No two pregnancies are alike. We all hear that throughout pregnancy number one, but sometimes it doesn’t really sink in until pregnancy number two. You’re embarking a different journey this time around. You’re coming at the pregnancy from a new, more experienced place. You’re already a mother.
But there are still plenty of new experiences to be had and questions to be asked: How will our family change? How will I feel about this baby? Whatever happened the first time around– with the pregnancy, birth and newborn period– will set up a huge range of personal, idiosyncratic expectations for the second. This is a highly personal journey, but from my experiences, there are a few common themes with subsequent pregnancies.
Here are six ways the second pregnancy tends to differ from the first.
1. The second pregnancy may seem WAY longer than the first, but it might actually be shorter.
Sure in some ways it flies by because you’re so busy with an older kid and have no time to reflect on this life-changing nine months. But many women feel completely over the pregnancy well before the estimated due date. The third trimester can drag out like the longest third act every written– partly this is just because the excitement and novelty tends to be lower with subsequent pregnancies.
The good news about this is that the onset of labor can be a little less nerve-wracking and a little more welcomed. The other good news is that subsequent pregnancies are, on average, shorter than first pregnancies. Studies have shown that first pregnancies average 41 weeks and a day; for subsequent pregnancies, the average duration is 40 weeks and 3 days.
2. Physical discomforts and some bodily bi-products of pregnancy can be amplified the second time around.
A trace of spider veins with number one? A big old spread of them with number two. Sciatica in the ninth month the first time? Look for it at 30 weeks this time around. Women show sooner with the second. Morning sickness, however, is not necessarily worse with the second. Some women who have really hard first pregnancies, find that others are easy by comparison. Also, stretch marks are more likely the first time than the second.
3. Ideas about this birth will have a lot to do with what happened in your first birth.
Now you know what contractions are like, what helps, what really does not help and what your midwife or doctor is like in action. You may want a repeat performance or a you may want to take a different approach. Some women have no epidural the first time, and opt for one the second. Some have an epidural and/or other medications the first time, and hope to labor without drugs the second time.
If there was something particularly unpleasant or even traumatic with birth one, birth two can feel like an opportunity to heal from that bad experience. This is a great in some ways: you can make different choices about how, with whom and where you give birth that can make an real impact on how your labor unfolds. But this feeling can also play into the idea that there is a “right,” “perfect” birth to be had, which can equal more pressure for mom than relief.
A couple things worth remembering: If your labor was really hard the first time, try to let go of that template. This is a whole new labor. This is especially true (but hard to do, understandably) for women attempting a VBAC after a really long, difficult first labor resulted in a c-section.
4. Labor tends to be shorter in subsequent births than the first birth.
This is not always the case– sometimes there are positioning issues that make a labor take more time– but on average the second, third, fourth labors are faster than the first. The body knows what to do. You may be more relaxed having been through this before. This is true for all stages of labor, from early first stage to second stage pushing.
5. You are already a parent, but there are now a whole bunch of new ways your life might change.
The first time around there can be some very reasonable concerns about how your work, love life, lifestyle and who you are might change. It’s normal to wonder what you’ll be like as a new mother and what your partner might be like as a parent. In a subsequent pregnancy you know the answers to some of these questions already. But there are new dynamics in place that you can feel protective over. Now you’ve got the whole family thing going but you may worry it’ll fall apart with the addition of a new baby.
Plenty of mothers and fathers feel a sense of betrayal during pregnancy and the early days of life as a family of 4+. Will the new baby take away from love for the first? This is a really common feeling and comes from a place of extraordinary love. It can be very reassuring to see, over time, that new, equally powerful bonds can form between the various members of the family.
Another common fear is that you had such good luck with your first baby, this one can’t possibly be as [fill in firstborn's winning attributes here]. Parents of colicky babies can be extremely worried about a second collicky baby– though there’s no evidence colic runs in families. The trauma of all that crying and rocking can even make some couples stop having children all together. Again, remembering that each pregnancy, birth and baby is unique is so important. Also, you’ve developed resources, and a body of knowledge and experience that you didn’t have the first time around.
6. You’ll take fewer pictures.
This is a classic second time around phenomenon that extends well beyond pregnancy. The first one has a lovely box filled with foot prints and sonograms, the second has some iphone pics yet-to-be uploaded. I do find that subsequent kids eventually make it into the family album, but they may not have as many solo pictures as the first. You can try to be respectful and make it “fair” with lots of documentation of number two, or realize that there are many ways a second benefits from a less– how can I say this?– obsessive affection. Sometimes all those pictures of the first kid are really the documentation of a parents disbelief that the child actually exists. The second time, the shock and awe and, to a certain extent, fear tend to go down. And there’s an argument to be made that younger siblings are all the better for it.
photo: Nina Mathews Photography/Flickr