Making Room for Two
I cried when I learned I was pregnant again. I was barely hanging on caring for my nineteen-month-old daughter. How could I handle two children? When I didn’t feel like I had enough to give her, when I was wrung out and empty, how could I pour out more for a newborn daughter or son?
I crash-landed into motherhood when my first child was born. When my daughter made her debut, I had been awake for 36 hours. I was exhausted. I was thrilled. And I was completely clueless. She nursed immediately, and she decided that was where she wanted to stay. Forever. Any time I unlatched her, re-swaddled her, and put her down into the basinet next to my hospital bed so I could try to get some sleep, she would cry. If I picked her back up and nursed her, she would calm down. She seemed traumatized by her new surroundings and her station in life. I couldn’t help but think if I had the ability to put her back into my womb, she would have taken me up on the offer.
Our hospital stay was a merry-go-round of trying to nap, being awakened by my daughter, and nursing her. We both settled down more after we arrived home. She fell into her routine of eating and sleeping and crying. I fell into my routine of eating and sleeping and crying. When she was six weeks old, she became colicky and inconsolable most of every afternoon and evening. The only reason she stopped screaming was pure exhaustion. My attempts at comforting my child failed, so I thought I was a terrible mother. I was a wreck.
One day when my daughter was twelve weeks old, she didn’t scream at 4 p.m. She was no longer colicky. She started to come around to this idea of life outside my womb. She even seemed to enjoy it at times. She began to smile more and to engage with me more, and I fell in love with her in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
Motherhood undid me because I had lived my whole life under the illusion that I was in control. Attempting to parent my daughter destroyed that illusion that I was still trying to piece back together when I became pregnant again. My daughter was older and able to communicate more, and I felt like we were entering a season where I would have a better handle on things. Having a new baby would shatter my sense of control again, and I wasn’t ready to lose it.
During the weeks that I struggled with the conflicting emotions that came with the news of my second pregnancy, the cold of winter retreated and spring descended upon us. With the warmer weather, my daughter and I began to spend more time outside. Both of us had better attitudes when we took walks around the neighborhood and played in the backyard. This was my daughter’s first spring walking. Her intense curiosity and ability to navigate her surroundings spurred her on to explore the world with deeper interest. She seemed to want to take in as much as possible. She was a cup that wanted to be filled to overflowing.
One early April morning we went out our front door to take a walk around the block and found the wisteria in my neighbor’s front yard in full bloom. Lavender blossoms cascaded like a waterfall. The vines showed off their clusters, and we were the audience. My daughter pulled me down our front steps and led me along the sidewalk for closer inspection. She reached out to touch the blooms. After letting her explore with her hands, I reminded her to look with her eyes. Then we inhaled the sweet fragrance and examined the gnarled, woody trunk. My daughter’s delight poured like the splashes of purple dripping from the wisteria vines. I stepped back. She hopped around with delight. She stooped down into the natural fort formed by the shower of branches—a space just her size to rest in, a room formed by rain and sunshine and a season of new life.
While I was observing her interactions with beauty and nature, it hit me. I knew I was going to be okay. I knew we were going to be okay. My daughter didn’t need me to pour out more of myself in order to fill her up. I had a role to play in quenching her thirst for more, but I was not responsible. I needed to put her in the way of new experiences, new ideas, and new words. I needed to give her space to wander, to wonder, to question, and to find her own answers. In that fragrant moment, my fear about having a second child gave way to thankfulness.
Charlotte Donlon lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband and our two children. She is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University. She enjoys making space for others and their stories—preferably over coffee, wine, or a meal. More of Charlotte’s writing can be found at charlottedonlon.com and myhungerformore.com.