And then they were two!
A chapter from my second book Uhambo- Being A Parent
As I reflect on this situation from a spectator's point of view today, I see now how I didn’t realize that I was pushing my daughter away in the process. I needed her to mature at a faster pace than she could cope with and I punished her for it.
Having one baby, to begin with, felt like having a third roommate. Though there were ups and downs here and there, upon reflection, it was easier to adjust. After all, there were two adults and a child! How hard could it be?
Now, how do you adjust in a situation where there are two humans with unique, individual needs both simultaneously requiring your full attention? Imagine this situation with more unique humans. We must respect people with big families. How do they do it?
I had always struggled to understand why firstborn daughters were the way they were; overly responsible, somewhat independent, and altogether motherly (there are some exceptional firstborn sons like that too), until I had a second child.
A small flashback to our gender-reveal ultrasound. I knew my daughter wanted a little sister. I also knew my husband wanted a son. I knew it deep down in my soul, I was having a boy, but the sex of the child didn’t matter to me. When all three of us walked into the Sonographer's room that day, we each carried our own thoughts and expectations. I’ll never forget how my little girl burst into tears because she was not ready to hear those words, ‘well this clearly looks like a boy!’
Daddy was beaming and Crissy was wailing. A classic scenario of one man's meat being another man's poison.
We packed up our belly and got in the car for the drive home. I recall bundling her up in my arms, trying to explain to her how God had decided to bless us with a baby boy, just as He had blessed us with a baby girl previously. I recall helping her understand that the sex of the child was not the issue, and that the presence of a child was the blessing. I asked her to embrace her little brother with love, the same way she would want to be loved if she were a new baby. She quickly rationalized all this in her little mind and began hugging my baby bump.
Skip forward to after the baby was born: in an ideal world, at the age of 4, newly turned four for that matter, Crissy was still a small child. She was trying to adjust to having a little brother in the house, learning to love him and embrace him as mommy said she should, as best as she could. She didn’t expect to lose her mom in the process. As I reflect on this situation from a spectator's point of view today, I see now how I didn’t realize that I was pushing my daughter away in the process. I needed her to mature at a faster pace than she could cope with and I punished her for it. I remember being impatient, dismissive, emotionally and physically unavailable.
Suddenly everything was about the baby. Don’t do that, you will hurt the baby, move away from there it affects the baby. Hey, give up your this and that for the baby. The onslaught was heavy and unrelenting. Just like yesterday’s newspaper, she lost her place in my bed and maybe even in my heart, as probably interpreted by her own little heart.
I wish, I had managed better. How I wish I had opened up my arms a little more to embrace them both. This is an adjustment I still intermittently struggle with, even four years later.
No one tells you what it will be like to have more than one child in the house. No one can prepare you sufficiently on how to open up your heart and exercise a strong patience muscle. No one teaches you how to cope with them and yourself. Suddenly, I had graduated from dealing with 5 entities to 6. My husband, my daughter, myself, my work, my household and now my son.
I recall struggling with everything. In the wake of delivering our son, my pelvis separated and I became almost entirely incapacitated from the waist down. Within that same period, I was battling postpartum hypertension, delayed healing from my birthing stitches, running my side hustle (crocheting because we really needed the money) and managing all our lives. My son used to nurse funny and almost always overfed and threw up, leaving me stressed and anxious.
I remember always being on the edge with stress and apprehension. I was so wound up and ever-ready to snap. Unfortunately, the poor recipient of this new version of mom was poor Crissy. As I write this chapter, I have literally teleported myself back to those memories and can see how hard it must have been for her. There had to be a better way to manage the transition. I cannot undo what has been done, but I certainly can find a better continuation of the story.
I am blessed however in that, God put in my heart from the onset, that the two of them are perfectly unique and perfectly perfect in their differences and imperfections. That meant I could never compare them in any way, form, or shape. I was duty-bound as their mother to accept them and be proud of them as they were. I can humbly say, I still strive to live by and uphold that ethos, despite the constant testing of my resolve and patience.
Having gone through my experience and learnt some lessons along the way. I would begin by knowing and understanding there will be changes when you have more children. Being aware of that helps you appreciate the need for intentional strategies to ease your people into a new way of life.
I also feel that in all situations, try your best to spend time with each child individually. This time ought to be sacred and undefiled by any interruptions or distractions. Be deliberate about that time and interaction. Make ensure it translates the same message to your child, ‘I am here with and for you only, right now’. It does not have to be hours on end, just enough time to get to know each other and understand each other better. Also, spend time with them together, and allow them to spend time alone, so they understand they are all your children, and they belong to one family.
I would also say, never tire of saying the words I love you. The baby may not understand them at the time, but the time will come when it becomes a staple word in their vocabulary. As you continue to communicate those words, your child will also be learning and understanding what you mean. Tell all your children they are loved and important. Everyone wants to be loved, and children are no different. Speak love and practice love.
Another point is, find as much help as possible, paid and unpaid. If not with the baby, find someone who can help with the bigger child too. You will be healing from the insane buffet of child-birthing traumas, and cannot be everywhere, with everyone at once. Additionally, without support, healing is either delayed or cannot come about if you are all over the place. Be known for being that person who doesn’t hesitate to request for additional help. this is where you call on your sisters to do their sister thing.
Be aware and attentive to your physical and mental needs. In some cases, your reactions could be symptoms of some sort of imbalance or something. I knew my physical state was all over the place with the issues cited above. My life was riddled with all kinds of pain and frustration as a result. When I think back, it is probably why I was on a short fuse. Self-awareness is always key when it comes to how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with others.
In light of the above, be intentional about getting help for your mental and physical state. I think if I had been given solutions for dealing with my pelvic separation, I may have tackled my life from a position of knowledge and awareness, as opposed to, is this permanent? I was scared of the unknown and I was traumatized. That alone, kept me in a constant state of fear and anxiety, which I could not extricate myself from.
People around me could see something was wrong, but neither them nor I could pinpoint exactly what it was. I think to some effect, I was also afraid of the label, ‘failed mom’, that I kept my thoughts and fears to myself. Being a mom comes with pressures inferred and assumed. Society is very quick to note/judge your short-comings and struggles and subsequently label you. Rarely are you celebrated for your strengths and wins. Society can be very unforgiving! Especially to women, without fully knowing or understanding what is happening behind the veil. In some instances, you are already judging yourself, only to have your worst fears confirmed by outsiders.
This makes me wonder about and feel for every woman who has suffered from post-partum depression, knowingly or unknowingly. What led them down that road? Was it negative self-talk? Could it have been relentless overwhelm? Was it external expectations, pressures and negativity? Was it the fear of being viewed as a ‘failure’? We will only know when we begin to peel back the layers and understand them. As they say, tread softly in the lives of others, for you never know where they are coming from. Encourage them to take a break or seek counseling. Mental health is vital to our very existence. Come to think of it, I might have had a case of the Baby Blues! Our society needs to normalize talking to mental health professionals.
Lastly, try to engage all the professional services available to support you in your postpartum recovery. I remembered how a home visitor midwife Sister Joromani with my daughter and Sister Mutizwa with my son, came to help us transition from two adults, to two adults and a child and then two adults with two children. They were awesome!
Sister Mutizwa was there in my time of need, when my stitches were not healing. She made sure our (my son and I’s) physical health was tip-top and also tried to help with my mental health. She also did her best with the pelvic issue. Life got easier and I could see light outside the tunnel, drawing nearer.
Maybe, if I had sought the assistance of a Physiotherapist, I might have weathered the pelvic separation better. I might have felt little more emotionally and mentally secure. Who knows? I know, next time, I will be better equipped for the harder times.
I am thankful to my husband because he stepped in and tried to shield our daughter from my madness. This showed me that everyone in the family has a role to play, it just needs people to be more open-minded and attentive. However, there will be times when a child just wants her mom exclusively. I am thankful for Mai Christian, who did everything she could to bring sanity to my household when my body and mind felt broken.
At the end of the day, when all things are said and done, we all need to find our balance and rhythm. One needs to understand their own family and design a suitable strategy that fits and works for them. I am thankful for my struggles because through them I learnt lessons; lessons for me and lessons for sharing with others. Through my experiences both positive and negative, I gained wisdom I would never have, had I not waded those murky waters. In spite of it all, I came out stronger.