Today I took my two children to soft play. It feels strange writing that. Not the soft play thing (though really, anyone who takes a three-year-old and three-week-old to soft play hell is certifiable), the TWO children bit. I am a Mum of two. It feels impossibly grown up. One child could just have been an accident. Two is deliberate. Planned. A proper family. I have a proper little family.
Ducklingette is a sweetheart. She has her moments, and an impressive set of lungs on her when hungry (which is quite a lot of the time), but mostly she just sleeps or feeds or gazes at your face / a shadow on the wall / the curtain pole / the oven timer (everything must be pretty remarkable when you're less than a month and can't really see clearly). She clearly got my note. The contrast with Duckling at the same age is stark. For the first year or so, Duckling didn't really sleep unless he was latched on to the breast. He wouldn't take a dummy or a bottle (unless truly starving), and despite endless attempts, I couldn't reliably put him down for more than a few seconds without him howling as though I'd plonked him on a sacrificial alter. He wouldn't go in a pram or pushchair without having a meltdown, and even in the baby carrier, I would often have to resort to surreptitious breastfeeding as we walked. Car journeys were a nightmare - I'm amazed I never crashed. Consequently, every outing, even a quick pop to the shops, was an endurance event. With Drake abroad most of the week, I got very little respite from my somewhat demanding infant, and even when Drake was back, Duckling made his preference for being surgically attached to me exceedingly clear.
Compared to her brother therefore, looking after Ducklingette feels like a doddle. She's a pretty average newborn I suspect - but to me she's some sort of heaven-sent angel child. I may come to regret saying this when she suddenly develops colic or decides sleeping is no longer her thing. I know she will not always be this way, and there are moments, when she kicks off in the car or we get to hour five of her evening cluster feed session, where I panic that she's turned into Duckling. But she mostly just goes with the flow of our lives.
In the few weeks since her birth, I have regularly wondered what it would have been like had I had Ducklingette first. Would I have been tempted to have my second sooner? Would I have concluded, as I did a week or so after Duckling was born, that parenthood was "really fucking hard", a lingering sentiment that continues to make me feel daunted by Mum duty most mornings? I want to find mothering a joy, and there are moments - sometimes whole days or weeks - when I absolutely do because, now he has language, Duckling can be an utter delight. Provided other children and coveted emergency vehicle toys aren't added to the mix. But the hangover from his first year remains with me. Much of my pregnancy with Ducklingette was spent fretting. I wanted another child, but I was terrified of what would happen when she arrived. How would I cope with the constant cortisol bombardment created by a belligerently disobedient pre-schooler, and a perpetually screaming baby? I kept having flashbacks of various visits from friends and family where I would cheerily explain that a grizzling Duckling was just "a bit hungry / grumpy today, but we're doing fine" even though he was apparently famished and viciously grumpy every single day and I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob a fair amount of the time.
Essentially, I think I was a bit traumatised by Duckling's early days. I loved him unconditionally, but I was convinced I was a total pathetic wuss for finding everything so hard. My child was healthy, bright and alert. He didn't have any disability or illness that would give me legitimate cause to find parenthood difficult (my hat off to those who care for children who do), so I was clearly just not parenting right. Either I was focusing too much on the negative (because he DID sleep, smile, and occasionally even laugh sometimes), or I had made the proverbial rod for my own back by indulging him too much, and not 'training' him to accept being put down / sleep in his own cot / go more than 10 minutes without feeding.
Now Ducklingette is here, I know for certain that's bollocks. Duckling was just Duckling, and for whatever reason he was a genuinely difficult baby. I always suspected he was harder than most, but not being with other people's babies 24/7, I never had definitive proof. Now I do. I was traumatised because I was a new, slightly clueless Mum, who was parenting largely on her own and my body was constantly flooded with stress hormones (there is NOTHING you can do to prevent a stress response when your baby cries - it's a very necessary product of evolution). I didn't make Duckling that way, and it wasn't my fault. In fact, I did a pretty bloody amazing job in the circumstances, and it's only now that I can fully recognise that.
Furthermore, Duckling toughed me up. I can deal with most things Ducklingette can throw my way now. I already know how to drive through a 'why-have-you-abandoned-me-in-this-infernal-car-seat-mother?' sobbing fit (loud music), change a nappy on my lap (carefully) and breastfeed while standing on a moving train (anchor yourself with your knee and foot), and for that I am very grateful. Unexpectedly, even with an additional rambunctious three-year-old to keep in check, I am enjoying the newborn phase this time therefore. Really, truly - it's lovely. I just hope she remains as placid as a teenager...