Our daughter was a month shy of four years old when our new baby was born. Martha has not yet learned to stand, walk, or talk. She is incontinent, and relies on us for all of her grooming, dressing, hygiene, and transfers. While we hoped and prayed that she would be a big sister, it would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I was worried how I was going to care for a new baby and Martha at the same time.
Now, six months in, things are starting to fall into place. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible; lots of other mothers have done it, and there are no illusions as to how hard we work to keep the family running, while also holding true to our resignation to get the job done. My biggest fear with a new baby was that a medical need would arise with Martha which would force me to choose which child to attend to. Thankfully, we have gone six months without such an event. The baby needed some medical care in her first month, which I was able to address. And Martha has her own therapy and appointments to keep up with, which, so far we’ve been able to do with the baby in tow.
There are three specific challenges to our days. The first is the morning bustle. Our kids leave for the bus early, and we have four to get out the door. Martha requires changing and dressing in the morning, her hair needs taming, and she needs to eat and drink. Martha struggles with some obsessive behavior at times, and gets agitated when she is unable to control her environment. This manifests itself mostly in tantrums. Before her bus comes, she gets upset about numerous things. Maybe she wants her coat on, but it isn’t time yet. She might be in her wheelchair, but her backpack is on the floor and she wants to hold it. One of the boys might be touching her stuff, and she screams at them.
Getting Martha ready for school is a task. It’s made more complicated when the boys are asking for help preparing a lunch, are missing a shoe, or need papers signed. Add a baby to the routine who needs new clothes, a diaper, and wants to nurse first thing in the morning, and one can imagine the chaos.
Mealtimes have also been a challenge. Martha is unable to get up or down from a chair on her own. We need to prepare her a plate of food, and while she can feed herself, we often have to help her take extra bites. I’m usually trying to do this while holding the baby on my side, and bringing food and plates to the dining table. I enlist whomever of my boys are able to help, and they do, but I often need to rally everyone to lay out what is needed to get dinner accomplished. Many days I try to get most of the meal prep done well before dinner, which is helpful. On days when the kids are home from school and I haven’t started the dinner process yet, we’ll often end up eating frozen food or spaghetti. Such is life.Then, leaving the house with two immobile children has been, by far, the biggest feat to date. Martha is an average size for a 4-year old. It’s very difficult to carry both girls at the same time, and I can only do it briefly. Honestly, it’s not safe to carry them both without posing a risk of dropping one of them.
Leaving the house typically involves three trips to the car. One for Martha, one for baby, and the third to switch out whatever stroller works best for the situation. If I don’t have Mark’s help, or my oldest son to carry the baby, I bring the double stroller. If I have hands to hold the baby, we might only need the single stroller, or Martha’s wheelchair. Martha’s wheelchair is nearly impossible to maneuver in grass or dirt, so that’s a factor. (I’ll post later about our stockpile of strollers. It’s impressive!)
It all takes extra time and patience. The lifting, bending, and strength it takes to care for the girls wears me out by the end of the day. We have PCA help in the home, and our PCA has been taking care of Martha since she was a baby. “MJ” takes care of most of Martha’s hygiene and grooming needs during the week, which frees me up greatly. With MJ giving Martha baths, brushing her teeth, and keeping her hair clean, my job is infinitely easier in the mornings preparing Martha for school, Mass, or our weekend activities.
With the weather nicer, I’ve been braver about taking the girls out alone. You’ve never seen a girl more excited to leave the house than Martha. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing or where we go, but Martha is enthusiastic about it, which makes even simple errands more fun. I want to be able to give both girls as many opportunities to be out and about as possible.
They’ll get older, I’ll get more courageous, and nothing will hold my girlies and I back!