Juggling Two Under Two
By Linda Kerr
Cara Fox placed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the table for her 20-month-old son, and then turned around to make herself lunch, only to hear her 3-month-old baby screaming at the top of his lungs. Whipping back around, she saw her well-meaning toddler force-feeding the baby his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Fox was fortunate in averting disaster, but this small gesture of “sharing” gone awry is just one example of many mishaps parents may encounter when raising two kids under 2, an increasingly common birth strategy.
In the streets and at the malls, sightings of double strollers filled not with twins, but with closely spaced siblings (typically less than two years apart), are more frequent these days. For a variety of reasons, this trend of “two under two” is on the rise – creating the baby bunching phenomenon.
Why Baby Bunch?
According to the medical community, the ideal spacing of siblings is two and a half to three years, to help give mom’s body enough time to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth. And while many families adhere to this medical advice, others are taking the baby bunching route by fast tracking their families with little time to spare between babies #1, #2 and even baby #3.
Many couples choose to have children close together for several reasons: staring down the biological clock, getting childbearing “over with” so they can go back to work and wanting children to have siblings near in age as playmates, says Dr. Linnda Durré, a licensed psychotherapist, columnist and speaker.
With more women wanting to start and establish a career before having a family, waiting until their late 20s or early 30s to start a family is becoming more common, she says. Baby bunching is an obvious solution for those who hear the tick of the biological clock. In fact, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics Report, the average age for a first-time mom is between 25 and 29 years old, and new moms between the ages of 35 and 39 have risen to the highest level in three decades.
Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and author of the bestselling book Baby 411, agrees. “This leaves a mom wanting to have a certain number of kids and less time to accomplish that, especially if she is trying to avoid having ‘Advanced Maternal Age’ on her medical chart. Those moms often feel pressured to have closely spaced pregnancies if they want to have more than one child.”
Once a woman has started down the family path, baby bunching makes sense for moms who want to take a step off the career ladder and then go back to work a few years later. Durré says she sees many women who go this route for several reasons. The first is so they can go back to work quickly—it’s easier to have closely spaced babies and then jump back in after taking two or three years off. The second reason is that parents often are already looking to retirement by saying, “Let’s get it out of the way now so we still have retirement to enjoy.’
Jean Haas, 35, who lives in Wheaton, has three boys. The first two are 18 months apart, and the third is two years behind the second. She says that even though it was hard with two toddlers and a baby, she is a firm believer in having kids close together. “Although I did spend six-and-a-half years with one or more kids in diapers, I feel like I got it all out of the way at once. I stayed in practice. Even though I've gone through many years of very intense parenting, we're now able to start enjoying life with older kids. If we'd spaced them out more, we'd still be in the thick of diapers and teaching kids to walk.”
Providing siblings with instant playmates can help build the relationship between siblings from an early age. Durré says families choosing to do this will benefit from siblings who are emotionally closer and have more things in common than those who are further apart. This becomes a great support system, since the siblings can function as a unit as parents get older.
As a pediatrician, Brown points out that bringing a new baby home to a toddler who isn’t physically able to verbalize his frustrations of sharing Mom or Dad can make it easier, since the older child never remembers life before he had to share the limelight. In that way children grow up together going through many of the same milestones at the same time or one right after another, she says.
Julie Nelson Ingoglia, 34, of the District, has a 3-year-old and 21-month-old. “The older one does not ever really remember a time without his sister,” she says. “Having them this close was not a conscious decision but one that I have never regretted for a minute. They play with most of the same toys. I like seeing them as friends, and I love that they are in the same day care/school and the younger is able to interact with all the older one’s friends.”
For Haas, having her three boys close in age has been a great benefit since her second son has autism. “He has one brother one year ahead of him in school to help him and a brother two years behind him in school to help him. He’s never going to be alone at school. He’ll always have a buddy with him. That wouldn’t be the case if we’d spaced our children farther apart,” she says.
However, Dr. Robert Atlas, who is the chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, cautions that women should be aware of the medical risks associated with having kids close in age. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women wait and plan to give birth until the older child is between 18 and 24 months. “We know there is an increased risk of preterm birth in women who conceive within six months of gestation. Many articles talk about a year, but the real risk is less than six months. The [body] has not quite recovered from the prior birth, and that can lead to early deliveries and mid-trimester losses. In Baltimore City, the Fetal Infant Mortality Review specifically identified a large number of cases, and the amazing part was how many patients who had early deliveries and got pregnant right away had repeat preterm births and fetal deaths.”
The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.
The early years of baby bunching can be difficult for parents with diaper changes, screaming tantrums times two, sleep disruptions, potty training and double strollers. Just running simple errands can be a major feat. Toddlers are determined little people and aren’t always aware of the consequences of darting into the parking lot.
With only so many hands to juggle it all, getting from Point A to B may be one of the most difficult tasks for baby bunching moms. “It's one thing to take a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old child out. It's another thing if you add a 5-year-old in the middle. And it's even harder when that spread is newborn plus 2-year-old plus 3-and-a-half-year-old. It's hard to wrangle more than one toddler at a time,” Haas says.
Ingoglia says while she never expected this to be an easy gig, she actually finds it harder now that her children are older. When dealing with kids so close in age, it’s hard to determine whose needs should be met first. “For better or worse, my rule of thumb seems to be whoever is having the most scream-infested day/morning/hour gets the item first as there is only so much screaming I can cope with,” she says.
Without a doubt it gets easier as kids get older, perhaps until both kids are in college at the same time. But Brown recommends that parents really take a look at their own support system and personalities before going this route, along with getting the green light from their obstetrician.
Although baby bunching entails a good four or more years of juggling constant needs, most Baby Bunchers agree that when the dust settles, the payoffs are big and they wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Linda Kerr is a freelance writer and baby buncher of two in Reston. She writes at www.babybunching.com.
Another Baby? Inconceivable!
For some moms, baby bunching is an accidental by-product of prior fertility problems. After undergoing months or years of stress and heartbreak while trying to conceive child number one, many couples assume that post-baby birth control or even attempting to plan for child number two are moot points.
Couples who struggled with fertility problems frequently find themselves accidentally baby bunching. After a year of trying to conceive, Loren Carson of Herndon and her husband were preparing for fertility testing when she got pregnant. They wanted a second child, but assumed their past difficulties of conceiving combined with breastfeeding meant her chances of getting pregnant again immediately were slim. She was wrong. By the time Carson found out she was expecting her second, she was already eight weeks along. Her children will be 21 months apart.
Other baby bunchers were inspired to get a jump start on the second child simply because it was so difficult to conceive the first. They knowingly embraced the risks of having kids close together because closely spaced children, while a lot of work, would further their goal of expanding a family.
Kate Forte of Reston struggled to become pregnant with her first child for almost a year. After being told by doctors that she may not be able to conceive without surgery, she found out the same month she was pregnant. When her daughter was 10 months old, she and her husband began talking about the second baby. “We figured that since getting pregnant the first time was some kind of a fluke, it might take us ages to do it again, if ever. Of course we got pregnant right away,” Forte said. She’s due in June with her second, and her first will be 19 months old.