Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Second time around: having a second baby when your first child is grown

My husband and I found out that I was pregnant on a Friday. Two pink lines on a dipstick and our lives were changed forever. We were both thrilled, ecstatic-- we wanted to stand on the highest mountain and tell the world. But we didn't tell a soul. Not yet. It was still early and we were a little bit scared. Instead, we quietly jumped up and down for joy.

This would be my second baby. I calculated the due date and started thinking about nursery ideas and the layette and all the stuff we were going to need. Names, we needed names. Ashley, Christina, Tyler, Max-- we only had nine months to decide! I went to the library and checked out every pregnancy book I could get my hands on.

A few days later, I decided that I should tell my firstborn child that he was going be a big brother. I was more than a little reluctant to tell him about the upcoming blessed event. You see, my first child was seventeen years old. I wasn't quite sure how he would take the news.

Sure enough, when I told my son I was expecting a new baby he looked at me as though I were completely insane. He thought I had lost my mind. Then the reality set in.

"Gross!" he shrieked. I guess he realized this meant that I actually had to have been intimate with his stepfather in order for this to happen. He was absolutely mortified.

Aside from telling our son, my husband and I didn't tell anyone about my pregnancy until I was well into my second trimester. Once I started to show and the news inevitably broke, I got a variety of reactions. Most people were happy for me; other people told me I was crazy.

"Your son is in high school," one rude person said to me, "Do you really want to start over again?"

I heard the phrase "Better you than me!" more than once, and one woman even said to me, ever so sympathetically, "Was it planned?" (yes, it was-- thank you very much!).

I was only nineteen years old when I had my first baby and I had an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. I soon discovered that having a baby when you're in your thirties is a little different than having a baby at age nineteen. With my second pregnancy I had blood drawn three weeks in a row to check my HCG levels, I had the alpha-fetoprotein, triple-screen test, I was tested for gestational diabetes, and I had two ultrasounds. All perfectly routine, I was assured, although I didn't recall getting all of this done with my first pregnancy.

When my triple screen test came back with high-risk results, I declined the amniocentesis that the doctor urged me to get. Instead, we met with a genetics specialist who explained to me that, due to my age (due to my age? I was only 35!), I was at increased risk of giving birth to a baby with Down's syndrome. I insisted that I did not want additional testing done, due to the small chance that it could cause a miscarriage. My husband and I instead opted for a level two ultrasound, which showed that the fetus appeared to be the correct size for its gestational age. Like any expectant mother, I worried the entire pregnancy anyway.

My husband and I went to childbirth classes and I sat in the same classroom I had sat in seventeen years previously. The breathing techniques were still the same and I wondered if I would use them during labor (all the techniques I learned went out the window with my first delivery). We continued to prepare for the baby. We ordered furniture for the nursery and stocked the dresser with tiny snapped t-shirts and diapers.

And then, out of the blue in my thirty sixth week of pregnancy, my water broke. My husband and I rushed to the emergency room and we prayed for everything to be okay. After a short labor, my daughter was born four weeks early-- healthy and absolutely beautiful. For the first time in months I let out a sigh of relief.

My baby is now five months old and sometimes it truly feels like she is my first baby. I don't remember anything about raising a newborn. I forgot about all of the middle of the night feedings and the colic and the zillion diaper changes. It truly seems like a lifetime ago that I went through all of this. I'm not prepared for the way that my heart melts whenever my baby smiles at me, and how I fall in love with her more and more each day.

Because my kids' ages are so far apart, there is no sibling rivalry. Quite the contrary. Through it all, my son has been a huge help. He holds the baby and he makes her laugh. When he doesn't think I can hear him he even coos at her. And she gazes at him with absolute adoration.

Of course, we have our obstacles. My son refuses to change the baby's diaper. When he is sick of playing with her he hands her right back to me. And babysitting is out of the question.

The sight of me nursing the baby has scarred my son for life, or so he says. And more than once when I have been out in public with both of my kids, people have looked at us strangely. One day when we were out shopping, my son was holding the baby and a cashier actually asked him if it was his baby. Needless to say he vowed never to hold her in public again.

It occurred to me recently that, aside from the fact that they share the same mother, my kids have little in common. My son, on the brink of adulthood, is dealing with SAT's, term papers, a part-time job-- and making hard decisions about college. My daughter is an infant who doesn't even crawl or eat solid foods yet. For her, every day is a wondrous chance to learn something new.

I sometimes joke that my son barely counts as a sibling for my daughter-- that they are almost a generation apart. By the time she is old enough to realize who he is, he will be in college. And then it occurs to me that maybe my kids have more in common than I thought. Because even though they are at vastly different stages in their young lives, they are still both growing and exploring new horizons. They both have their whole lives ahead of them. And I now realize that for both of them, every day is a wondrous chance to learn something new.

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