V is a truly awesome kid. I know, I know…I’m his mom so I’m pretty biased but this past year has really shown me what a fantastic, thoughtful, caring little boy we’ve been blessed with. Last winter, while I was overjoyed to find out we were expecting a sibling for our little man, I was also worried about how to tell V, how it would change our relationship with him, and honestly if I could love another child as much as I loved my miracle baby. For 3.5 years V had had all of our love, attention, resources and focus….how could we possibly divide that with another baby? And how would we help V adjust to sharing all of those things? I’m told these are common concerns for repeat parents-to-be and that it would all come out in the wash, but if you know me and my control-freak self, I wanted to have a solid plan in place to make sure our transition from 1 to 2 went smoothly.
First of all we had to decide when to tell V that a little brother/sister was on its way. Because there is a large-ish gap between our children and V is old enough to understand most things I felt like we should wait until I was almost done my first trimester to share our news. V is a sensitive kid and I didn’t want to tell him a sibling was coming if we experienced early complications or a miscarriage. You never know, so I felt it was easier to tell him just before we told other friends/family. Obviously there comes a point, typically when your stomach could block out the sun, that older kids will probably notice there is something unusual going on, but early on it’s pretty easy to keep it to yourself.
One other reason we didn’t share about the baby early on is because I was so sick and we didn’t want V forming any negative connotations in regards to his sibling. Kids are typically pretty sensitive and if we’d told him ‘Well baby is making Mommy sick’ we worried he’d think this baby was a pretty terrible thing. The fun part about all this was that I was brutally sick with Mr. A. Vomiting and nausea, all day, every day, for the first 14 or so weeks. Of course V noticed that I spent most of my time lying in a dark room with a cold cloth on my head trying to keep my breakfast/lunch/dinner down but since he has no concept of ‘morning (ha!) sickness’ he just thought I was plain old sick. We also told him about my kidney issues right away since they involved 3 separate (middle of the night) ER trips before I hit my second trimester.
When we did tell V we didn’t make it a big deal. We sat on the couch while he was dancing/playing around the living room and told him he was getting a brother/sister. Of course, V being 3 at the time and not understanding how babies are made, started looking around the room like his sibling was about to magically appear. We explained that baby would grow in Mommy’s ‘tummy’ until after his birthday (well we got close!) and then he’d come out and play. We also put more emphasis on what a great big brother he was going to be, rather than how a new baby was arriving. We sold it like a promotion and everyone with toddlers knows that they love anything that makes them feel important or grown up. Luckily V had had a baby cousin born in Jan of 2014 so he at least understood the concept of what a baby looked/sounded like. V, in his typical way, nodded, took the announcement in stride, and went back to playing. In the toddler mind if it’s not happening right that second, then it’s not really all that exciting.
One thing we made sure to NOT do when we told V was start by asking him if he wanted a brother or sister. Let’s be honest, at that point it didn’t really matter if he wanted it or not, so it was better to just tell him what was happening. We also didn’t ask him if he’d prefer a brother or a sister…babies aren’t really the ‘made to order’ type. We had him ‘guess’ what the baby was before our gender ultrasound but he didn’t really seem to care either way. My advice here is essentially don’t let your child feel like they have a choice, when they really don’t. It’s not like asking them if they’d prefer milk or juice with breakfast…
Another element A and I discused was how involved with the pregnancy we wanted V to be. He was 3 and a half when we told him about our impending arrival so he was definitely old enough to understand what was happening but still young enough to be impatient or distracted at appointments/ultrasounds etc. We decided that V wouldn’t be attenting any of my pre-natal appointments, tests or ultrasounds. Baby doctor appointments, especially high risk ones, are long and they would have required him to sit still and quietly which is hard to do for any normal 3-4 year old. Some days I would be at the hospital ALL DAY…ultraound for an hour in the am then a 3+ hr wait to see my high risk OB. Not really fun for an active little boy and stressful for me as well. My in-laws were great about watching him while I was at appointments and he had fun hanging out with his cousins all summer!
We, of course, would show him the ultrasound pictures when I got home and he loved looking at them and trying to pick out his brother’s features! He’d ask to see ‘his’ baby sometimes during the day and we’d let him look at the scans as much or as little as he wanted. We also let him touch my belly and feel his brother kick when I got far enough along. This weirded him out honestly and he only did it a couple times. Around 20 weeks when I was getting bigger he started asking me daily if his brother was coming out to play yet which was a little freaky since we’d had one pre-term kiddo already. I took it as a good sign that he was so excited to meet his little sibling. V also got to hear baby A’s heartbeat once during one of my many hospital stays. This was probably the most excited I’d seen him…he loved it! He told us ‘Baby August’ was talking to him.
We had also decided that V would not be present when I went into labour. I’m not a big fan of sharing that with anyone other than my husband and we didn’t want family in the waiting room etc this time either. My parents were lifesavers and took V to their house for numerous weeks in the summer when I was so sick with my kidneys and Andrew was at work. They agreed to pick V up when I went into labour (or was being induced as it ended up) and they’d bring him back to visit his sibling when we were ready. This was a hard decision to make since we didn’t want V thinking he’d been ‘replaced’ while he was away, but it ended up being a pretty smooth transition. V has a lifetime to spend with his little brother so waiting an extra day to see him after he was born wasn’t going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
I’ll be honest, I spent a lot of my pregnancy randomly in tears about how the whole ‘new baby’ thing would change our family dynamic. We’d had almost 4 years to get into a pretty smooth routine and as happy as I was to welcome a new life into our family I was also worried that we’d be living in chaos for the next 14-18 years. I had all of these plans to savour and celebrate V’s last summer as an only child. We were going to go to Canada’s Wonderland, visit the CN Tower, see many, many Jays games at the Rogers Centre! We were going to spend all summer, just the three of us, enjoying our calm before the storm. And then we didn’t…
At 21 weeks I was admitted to the hospital with devastatingly painful hydronephrosis and had a tube inserted into my kidney. At 26 weeks I had a recurrent infection that required another hospitalization and a permanent PICC line inserted. I’d get to carry a portable IV pump until I delivered. I had another hospitalization in August because my left kidney had blocked (although 2 hrs before my surgery for my second nephrostomy tube it cleared Thank God!). I had my tube changed once a week, met with an Infectious Disease specialist every two weeks, my high risk OB weekly due to blood pressure issues, had weekly progesterone shots in my backside to help keep Mr. A inside longer than his brother, AND monthly meetings with my urologist. I was at risk for septic infection, pre-term labour and strokes/seizures. I was told by all 4 of my departments that I wasn’t allowed to leave the city…I had to be within 30 mins of the hospital at all times. There went all of our summer plans….
This was incredibly hard, not just on my body, but mentally as well, for me and for A and V. V was shuttled back and forth between my fantastic in-laws and my amazing parents. All in all V was in Niagara over a month last summer when you add up his various trips. He was there so often he called it his ‘Niagara House’. Luckily he adores my parents and vice versa so he had a great time visiting them, playing outside, splashing in his kiddie pool and learning to use the toilet like a big boy. Have I mentioned how much I love my parents? We wouldn’t have gotten through last summer without them. I’m so blessed to have family who loves our child like we do and literally re-arranged their whole lives to help us out. I was so overwhelmed by their love and thoughtfulness that it’s brought me to tears more than once.
When V was back in London he spent his days with my sister-in-law and his cousins. Sometimes being dropped off at 3am when we were rushing back to the hospital with pre-term contractions, blood pressure spikes or kidney issues. Do you know what a relief it is to know you have someone to call when you have a middle of the night emergency? Huge! I also still live in awe that my sister-in-law was able to convince him to nap at her house on a regular basis…
As awesome as all this was for us, imagine how it was for V. He’s not old enough to really understand why all of this shuffling around was going on. All he knew was that some days Mommy was home in bed and he went to Auntie C’s house for the day, then he’d come home and give her a snuggle. Some days Grandma and Grandpa would come pick him up and he’d come home in a week (or more). Other times he’d head to Auntie C’s and then after he’d visit Mommy at the hospital because they’d ‘kept’ her. He started to get anxious when I’d tell him I was going to the doctor, asking me if I’d be home after. He’d cry on Skype asking us if he could come home like he was in some kind of exile. This was absolutely heartbreaking but honestly it was better that he had a stable routine especially during weeks I had multiple procedures.
As much as I wanted to spend all of my time with him I was physically unable to. Between all of these appointments I was on bedrest for my blood pressure, or recovering from having my tube replaced. I couldn’t lift him, bend down or chase after him. I couldn’t bathe myself so how was I supposed to help him? I felt useless and awful that I’d ruined his ‘last’ summer. And then I realized I was being stupid. All in all, V had a great summer! He was the number one guy for a lot of people last year! Our whole family pulled together to make sure he had a pretty awesome summer despite the chaos happening at home. He got to travel, see Blue Jays games, swim and run around outside. Sadly I wasn’t able to really participate but the summer was supposed to be all about him…and it was.
After all the chaos, to be honest, A’s arrival was pretty anti-climatic. He really does deserve his own post on that so I’ll skip to our first meet and greet! V was with my parents during my labour and delivery and was finally able to come visit his new sibling on his 4th birthday! Our b-day gift to him was a doctor’s appointment for vaccines so he could get into the NICU. Andrew got to tell V that Baby August had arrived the day after he was born, but V didn’t come down to London until the Monday evening to meet him. My parents brought V up to the NICU and we helped him sanitize his hands and walked him down to Baby A’s private suite (The ‘new’ NICU is pretty freakin’ swanky let me tell you!). On our quick walk we explained to him what he was about to see. Baby A was in a special crib to help keep him warm, he had a mask on his face to help him breathe (like Bane) and was on a special blanket that made him glow! He was too little to hold right now but he’s so excited to meet his awesome big brother! V skipped down the hallway, anxious to meet this little person who’d been hiding in Mommy’s belly!
What followed made me sob like a baby. V was the sweetest, most loving big brother I’ve ever seen. He sighed when he saw his ‘beautiful baby’ and whispered to him that everything would be okay now, Vaughan was here. He blew kisses into the isolette and kept telling us how amazing his baby brother was. It was such a special moment for the 4 of us and I’ll carry those memories with me forever. V was so sad that Baby A had to stay at the hospital until he was big and strong but he promised his little brother he’d come visit him again. Heartbreakingly beautiful…that’s my boy!
August was in the NICU for 16 days and V was able to come for several visits after he arrived back home. When we brought him for visits we encouraged him to give his brother kisses on the forehead, ‘help’ give him a bath and even help us hold his bottle. He loved being so hands-on! One thing we never pushed though was contact with his brother. If he didn’t want to give him a kiss then that was his choice. We explained that it would be nice if he did it, and his brother loved his kisses, but if he wasn’t feeling it I wasn’t about to hold a screaming toddler over a 4 lb something infant forcing them to snuggle. We tried very hard not to create any negative emotions surrounding our new addition. When V visited the NICU it was all about what he could do to help!
When we finally brought Baby A home, V was over the moon! He wanted to help with everything and we still try to keep him very involved. He would sit next to him and rock his chair, replace a dropped soother, and sing him songs when he was sad. He was everything we’d imagined he’d be as a big brother and now, 7 months in, he’s exactly the same. V will shush us when he see his little brother sleeping, pick up dropped toys and come find us if he thinks Baby A is hungry or sad.
The one thing V doesn’t do is hold his brother. Not that he doesn’t want to, but let’s be honest. Baby A is considerably bigger than V was as a baby…and quickly gaining on how big V is as a 4.5 year old. V weighs a whopping 27 lbs…and August is quickly approaching 17 lbs at 7 months (delightfully average for the most part!). V just can’t hold that much squirming baby safely, so we keep the snuggles to the bed or playmat.
V is a very protective older brother, he worries if Baby A isn’t with us. He doesn’t like when I take him for doctors appointments and makes me promise that I won’t let the doctors keep him because August is ‘big’ now. He gives me a stern talking to if Baby A doesn’t come with me to pick him up from school. If we’re going somewhere he wants to make sure Baby A can come too. He’s eagerly awaiting the day that Baby A can play with him and they can have sleepovers. He tells people that Baby A is his best friend. Oh…and he also asks me not to swallow Baby August anymore…he didn’t like it in my belly apparently.
I did have someone ask how we ‘made’ the boys get along. The answer is ‘We don’t’. Kids are just like everyone else…sometimes you just want time alone, you aren’t feeling affectionate, or they’re just plain getting on your nerves. We respect V’s personal space and if he wants to play by himself, away from his brother, for an hour or so, he’s free to do that. I don’t believe you can force anyone to get along, even siblings, and there will be a lot less resentment, if you just let things unfold organically. I should also probably mention, on the other side of the spectrum, Baby A is obsessed with V…No-one else can get a smile or laugh quite as quickly as V can when it comes to our August-man.
We are so glad Baby A came into our lives and it’s also nice to know that he and V will always have each other. Siblings are for life, and good or bad, they’ll be each other’s rocks when they’re older. Now to get prepared for when August starts grabbing V’s toys….wish me luck!