The main difference has been a comfort and a confidence I have in tending to an infant that I didn't have initially with Finn. When Finn was born we were second time parents, but not really. I felt like a mother for the second time, but really I felt like a parent for the first. And that was hard. I was much more emotionally fragile after Finn was born than I was after Mary was born. While still in the hospital with him, realizing that breastfeeding wasn't coming naturally and that he was struggling to latch, I was struggling not to feel like a failure for it. The nurses and lactation consultants were all up in my business, but not in a tender and supportive way. In a - let me grab your boob, constantly weigh your baby, freak you out about weight loss, etc - sort of a way. The on call pediatrician once said, "since he's your first baby" and through my tears I snapped back, "he's not my first baby, he's just the first I've breastfed." And while it wasn't malicious and she probably didn't know our history, her comment stung and made me feel like a first time mom when I wanted desperately not to feel that way. I had already felt like I failed to bring Cale safely into the world and now I wasn't doing a good job providing for the child I was lucky enough to bring home.
It took a couple weeks and many tears shed, but we eventually got the hang of breastfeeding. I remember Miles rubbing my back as I pleaded with Finn to latch on and then winced in pain when he did, both of us crying and frazzled. This time, Mary took to nursing well right away. I think in part because she was better at latching, but largely because I knew what I was doing this time around and wasn't stressed. That comfort with nursing was a huge confidence booster. There were still a lot of painful winces, but, physical discomforts aside, our experience with nursing was much more pleasant from the get go.
Our hospital experience was better with her as well. We only had to stay the night she was born and were released the next evening. Mary met all the criteria the pediatrician had for discharge at 24 hours - she was nursing well, she was a girl, and we were not first time parents. Being validated as someone who had done this all before felt so good. Even though we hadn't done it before with Finn, it was just hard to be reminded of that fact. This time, there was no need for such reminders because we definitely were not first time parents.
Just as nursing was easier, the same went for our initial care for Mary. Sure, we were gentle with our little newborn babe, but diaper changes went quicker, giving a bath was no biggie, long sleeved onesies were easier to put on (I remember with Finn I worried I was going to hurt him if I pulled too hard to get his little arms through his shirt). It was as if we quickly fell back into the groove of things because we had done it all once before. And that helped put me at ease - something that just took longer with Finley.
Having two kids definitely has its own challenges. Tending to them when they both need something, ensuring that Finn gets enough attention and it's not all directed at the baby, ensuring that Mary gets the snuggles and cuddles that Finn got as a newborn, and the biggest challenge - getting out the door! Loading kids in a car, with all necessary gear, should be an Olympic sport!
The questions and the assumptions about our family dynamic still remain difficult. The few times I've gone out with just Mary I've been asked if she's my first. Sometimes I've said, "no, my third." and sometimes I just say, "her two and a half year old brother is at home," but of course that response always has a tinge of guilt associated with it. While still tender, those questions were almost easier to answer when I was pregnant. Because Cale absolutely can and should be included when I talk about my pregnancies. And while he should be included when I talk about my kids, it's also harder because pregnancy was all I got with him. So when asked how many kids I have, I still struggle to find the right thing to say. I suspect I always will.
But ten weeks in to having two kids at home and I'm still so grateful to not be a first time parent. I'll forever miss the experiences I never got to have with Cale, but am so grateful that I had them with Finn that he taught me how to be a parent to a living baby. I'm so grateful that this time I can not only feel like a mother for the third time, but a parent as well.