When Once is Not Enough: A Guide to Second Childhood

By Donna Gehrke-White/ Miami Herald
Sat, Oct. 02, 2004

Having a second child can be overwhelming, especially if you have the baby right after the first. You can end up deprived of sleep, sex, time and money — to the point you dream of divorce, which would give you time alone if your ex-husband took the kids on weekends.

In our stress-packed times, a growing number of parents are stopping at one child.

But now Jennifer Bingham Hull of Coral Gables has written a book, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life (Seal Press, $14.95) about all the good things that come with having two kids.

Late jumping into motherhood, she had her first daughter, Isabelle, at 40, followed by a second daughter, Jessica, two years later.

Now 47, she says the early years of having two in diapers was worth it — deprivation and all. ”It was hard but now it’s only to my advantage,” she says.

She has winsome 4- and 6-year-olds who wrap themselves around her neck and tell her how important she is to them — just as Jessica recently did while mom had a newspaper interview.

”For me, the best times are watching them play together,” says Hull, who is close to her two brothers. ”Watching them play together gives me so much joy.” Plus she feels closer to her husband, William ”Bill” Blatt, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, who has taken an equal role in nurturing their two daughters.

”It’s opened a whole new dimension,” Blatt says. “It pulls you out of the Ivory Tower and causes you to grapple with everyday life.”

He has had his share of cleaning up after the girls and taking them to school, birthday parties and their pediatrician. But don’t think Blatt is complaining. Just the heart-to-heart chats in the car are worth it, he says.

”You get a sense of what their little world is like,” he says. “It’s an investment, an opportunity, you will never have again.”

More fathers are appreciating that. His author wife says research shows that men spend more time with the kids and doing chores around the house after the second child arrives.

But, she adds, the early days are often rocky. Forget romance or even just time alone with your soul mate. ”Studies find the birth of a second child commences the most difficult year in a marriage,” Hull writes.

”I think the biggest change or biggest issue is that with two children — especially when they are close in age — there is no down time,” says Dr. Andrew Wenger, a Coral Gables psychologist and UM assistant professor.

But, as Hull found out, having two children turns into a plus as they get older. ”They are able to entertain each other,” Wenger agrees.

Her husband says he doesn’t mind the extra work from a second child because their family is more balanced: There’s a child for each parent.

Blatt joked that when they first had Isabelle, “for family outings, mommy would carry baby — and daddy would carry the stuff. I did what I could but it was not the best situation for me.”

Still, having more than one child is not for everyone.

The percentage of women with only one child has more than doubled in 20 years, from 10 percent in 1982 to more than 23 percent in 2002, according to the U.S. Census.

Some career-oriented couples stop at one child so they have time — and focus — for both work and family. Other women, especially those who have children later in life, find they cannot get pregnant a second time.

But some couples find themselves with two kids so close together, Wenger says, because they spent years trying to have a first child and don’t want to waste a chance at having a second.

Hull was in that situation.

She wrote for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine and then became a freelance foreign correspondent in Nicaragua in the early 1990s.

She concentrated on her writing career and married relatively late.

After she moved to Miami to be with her husband, she switched to focusing on writing for Salon.com and magazines, from Atlantic Monthly to Working Mother.

After her two girls were born, Hull began writing about parents and children. A Seal Press editor spotted one of her parenting essays and called: Was she interested in writing a book about having a second child?

The editor, pregnant with her second child, was frustrated by the lack of information about coping with two kids. Hull was interested. ”I’d always wanted to write a book,” she says.

Now she’s mulling a second book — perhaps about the issues women face in midlife now that so many have come to motherhood later in life.

But, she adds laughing, a book is like having a baby.

“Now that I know how much work it is, I’m not quite ready to jump into a second one — yet.”

Herald Staff Writer Tim Henderson contributed to this report.

About Jennifer

A former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Time, Jennifer is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life and pens the MidAge Mom blog.

She’s profiled exceptional women from the Middle East to Latin America. Widely published, her essays have been included in two anthologies.

Jennifer is also a frequent radio and TV guest. Full Bio

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In Beyond One, Jennifer chronicles her leap from one child to two, describing the enormous impact the second child has on a woman’s body, marriage, family life, friendships and work.

"Hull is the kind of woman many moms long to be friends with. . ." -The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Credits

The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Atlantic Monthly, CNN.com, MS., Parenting, Real Simple, Salon.com, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Working Mother, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, American Way, Brain, Child, The Christian Science Monitor, and more.