To the Mother in one of these beautifully intense seasons of motherhood: parenting a toddler while pregnant
Some days of mothering are beautiful. Some days are beautifully intense. Some are beautifully intense and also exhausting and hard.
I remember being in my second pregnancy and so tired. Just so tired. And, despite my overwhelming desire to sleep and rest, my wonderful toddler continued to move into new, exciting, and challenging stages. These stages required lots of physical play, vigilance over choking hazards, and growing pains for me as I learned how to parent her in year two.
A few weeks ago, I found myself scrolling through the posts of one of my favorite online parenting support forums. A mom* posted about the challenges of being in the third trimester of a pregnancy and parenting a toddler. She asked if anyone could share some suggestions for how to handle a toddler who was struggling with change and transition.
Thinking primarily of helpful parenting tips, I shared a favorite parenting resource I turn to when a phase of kiddo development sends me scurrying for new tools. I also mentioned my go-to recipe of empathy, verbalizing my kids feelings, and repeating over and over, “My child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time.”
But, a few days later while out on a run, I couldn’t stop thinking about this mom and my response to her post. To be fair, the original post had asked for parenting tips, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d neglected something important in my reply. In my rush to offer helpful advice, I forget to say something even more vital - that finding yourself at the end of a pregnancy and facing toddler parenting is hard. So hard. And, it is okay, human, normal, and healthy that this would be a challenging time.
As my feet found their rhythm on the pavement, my mind continued to swirl around the words I wished I said. These words would offer not a list of how-tos, but acknowledgment, validation, and support.
Amazingly, the next time I found myself scrolling through the forum, this lovely mom had responded to my comment. She thanked me for my suggestions, but also expressed the same fear that lurks - sometimes fuzzily, sometimes sharply - in the back of my mind - the fear that I am failing my child.
With that opening, I found the space to say the words that had played on a loop in my head for all those miles. Words that, better than any article or parenting tip, speak to the reality of that moment when heart and hands are full and body and spirit are tired.
Gathering my courage, I wrote:
“I was thinking about you on my run this morning. And, if I may be so bold, I wanted to share this with you. I know it is hard - this beautifully intense season of being at the end of a pregnancy, on the precipice of a huge family change, and parenting a toddler. Honestly, my end of pregnancy/early postpartum days with my toddlers were some of my big parenting challenges. But, I also know that one day, maybe in a month or a year, you'll look back on this time in a quiet moment and see it all with such clarity. You will feel both wonder at and utter conviction in your strength as a mother and your love for your children. You are not letting him down. Even when the individual moments seem oh so messy, know that you are enough.”
I realized, as I posted this response, that I was speaking as much to her as myself. Each season has its own intensity, its own challenge. But, if I’m honest, the biggest challenges come not from my children, but from me. How do I grow and change alongside my children? How do I parent them in a season that requires I constantly fill their cups when I find mine is almost always drained to the last drop?
For in responding to this lovely mom late in pregnancy and on the verge of transitioning into life as a mom of two, my own struggles surfaced. I was reminded of how I wept as though my heart was breaking about my fears of having enough love for two children before my labor finally started with my second child. I was reminded about how the times that seem most challenging with my children almost always coincide with my own big feelings rising up and fears speaking loudly in my mind.
I was reminded, too, about the driving conviction behind my leap into work as a prenatal and postpartum doula. In these moments of transition, we need support. We need to know we aren’t alone. And, we need to know that we can do it, no matter how hard or overwhelming or frustrating it seems in the moment.
If you find yourself in one of these beautifully intense seasons of mothering, dear reader, know that the moments may seem messy, but one day you will step back and see it clearly, outlined by your strength and love.
*All details in this blog are shared with the permission of the mom who posted the original comment that is its inspiration. I am grateful for her willingness to let me share these thoughts and also the way in which our conversation deepened my own understanding.
Looking for more support? Learn more about Nested Mama Prenatal & Postpartum Doula Support. Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook.
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.