It started at my very first prenatal appointment.
“Do you have any questions?” my doctor asked.
“I don’t think so?” I replied.
“I guess after your fourth baby you kind of know the drill!” she replied.
When you have your fourth baby, everyone assumes the whole shebang is business as usual. You’re on a path you’ve blazed before, and not just once or twice, but three times. If it’s ever possible to know what you’re doing, certainly a mother of four must.
My pregnancy progressed, familiar and predictable, but with aches and pains I didn’t have six years and three pregnancies ago. It was like taking the old family car on a road trip. It’s comfortable and familiar, but every now and then something new pops loose or starts shaking.
It was just like that.
When Anna was born, I walked into the hospital like I owned the place and was a little annoyed that I was assigned a room I hadn’t given birth in before.
And there’s the postpartum experience, which is so different for first-time and fourth-time moms that they should put us on separate floors. After David was born the nurses taught us to diaper, dress, swaddle, and bathe our new baby, because we had never done any of those things. A nurse lectured Tom about never leaving the baby on high surfaces while a lactation consultant checked my latch. Again.
When Anna was born, a nurse smacked me on the butt and said “Great job, Ma!” and sent us on our way. “Need anything?” a lactation consultant asked.
“NOPE!” I said. After all, this is my fourth baby. I am an expert.
We got home, exhausted and happy, ready to begin life with our fourth baby. That night I fed Anna, swaddled her in the same swaddles I’d used for my three babies before her, and collapsed into bed. Five minutes later she was screaming. We repeated that until 2:30 a.m. That’s when we realized we had no idea what we were doing.
Anna is ten weeks old, and so far our fourth baby experience vacillates between “completely familiar” and “navigating muddy waters in a foreign country” — all while people say things to you like, “You’re such a pro!”
It’s partially true. I HAVE done this before. I have hindsight and experience, and thus a steadier, more confident hand. But then when I try all my best tricks and Anna doesn’t respond the way I expect, I actually feel more bewildered. This worked for my other kids, why isn’t it working now!? I DON’T HAVE ANY OTHER IDEAS!
And so, even with the fourth baby, we’re approaching this season how we did the previous three times — we figure things out as we go, one day at a time.
When you’re caring for a newborn, that “I have no idea what I”m doing” feeling never goes away. The only difference between “experienced” moms and first-time moms is that “experienced” moms have very, very strong opinions about strollers, and they started dreading potty training as soon as they saw a positive pregnancy test. But they still throw up their hands a few times a day and say, “WHAT NOW?”
After David was born I felt completely overwhelmed. I was tired, clueless, but also awakened to a new kind of love. I worried that if I ever talked about how I sort of hated nursing, and caring for him seemed impossible, people would think I didn’t love him or being his mom.
People ask how I’m doing, and sometimes before I reply they say, “This is a piece of cake by now, right?!” But sometimes I feel completely inadequate. It’s not because I’m a good mom or a bad mom, or because my baby is an easy baby or a hard baby. It’s because whether you’ve done it zero or four or ten times, this is hard.
That’s maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned after four kids — there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re struggling. It’s possible to love something and be overwhelmed and frustrated by it. Taking care of a baby is really, really, really hard, no matter how many times you do it.
And that’s ok.