And then there were two…

It’s funny how something so routine and natural – so mundane it has been done billions of times, and will be done billions of times again – can be so unique, so personal, so original each time. For me, two children in 19 months meant two pregnancies less than a year apart. Same body. Same process. Totally different experiences. Totally different babies.

Daisy was positioned all at the front, and I experienced cramps, elephantitis (medically known as oedema, commonly known as water retention), and total and utter exhaustion. She engaged early and couldn’t wait to come out, surprising us before term, and forcing her way into the world with maximum drama.

Poppy was positioned all at the back, and I had sciatica and back pain, and all day nausea. She decided to do things her way, ensconced herself in the rare frank breech position and refused to budge, having to be forcibly removed, screaming furiously into the world.

With Daisy, I was a beached whale, bloating to twice my size (I blame the damn water retention, but my husband and waistline hint at the daily tub of Hagaan Daaz), while with Poppy I was trim and neat, and had to practically lift my jumper on the bus to get a seat. In my first pregnancy, I wallowed in the sacredness of my condition, languishing on the sofa after work, indulgently eating ice-cream by the pint, and being as precious as possible about lifting, working and exercise. With a lively toddler to run after and my husband working overseas throughout pregnancy number two, I didn’t have the luxury to wallow, languish or indulge. I had to get up every morning regardless of how sick or tired I felt, lift and run after my daughter, cook, clean, entertain and work with barely a nod to the fact I was pregnant. Ice-cream? Not likely. By the time I’d given Daisy her tea, played and danced the Wheels on the Bus 14 times, bathed her with a breaking back, read The Tiger Who came to Tea for the 4638th time and finally put her to sleep, I could barely muster poached egg on toast before I hauled my weary soul to slumber.

Both pregnancies were also enjoyable in different ways. The first was all about the excitement of the unknown, reading, dreaming and anticipating. The second was all about the knowledge of what was to come, the wonderful times ahead of me, another character to get to know and love.

But in the weeks running up to Poppy’s birth, I felt an enormous guilt for what was about to befall my young daughter. She was the centre of our world; she got our undivided attention, and clearly thrived on it. Her confidence and happiness shone out and when I stroked her little head at night I realised that she was still just a baby herself, and now about to be usurped by a younger model. She was going to be the ‘big sister’ but was she ready? Would she cope with having to share our attention? Would she love her little sister, or hate her, and us? Would she feel less loved? Having just got used to being a mum to Daisy, with all her quirks and personality traits, how would Poppy fit into our family dynamic? What beat would she bring to our symphony of three?

A few hours after Poppy’s birth, Daisy blew into the ward like a tornado ripping through a sleepy town, all chat and wild hair. It took a couple of minutes for her to spot Poppy. Silence. She looked at me, and back at Poppy. Back to me. Pointed a finger. “Eh?” Her question for everything. “That’s your sister. That’s our new baby, Poppy.” She peered over the edge of the cot, looked back at me and then triumphantly poked her sister violently in the eye squealing excitedly as she nearly blinded Poppy with a high pitched “eyeee!” – her new word of the moment. With that she proceeded to wheel Poppy’s cot down the ward claiming her as her own. My husband and I smiled. That went well, we thought. Poppy’s eye was still more or less intact and Daisy seemed happy enough.

It’s sad how naïve two adults can be.

Hospital visits were one thing. Bringing the interloper into Daisy’s home was quite another. The first slap took us by surprise. Wrapped in the warm fuzz of newborn love, we had looked at our ‘flower girls’ and thought all was well with the world. Daisy even earned loving praise by giving her sister big hugs (Poppy probably didn’t appreciate being squeezed half to death and regularly having her eye poked, but at least it was all positive). Then from nowhere came an almighty slap which nearly swept Poppy out of my arms. We were shocked. Despite loud remonstrations the slapping continued. We thought we’d done everything right. I’d shown her pictures of babies and explained as best I could what was happening. We’d done up the new shared nursery so she could get used to it before the baby arrived. We’d even bought Daisy her first doll and pram so she could replicate what I was doing. Whollop! Tantrum! Whollop! Poor Poppy’s hungry cries were often drowned out by Daisy’s jealous screams.

Suddenly my dream of two little sisters, close as peas in a pod, lovingly playing together as they grew up together disintegrated into nightmare images of squealing sisters at war. I saw years ahead of battles and bruises, tempers and tantrums. I’d dreamt of harmony, not hatred. I’d envisaged play, not punches. I’d imagined love, not war.

But a week is a long time in toddlerhood. The downside of having a toddler is that everything demands maximum drama. “I’m upset, so EVERYONE IS GOING TO KNOW ABOUT IT!” The upside of having a toddler, is that they have very short memories. In no time at all, Poppy in her midst is becoming the norm. Daisy realises she gets much better attention from us if she is nice to her sister, and gradually, being nice, is coming naturally.

Now, a few weeks in, Daisy’s first words in the morning are “Pop”. Her eyes seek out ‘Pop Pop’ every time she enters the room, and thankfully not to whollop her. Her dad and I no longer get hugs at bedtime: they are reserved for her sister.

My dreams are coming back. I’ve no doubt the months and years ahead will have their fair share of battles and bruises, tempers and tantrums. But I’m fairly confident we’ll have a greater share of harmony, play and love. Peas in a pod? They’re as different as carrots and broccoli. But then variety is the spice of life.

And as our symphony of four begins, their different beats dance together in song.

(Published in Modern Mum, Autumn 2007 issue)
(c) AKG 2008

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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