Would you care if this were your second baby?

Would you care so much that your baby couldn't sleep?
Would you care so much that your baby couldn't sleep? Photo: Stocksy

Babies are wonderful things, but you can't take them too seriously. My mother-in-law helped to teach me that. When our son was just shy of five months old, we went on a big family vacation to the Cook Islands. I was still breastfeeding which made it difficult to get any time to myself, but I ducked out for an hour one afternoon to float in blissful solitude in the lagoon. When I returned, my partner told me as a casual aside that his mother had given the baby a small bite - a crumb really - of a sugary biscuit. I felt tempted to make A Fuss about it, but before storming down the stairs to crisply request that dietary decisions not be made without my consultation, I instead asked myself the following question: would you care about this if it were a second baby?

The answer came back swiftly. No, of course I wouldn't. I already didn't care about my child rolling in the dirt nor did I fret about germs or other people holding him or the fact that I didn't have a proper nappy bag. And I knew that my concern for all sorts of things (not to mention the time I had to be worried about them) would diminish with a second child as it does for most parents.

It was a liberating realisation for me, one that helped me to stick with sleep training at six months, leaving him at home when I had to travel interstate for work and later on putting him into childcare. Would I care about these things if it were a second baby? Would I have time to care about these things? Would I worry if a second baby was drawing on the walls? Would I be concerned about a second baby who had figured out how to climb into his high chair by himself? Would I be able to have eyes on a second baby at all times, or would I be comfortable if they played in the fenced in garden by themselves with me a short distance away?

I learned this trick from my friend Catherine Deveny, who told me the best question a new parent can ask to people who've been through it before is, "What did you do (or what would you do) differently with your second baby?" I put this into practice before I gave birth to our son, and the answers were as revealing as you'd expect.

Most parents said they wouldn't buy so many things in preparation. Babies are pretty simple really. Forget the dummies (especially because they aren't guaranteed to like sucking them), the bottles (ditto) and the stuffed toys. Don't worry about the bursting wardrobes of clothes. All you need is a towel to change them on, a steady supply of wet wipes and a few thrifted outfits depending on the season. All the other stuff can be purchased later, as you figure out what you need.

Some mothers told me they wouldn't race to get back into things so quickly. Women who pride themselves on being active, engaged citizens can sometimes resist the pull of new motherhood to just close off from the world and cocoon for awhile. I know I did. We insist that nothing will change, that the baby will adapt to ourselves and that, better yet, now we'll be able to drink again! When I was still pregnant, I realistically believed I would be able to travel to Sydney with a 3 week old to attend my cousin's 21st. Needless to say, it didn't happen.

If someone were to ask me the question of what I'd do differently, knowing what I know now, this is what I'd say. I would worry less about hitting the ground running and try to focus instead on being in the moment. I wouldn't be so afraid of the baby crying that didn't try to help him figure out how to sleep better earlier on. I would buy a hospital grade breast pump instead of the handpump that took hours to get anything remotely resembling a drink out of me. I wouldn't compare what he was doing with what other babies were doing, and let myself get into a lather about the things I thought he might be behind on. I would smell his head more often, because nothing beats that baby smell. I would try not to feel so terrified of the responsibility that stretched out before me for years and years to come.

These are the things that I try to remember now, having been through the trenches of having a newborn. That children have been surviving for thousands of years, against incredible odds and sometimes significant challenges. They are unlikely to be felled by a biscuit crumb given to them by a loving grandmother, or an overzealous game of throw-the-baby-in-the-air-and-then-catch-them. Licking the floor around the fridge will not kill them.

Parenting is hard, particularly when you're exploring uncharted territory. But imagination is easy, and it isn't so difficult to think of how you might do it all over again.

Would you care if it were a second baby? Probably not. Now breathe. You've got this.