With his first child, a good friend of mine used to prepare for a one-hour trip with her to the park as if it were a week-long hike through a rain forest. He carried a knapsack filled with extra diapers, creams, wipes, a blanket, a bottle, a backup bonnet, a few rattles, and countless other accoutrements. By the time his son arrived a few years later, he'd just shove a spare diaper into his back pocket, grab a few extra wipes, and head out the door with the boy in his arms.
"Now I know I can handle it," he told me. "It's no big deal."
It was the same with his wife's second pregnancy. Other fathers I've spoken with agree. The first time, it feels like a voyage into the unknown for both of you. Every mood change, every twinge, every shift in body shape is magnified because it is so new. The second time around you both have a map, which gives you a better sense of when something's off course.
Common wisdom has it that fathers are less emotionally involved in a second pregnancy than in a first. It's more likely, however, that our involvement is different because we're paying attention to different things. Our frames of reference have shifted. As with my friend's trips to the park, the mechanics are no longer a big deal. We know that the morning sickness will pass, and that we will probably gain a few "sympathy" pounds during those nine months, too. We stock up ahead of time on those foods most likely to be craved in the middle of the night.
The second time around, our attention is divided. We can no longer just focus on ourselves and on our partner; we have to pay attention to our other child, too. What does he or she think about this? How will we, as a family, handle all the changes?
Other new thoughts enter our minds, cropping up when we least expect them. Were we simply lucky that our first baby is healthy? Will we feel the same way about our second child as we do about our first? How will we pay for college? Is our home big enough? How secure are our jobs? What if something goes terribly wrong?
It's important to talk about these concerns. Bringing them into the open helps put them into perspective. One excellent way to do this is to sign up for another prenatal class. Yes, you've been through it before; you can probably remember the panting and breathing exercises, the plastic models and the backrubs. But this time you'll enter the class as an experienced traveler. Other students will seek your wisdom. You'll be able to hear some of the things you missed the first time around.
And you'll learn what's different this time, and what you can do to help.