I'LL never forget my first day alone with my two children. My husband had returned to work after paternity leave and I now had to get my two-year-old to creche with his two-week-old brother along for the ride.
I was a nervous wreck, stressing about loading up the car, carting baby around in his car seat and ensuring child number one didn't feel alienated.
I felt like I'd been set the biggest challenge ever and was worried about how long it would take to get two kids into their winter woollies and strapped into car seats safely.
The funny thing is that when I had baby number three, I barely gave this kind of thing a second thought. I matter-of-factly dressed them and squeezed all three into the back seat and set off on my missions without breaking a sweat. I'd had 15 months of multi-tasking with two little people, so found that a third child didn't require that much extra effort.
For many, the change from one child to two is hardest.
Becoming a parent is the single most overwhelming situation we find ourselves in. My first-born was a honeymoon baby -- arriving nine months and two days after our wedding -- and its arrival was anticipated with much joy and excitement by both our families. My husband was as thrilled and nervous as I was and liberally doled out extra TLC during the pregnancy. Inconvenient naps were happily facilitated, late-night chocolate runs enthusiastically undertaken and requests for favourite meals dutifully rustled up. Sensing we'd be kissing goodbye to life as we knew it, hubby packed in cinema outings, dinners in favourite restaurants and weekends away to stay with friends.
Our son was born in May and I was fortunate to have his daddy around for the whole summer. Nearing completion of a Masters degree, he combined research with hanging out at home with baby and me. We figured out parenting together and I barely had time to feel overwhelmed by all the work our little bundle now entailed. By the time daddy returned to work in the autumn I was a confident mum happy to manage on my own.
Of course, you're never really on your own with a new baby. As a first-time parent most of us are inundated with offers of help from parents, siblings and best friends who chip in with everything from nappy changing to housework and babysitting. Doting new aunts and uncles queue up to mind junior at the first opportunity but all this help can lull you into a false sense of security. The reality is that things change on baby number two.
For a start, pregnancy number two feels a little more familiar -- although it's a whole lot harder to fit in nap time during the exhausting first trimester. Naps now need to work around junior, and daddy hasn't nearly as much free time to indulge you. Outings require military precision and you're less focused on each other than you were first time around.
Bringing baby number two home is pretty different too. You both now know the ropes, but there's very little time to sit around patting each other on the back for a job well done. You're both too busy feeding the toddler and bonding with new baby to encourage each other to put your feet up and enjoy pots of tea or 40 winks. The people you came to depend on first time round are a little less available too. Everyone's undeniably thrilled to welcome baby into the world, but offers of help dry up much quicker this time as everyone assumes you're now an old pro.
That's a misjudgment on their parts: with twice as much laundry, twice as much feeding and half the amount of sleep on offer, you're more likely to need extra help on baby number two.
TV presenter Colette Fitzpatrick is expecting her second baby in June and is looking forward to the arrival of a daughter. Toddler Milo will be 19 months old, and people keep warning her about how tough she'll find it.
"To be honest the more independent and communicative Milo becomes the less of a worry it is. He's much more content now that he can move about, so he's happier and easier to keep entertained."
She doesn't know how much help she'll need once their daughter is born, but believes there's no point in stressing over this. "All babies have different personalities, so I'm hoping we'll get an easy, content little girl who will be a joy to take care of!"
Of course, anyone who has given birth to twins or triplets on their first pregnancy doesn't even get the chance to hone their parenting skills on a single baby. When journalist Orla Neligan found out she was pregnant for the first time with twins she was "floored, but ecstatic".
Martha and Ruby were born eight weeks early, which meant both had to spend time in Holles Street's Intensive Care Unit. After two weeks Martha came home, but her tiny sister, at 2lb 2oz, had to spend another three weeks in ICU.
Orla visited Ruby every day but she wasn't allowed to bring Martha into the sterile environment with her.
"That meant I had to arrange a family member to babysit at home each day, and juggle my visits around the girls' feeding times. I'd had a Caesarean section, so I wasn't even allowed drive!"
Her husband, Alan, is a hands-on dad who took time off when he could, but the twins' early arrival meant he had to return to work a few days after they were born.
"As my dad said, 'Now's the time not to be polite'; in other words, accept anyone's help if they offer."
Thankfully there were lots of offers, which Orla admits they couldn't have coped without. Her sister took days off work to babysit, her dad drove her to hospital daily and her mum and brother-in-law filled her freezer with dinners.
"Because Ruby had to stay on in hospital we got used to having Martha at home first. That meant we had three introductory weeks of just feeding one at night, so we were able to figure things out a little. Had I gone full-term, I'd have been home after three days with two new babies and zero experience."
Starting life as a parent marks the beginning of a dramatic journey with one of the steepest learning curves imaginable. We all start off with zero experience, yet somehow manage to muddle through and figure things out. Second time around we all have expectations that things should be easier, and in some cases they are. But it's important not to underestimate the seismic impact a second little person will have on home life.
Even the most organised parents can find the pace of life manic and overwhelming at times. That's why it's doubly important to accept help when it's offered and ask for it when you need it. Ditto those cups of tea and late-night chocolate runs. When life's too busy for grand gestures (like meals out, weekends away and eternity rings) nothing says I appreciate you more than a midnight dash for your favourite chocolate treat.