I’d daydreamed about how it would be. That magical moment when my daughter came to the hospital to meet her new little brother or sister. She’d proudly cradle the new little bundle of joy in her arms and we’d all smile at the camera, a happy little family of four.
I mean, that’s how it always happens on Facebook, right?
Our first picture as a family of four was just a blurry mass of curls and limbs as my two-year-old tried to dive headfirst off the hospital bed to get as far away as possible from her new red-faced, screaming little sister. What followed was a good six weeks of her refusing to be in the same room as the baby, avoiding me whenever I had the baby in my arms and even dragging the kitchen bin to me and demanding that I deposit her sister in there.
A little intruder- one with a belting pair of lungs on her- had landed smack bang in the middle of the toddler’s perfect world. She was not happy about it – and didn’t we know it.
The first few weeks of being a mother-of-two can be summed up in one word- guilt. It wasn’t the double nappy changes, the sleepless nights or even the stitches from a second degree tear that made it tough. Oh no, that was all a walk in the park compared to the industrial quantities of guilt thrust upon me by the reaction of my first born. Whenever the baby cried, the toddler started howling. I was frequently told to “send her back” and when I did put the baby down, the toddler would gleefully declare “Yay, I’m so happy to have my mommy back again!”. Cue the tears. Me, that is, not the baby or the toddler this time.
While I loved the new arrival with all the strength and passion of the first, one overwhelming question kept popping into my hormonal sleep-deprived baby brain – what the hell had I done? I had built a magical world of day trips, café visits, playgroups and Peppa Pig marathons which revolved entirely around the toddler. She had my undivided attention. We were besties, buddies, sofa snugglers with a bond that nobody else could challenge. And then I had cruelly and savagely pulled the rug out from underneath her little wellied feet (she was going through her ‘I-will-only-wear-wellies-and-nothing-else-not-even-clothes’ phase at the time).
Days of crying (me again) followed. My heart ached every time I looked at my first born and thought of the special bond we once had that now seemed gone forever. Then I’d look at the newborn, completely oblivious to the carnage she’d caused but so dependent and innocent, and I’d be off again.
Then, over time, two things dawned on me.
Toddlers are smart. Don’t bullshit them. From the moment she’d been told about the new baby, everyone had been banging on about how amazing it is to be a big sister and what fun she would have helping to look after her. They’d be best friends for life and she’d always have someone to play with. As it was, the toddler had been presented with a little sister with a bad case of reflux, frequent bouts of colic, an unbelievably loud wail (seriously, this kid is off the scale) and an inability to jump up and down in muddy puddles. And on the rare occasions the toddler did venture into the same airspace as her sister, she was instantly warned to ‘mind her head’ or ‘don’t wake her’ To her, it had been false advertising. So we cut the crap. We stopped telling her it was all going to be sunshine and roses. Instead we told her the baby couldn’t do much yet. That she’d sleep a lot and yes, she would cry a lot and yes, it was a horrible noise and sometimes mommy would have to deal with the baby and sometimes wouldn’t be able to spend every waking moment jumping up and down in imaginary muddy puddles. But it didn’t mean we loved her any less and mommy would try and jump in puddles whenever she could . I know it sounds crazy but I think she appreciated the honesty.
Things would get better. There was a breakthrough. It came around six weeks, I was trying to get the baby to take a dummy and please just stop with the sodding crying. The baby was having none of it and as she spat out the dummy, she made a little noise. A gurgly, generic baby kind of noise but for some reason, to the toddler it was the funniest thing she had ever heard. She ventured into the baby’s airspace (virtually unheard of at this point), peered over at her and then laughed maniacally. She laughed and laughed and laughed. And I laughed too. Partly because her laugh was so infectious and partly with relief. It was the sign I needed that things would be OK, all was not lost. As it was, moments later, the baby trusted a trump, followed through and shat all over her babygro, sending the toddler racing back into the kitchen in sheer panic and disgust. The moment was over but fleeting as it was, it had brought with it the realisation that while there was a long road ahead- probably full of arguments and tantrums- one day all would be fine.
After that I stopped feeling guilty and crying over the old life my toddler had enjoyed as an only child. I started looking forward to the fun and laughter we might have as a family of four. Don’t get me wrong, its four months down the line and the toddler still gets upset when the baby cries and still has moments where she looks longingly at the bin. We’re still striving for the perfect photo of our two girls together. But the photos are getting a little less blurry every day.