Written by: Julia Pelly
When my husband and I were dating, we envisioned a big family. We’d have three kids at least, maybe four or five, and we would have them as close together as possible so they’d all grow up as best buddies.
Welcoming our first baby was exciting, but also overwhelming. While I wondered at first if I was really cut out to have a big family, within a few months he began to sleep and smile and I began to feel ready to try for baby number two. The only problem was that my cycle stubbornly refused to return while I was breastfeeding. It remained absent when my son began to sleep through the night, when he started solids, and even when I weaned down to a single nursing session per day. I didn’t ovulate until exactly two weeks after my son was nursed for the very last time.
During those months I was constantly doing the math. I knew as soon as my cycle returned that my kids would be at least 27 months apart. That was six months (at least) more than I had hoped. But then the first time I got pregnant I had an early miscarriage and then it took a few months to get pregnant again. My first two kiddos, both beautiful, curly-headed boys, were born 2 years and 11 months apart.
Though I still dreamed of close-in-age kids, my cycle played the same game after my second son, only returning after he was completely and totally weaned. And then I had another miscarriage and the spread of my kids’ ages expanded again. As my dreams of close-in-age kids slipped away, I began to wonder and worry about what it would be like to have a brand new baby as my oldest son got older and began to morph into a certified big kid.
When I got pregnant with the baby that became my third child, I was a ball of anxiety about what it would be like to have an older kid and a baby at the same time. My oldest would be six and a half by the time she was born, and my second son nearing four. Would they care about the baby in front of them? Or about the toddler that followed them around when they were nine and six? Would they play together and feel close? Or would they, especially she and my oldest, be like passing ships, sharing only a few years they’d both remember under the same roof?
I also wondered about my ability to parent kids in such different life stages. I imagined changing diapers on soccer game sidelines and juggling toddler tantrums and tween attitudes at the same time and wondered how I would possibly do it.
It turns out I was wrong to worry at all. Having a big kid (or big kids) while having a baby was (and is) one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Throughout my pregnancy with my third, my oldest son was old enough to understand what was coming and look forward to his sister’s birth. When I went into labor he held my hand and hopped into the pool when it was time to push. As he stroked her wet newborn head and tears sprang to his eyes in the seconds after her birth, I could already see just how special their relationship was going to be.
I had another baby this spring, as my oldest approached his ninth birthday and my second son approached his sixth, but this time I didn’t worry, I already knew how great it was going to be.
My oldest son, and now my middle guy, are the best baby helpers in the world. During my most recent pregnancy, my oldest son watched videos and read books to prepare to help with the birth. He told everyone he knew that he would catch the baby and be “the very first person to touch him.” And he did! My middle son cut the umbilical cord and, since that day, they’ve argued about who gets to fetch the next diaper, who gets to read the little kids their bedtime stories, and who gets to pick their outfits for the next day. It’s not the relationship I imagined them having back before we had kids, but it’s a very special relationship. My big kids regularly call the baby (and the toddler) “my baby,” when talking about them with others, fuss at me if I’m not quick enough to soothe them, and sing them bedtime songs as I tuck in my toddler and nurse the baby to sleep.
Managing their different needs has been easier than I thought too. While I do still have to juggle diaper changes during big-kid activities and events, having older kids and babies has given me a sweet appreciation for both phases of childhood. Now that I’ve seen how quickly nine years fly by, I don’t mind reading that ‘just one more’ book or walking very slowly with my toddler as she examines rock after rock. And, because I have a baby and toddler to compare my big kids to, I’m much quicker to recognize and celebrate the everyday magic that comes when a child begins to grow into their independence.
While first-time-mom me imagined a house full of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I’m happy to say that what I ended up with is better than I ever could have dreamed. I’m sure there are all sorts of joys and benefits to having kids close together but now that I have big kids and babies at the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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