When Baby Makes Four
I was standing in line at a bagel shop, behind a mother with two children; she had one propped on her hip with a pacifier, while also hanging onto the hand of her toddler. I suddenly recalled myself as a new mother of two and how overwhelming everything, even simple errands, felt at times.
I felt busier yes, and more harried than ever—but also more into the family thing.
My thoughts turned to the evening before, as I was privileged to help one grandson get acquainted with his new little brother at the hospital, after a routine but very quick delivery in January. Yes, my daughter Michelle, who writes guest columns here once a month and who wrote recently about their pending transition from one child to two, had their baby.
Not only that, we had learned at Christmas that our middle daughter—the one who beat her older sister to the draw in having “the first grandchild”—was also expecting again. We were elated, even though I didn’t jump a foot off the floor as I did when she made her first announcement!
How wonderful, two more cousins close in age! That makes at least three boys added to our family, but we’ll have to wait until July to find out whether Tanya and Jon’s expected little one is a boy or girl.
Looking at the mother of two in front of me at the bagel shop, I remembered how with two children—and a total family of four at the time—I felt busier, yes, and more harried than ever—but also more into the family thing. One child suits many parents just fine and that’s great. But for me, with just one child, I felt more like we were just a couple with a child. Three separate individuals. And yes, a complete family unit, but four tends to even up the score. Now there’s a child for each parent to cuddle, to hold, to read to, and to hold hands with while crossing streets. The web of relationships in a family has multiplied manifold: there’s brother to brother; brother to Dad; brother to Mother; a triad of Mother, Dad, and brother #1; Mother, Dad, and brother #2, and so on.
At the hospital with this most recent birth, my youngest daughter videotaped older brother meeting his little brother for the first time; as I view it again, I reflect on the tremendous changes the average toddler faces as another child joins the family. Fill in your own child or grandchild’s name here.
First James enters a big hospital he doesn’t remember being in before and going up to a room where he’s going to see Mother. Even if they made a pre-birth get-acquainted visit to the hospital, things are suddenly more real. In the eyes of young James, he likely pondered:
Is my Mommy here? Why? Where has she been for the last day? Why hasn’t she been at home? What’s going on? My daddy opens the door and we walk into a dark and funny looking room. There’s Mommy in a new bed, dressed in something weird, and holding something. They say it is my new brother. Is Mommy okay? Why does she have those plastic wires on her arms?
What happened to Mommy? I’m scared of her, and that thing on her lap. Is it a doll like mine? I run to Grandma and say Grandma’s name, and she hugs me. Oh, that must be the baby on Mommy’s lap everyone’s been talking about. They ask me if I know his name. Henry, they say. Can I say it? Okay, I say: “Henry.” That makes them happy. Oh and my “Au Doween” [Aunt Doreen] is videotaping everything. What is going on?
Grandma takes my coat off. There, I feel better, maybe I belong here too, in this picture. The baby can’t talk or walk or even sit up and he’s so little. Like my doll.
Not only is big brother figuring things out, Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa are all trying to pay attention to the firstborn child and heed the needs of the new arrival.
While the addition of a new family member is precious and celebrated, everyone is in for myriad changes. Too often we do not make enough allowance for or recognize the sea change that has occurred, especially in the older child’s world, where he or she doesn’t truly understand what’s happening. Along with losing sleep and feeding adjustments, a new family unit is born and everyone needs time and extra love to jump these hurdles. But so worth it, in my book!
Just for fun, if you’d like my book on the challenges of early parenting, titled Working, Mothering and Other “Minor” Dilemmas, which I wrote back when Michelle was the age of her older son now, I’ll be happy to send it to you. Write to MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.