By Danah Shuli
Every stage of motherhood comes with it’s own set of ups and downs. And, let me start by saying that whether you’re a mama of one or of multiple children, this parenting stuff is tough! During my second pregnancy, I had many moms tell me that things are so much easier the second time around, that you’ll have a little helper, and the fact that you’ve already gone through this experience will help make things smoother the second time.
Phew! This will be a piece of cake compared to the first time, I thought to myself. Little did I know that transitioning from one to two kids would actually be the most challenging thing I’ve had to do thus far in my motherhood journey.
Danah Shuli's daughter, Kinzah, and son, Jude, soon after he was born.
Alhamdulillah, Allah (S) has blessed me with two children – my daughter Kinzah, who is three years old, and my son Jude, who is five months old. Each experience was completely different, from the pregnancy to postpartum. Being pregnant the first time around meant that I could take naps whenever I felt tired. It meant that I had all the time in the world to get things prepped for my baby girl’s arrival. When baby arrived, I was able to focus 100 percent of my attention to one child.
Yes, it came with it’s own hardships. It was a journey of firsts. With the help of my mom and family, I was able to manage. As my daughter got older we did everything together from going to story time, to taking walks in the park, to going grocery shopping. I didn’t realize how easy it was to get ready with one child until I had my second.
Although I made a conscious effort to do the same things the second time, having a toddler made things a little different. My body changed a lot quicker with my second pregnancy. I started showing a lot sooner, my back pain started earlier, I was constantly tired from looking after my toddler, which made the pregnancy itself more exhausting. Forget naps and resting.
Things didn’t get easier afterwards either. Although I was fortunate to have help from my mom and family, my daughter still needed her mama’s attention. Though we had prepped Kinzah during the pregnancy and though she was excited, it was hard for her. The tantrums became worse, the attachment grew stronger, and my mom guilt kicked in. It seemed as though things were never going to get easier, and even now it still feels that way sometimes. But things do get easier. You learn to get into a new routine. You learn to choose your battles, which chores to do around the house. You learn to let things go for the sake of your sanity.
To all the mamas out there, I’m with you in this! We all have different ways of getting through and finding our joy, and we need to be there for each other! I spoke with Noor Suleiman, mama of two and community manager at Haute Hijab, and with Nargis Rahman, journalist, mama of three and my fellow HH blog writer, to get their insights about going from one to two or more children.
What was the hardest transition for you, going from zero to one, one to two or beyond two kids? What made it challenging?
Noor: You get comfortable with one child. You establish a routine, you have a rhythm, and life is pretty much back to normal but with a little buddy. I had my second when my first was three years old. Having the second rocks the boat a bit, because suddenly, your old routine doesn’t work. You have to balance your eldest’s emotions through the transition, and really, you have zero time to care for yourself.
Nargis: Hands down [for me] having the first kid was the biggest transition. Although I read parenting books and asked 100 questions at the OBGYN office, I didn’t know what to expect. I spent a lot of time reading Quran and making dua for things to go smoothly. I was in my senior year of undergrad when my son was born. I was still transitioning from being a single college student to marriage, living with a joint family and motherhood.
I was the first in my friend group to get married, and I didn’t have any older cousins or aunts to ask questions. Therefore it was extremely hard for me to transition. Alhamdulillah, Allah (S) gave me such an easy-going baby. Allah (S) guided me with cues and maternal instinct on how to care for him. I have pictures of me studying and working on my final papers with him gently cradled in my arms without a fuss. Alhamdulillah.
What I wish I had known about having my first child was the lack of sleep and how much support a mother needs. Although I am the oldest of five siblings, I was not at all prepared for the first two years of motherhood.
I was better prepared going from the first to the second kid. I knew what to expect in terms of the phases between the first two years. My son was already weaned and potty-trained by then, therefore making the transition fairly do-able. But, I was not prepared for a new personality baby! My daughter was born confident. She is free-spirited and strong-willed. She cried often for long periods of time. I had a lot of anxiety during that time, because I didn’t know how to help her. I would get intense migraines from the stress. I also decided to work from home rather than work outside part-time to decrease my stress and be more hands-on.
From two to three, I prayed that Allah grant me the strength to persevere. My oldest two children were helpful and loving, which made the transition smoother. I was a confident mother by then and in my late 20s when I had my youngest. My body, however, was very tired, and I could feel this pregnancy weighing me down. Alhamduillah, my youngest is a total goofball and between my kids and I, we are able to take care of him in a team effort.
When you had your second baby, how old was your first? How did their age affect your pregnancy and postpartum experience? What are some things you did to keep the eldest included in the process?
Noor: When I had my second baby, my first was three years old. I feel like it was a good age gap; he was more independent at that age and able to be my little assistant with breakfast or helping me get her diaper or cream, etc. It made it easy to involve him in the process and reason with him.
He was also in preschool, so while that gave me a nice break during the day while he was there, it was a little hard to have to drop off and pick him up with the baby (during winter).
I started including him in the process from when I was pregnant. I didn’t want him to get jealous when he saw the baby’s new clothes and gear, so I often would take him shopping with me and ask him, “What do you think the baby would need for ____?” I found that prompting him to tell me what we need made a tremendous difference; it not only made him feel involved and excited to be a big brother, but he also didn’t feel threatened by a newcomer. We also let him help us set up the crib (he still talks about it to this day!) and put away the baby’s things.
I had a c-section, so postpartum was kind of tough. He was more emotional and attached to me, and having to balance that a new baby and recovery was tough. Our families helped make him feel special, and I just accepted that this is a transition phase for all of us, so naturally there will be some emotions, tantrums, behavioral regressions, etc. Knowing what to expect helps a lot. Turning things into games helped too.
Nargis: When I had my second child, my oldest didn’t know I was pregnant. But Subhanallah, he was internally on cue. He would walk around saying he is an older brother before any sign of a baby around. He was so loving and protective of his new baby sister.
When I had my third child, I was living alone with my nuclear family in a different city. That experience was very different. I didn’t have as much help or visitors. I felt much more pressured to figure it out. This time around my kids were aware we were having a baby, and they were obsessed with him. In terms of postpartum, they were helpful by just generally helping out if asked or offering to hold or play with the baby while I took care of other things.
My youngest was born in the summer, and I was not going to let postpartum get in the way of me living my life. I took him shopping a week later and attended two weddings the first month. Looking back I think that’s hilarious because I would never have done that the first two kids.Mamas are great at putting everyone else first, and ourselves last, which is both draining and causes us to lose sight of who we really are sometimes. What do you do for self care?Noor:
I need to get better at it. But for me, self care means stepping away from the kids. Moms know, as long as you’re around – even if your child doesn’t need you – you’ll somehow still end up momming. I don’t have a set self care routine that I do – I’d LOVE to!Nargis:
Self-care is definitely always a work in progress. Specifically, I learned to schedule time away from my kids. I played around with a formula with each transition.
In some families, simply asking for a break and handing them over to a spouse or relative is not an option. When I had my oldest I was finishing classes part-time. Therefore going to class was my “me time.” Now work is my “break time.” I went back to work when my oldest was two years old and weaned from nursing. After I had my second kid, I worked less hours and then transitioned into working from home. My oldest was in preschool, and I would drop off my daughter for a few hours, two days a week, while I worked. I needed the time to concentrate and help her build her social skills away from me.
During work I schedule lunch meet-ups with friends, take walks, or write during my downtime. This has helped me in self-care.Tips for Parenting Multiple Children (Compiled by Danah, Nargis & Noor) Set the expectations for yourself and your family. Remind yourself that there will be growing pains that come with the transition, and that it’s A-okay. It will not last forever. Be open and honest with your family about the support you will need; don’t expect them to just know. Figure out your current pain points and try your best to eliminate or fix them. For example, if you won’t have much help with dinner and don’t have the budget to order out a lot the first few weeks, double your meal portions for the last month of your pregnancy and freeze half of them. You will thank yourself later. Automate, Automate, Automate. Whatever can be done without you should be automated. Set your toddler up for success by providing everything they need at their level. For example, put their cups/bottles/plates/snacks in a lower cabinet, so it’s within their reach. Put their socks in a basket next to their shoes, hats and jackets on a low hanging hook they can reach. The less he/she will need you for, the better. Same goes for anything around the house. Take it easy on yourself; don’t expect perfection and really try and enjoy your babies and this magical time. It will all be okay. Remember, a happy mama makes a happy house, so stop and reset when you need to. Trust your instincts. Listen to your body. Take it easy! You’re a pro at this now! You are armed with experience. Start calling your family and friends and kindly tell them things they can do to help out. Let people pick up your shopping list. Let them take your kids out for an activity without you. Don’t say no to any help that people offer. Spend time doing something you love each day. Make a scheduled effort to take a break and meet up with other people, preferably mothers who get it, on a monthly basis. Even if it’s draining and hard! Create a bucket list of attainable things to look forward to. Go get a coffee alone. Go watch a movie. Sit in the park. Lastly, we realize that if your children have special needs, chronic illnesses or disabilities, the tips for how to manage and care for yourself will be vastly different. Check out this article and this article.
If you are a mother struggling during this season of your life, I hope this post brings you comfort in knowing that you are not alone and that you can do this! Share your stories and tips below in the comments!
Danah is wife to Kareem and mama to two children. She was born and raised in Charlotte, NC, and loves all things food, fashion, photography and home decor. After having Kinzah, she created her blog, Mother of Pearl
, where she shares a glimpse into her life as she navigates motherhood and hopes to build a safe space for other mamas to connect. You can follow her on Instagram
Photo credit for the images of baby feet: Chasity Zwicker Photography; photo credit for Danah Shuli's maternity photo shoot: Vika Photograph.