if she screams, “Mine!” and tries to claim Madeline’s toys as her own? And even if she’s a docile, sweet and near-perfect child, will I ever love her the same way as I do Madeline?
Then I saw her first close-up.
Like chalk on a blackboard, our baby’s white silhouette filled the screen during my 20-week ultrasound. “Baby sister,” Madeline said as we watched our newest addition gracefully move in her watery world.
At one point, a tiny, fine-boned hand took center stage on the screen. It was only a grainy image, but I could clearly see each finger waving toward me like the delicate appendages of a starfish dancing beneath the undulating waves of a tide pool. And I knew, as my baby girl reached toward me, that even if she’s second in succession to her big sister, even if she turns into a tantrum-throwing tyrant, and even if we misplace her sonogram and don’t memorialize it in a fancy scrapbook, there’s more than enough love to go around and that she’s, without a doubt, second to none.
Kate Wicker wrote this essay when she was pregnant with her second baby. Now that she’s expecting her third child, she knows for a fact that the one way to stretch your heart is to have another child. When it comes to welcoming new children into the world, there’s always enough love to go around.
Copyright 2009 Kate Wicker