It's been seven months since we became a family of four, though we still appear to be a family of three because our baby won't be born for another two months. However, when you experience extreme, extended morning sickness, the baby makes his or her arrival sometime between week 4 and week 7 of pregnancy rather than after 9 months. This means that, for my only child, things began to change almost immediately after she heard the news that she was a big sister.
Now, you'd think that all this would really put a damper on her mood in regards to her little brother, but she has miraculously overcome the difficulties and adapted her behavior accordingly. This adaptation wasn't without some tantrums and growing pains, but with each new trial, my awe-inspiring three-year old graciously accepted her new circumstances after one to three weeks of denial, tantrums, and/or bad attitudes. It has come with a lot of heart-to-hearts and patience from all three of us: Daddy, Mommy, and Bunny. We talk about how amazing babies are and how wonderful it will be when her baby brother finally comes out of me and we can see him for the first time. I tell her all about how I was terribly sick when she was in my tummy too, but it was worth it all when she came out and we all got to meet for the first time. I let her know that little babies who are growing in their Mommies' tummies need lots of special attention and care and that's why Mommies sometimes get sick, because the babies are being made out of nothing. In response, I see Bunny acting out the scenarios she sees happening in our home. She often has a baby in her belly who makes her very sick and she lets me know that her dollies have baby brothers (but usually sisters) on the way. When I declare that I can't eat a certain item because I might throw up, she feels she can't eat it either, and she often declares that the baby in her tummy makes her too tired to do certain things so she has to lie down. I hear positive things too, like how the imaginary child in her womb is sticking his toes out and they're really cute, or how she likes to “feel” him wiggling around.
She interacts with the real little brother in my belly in some amazingly cute ways as well. She'll get out her stethoscope and examine my belly button, assuring me that it is a window into her brother's world. Usually when she pokes around at my belly button, her brother rewards her with a kick or some wiggles and I let her know how excited he is to hear her voice and that he must love her very, very much. She rarely has the patience to sit still with her hand on my belly and actually wait to feel him kick, but once in awhile it happens and she loves it. There was one day in particular that I was lying down while she did my hair and my phone was sitting on my belly. Suddenly, the phone began bouncing and wiggling all around as the boy inside awoke and she was so thrilled. My most memorable interaction between the siblings happened one morning when my daughter was trying furtively to get my husband and I out of bed. I finally sat up and she wrapped her little arms tightly around my torso. I was so touched and I commented, “Oh, honey, I love when she hugs me like this!” Bunny responded, “I'm not hugging you, Mommy, I'm hugging my baby brother!” As much as I was a little disappointed that her affection wasn't intended for me, I was just as thrilled that she loves him so much.
We have lots of conversations about how life is going to be different when he arrives. I talk about how I'm going to need lots and LOTS of help from her with changing diapers, and holding his hand, singing to him, and playing with him. We talk about how cute he will be and how much fun it will be to dress him. She loves picking out clothes, blankets, and toys for him when we go shopping with that intention in mind and whenever I knit or sew something new for him and show it to her she responds appreciatively usually saying something like, “Awww! That's so cute!” or “He will love that!” We've talked a lot about my boobs, because for whatever reason she's suddenly fascinated with them and I remind her of how she used to nurse. I tell her that they're getting bigger because they're filling with milk and when the baby is born he'll drink from them all the time just the way she used to. She smiles and responds by touching them and trying to inspect them further. She even told me, “Mom, your boobs are distracting me,” and another time, “Mom, I just love these boobs!” I wonder if this reaction is because she nursed until she was a little over two and remembers the bond, or if she's just fascinated with my new body. In any case, I'm not going to lie that I think it's a little weird, but I just respond to all of her questions and comments and we talk about how cool it is that God puts milk in Mommies' boobies for their babies.
Of course, we talk about how some things will change in ways she may not like. I told her that sometimes her brother will cry a lot, and I'll have to hold him most of the time which means that there will be times when she'll want to be held that I won't be able to hold her. She usually wrinkles her brow when we talk about that, but I remind her how much I had to hold her. In fact, I wore her in a Moby wrap during just about all of her waking hours because she cried so much. “Babies can't do anything, Bunny, so at first their Mommies need to hold them all the time. That's why I'm going to need you to help me a lot. I'll bet you're going to be a big help!” When I include her in the baby-caring responsibilities, she seems to be able to swallow the pill of sharing attention much better.
I guess I could be doing more to prepare her for when her baby brother comes like reading her books about being a big sister or showing her age-appropriate movies, but I haven't really focused on that. I did let her watch portions of “The Business of Being Born” so she could see what childbirth was like (though I wouldn't do it again because I don't want her picking up any four-letter words) and she watched a little video on nursing that Babycenter.com put out. I don't like watering down things like childbirth for her. She worried when the ladies were yelling or crying so we just talked through it until she was reassured that everything was all right. And then, of course, each laboring woman was rewarded with a cute little baby and she thought that was fantastic. Seeing those real-life images seemed to help put things into perspective for her and she has embraced the idea of childbirth and nursing wholeheartedly.
Other preparations for the baby include moving her from her old room. Initially, she didn't like this idea. You see, my last three months of her pregnancy were during the summer so I had nothing but time to prepare our house for her. That preparation included a full mural (4 walls and the ceiling) of my favorite Bible parable: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, including a shepherd and all 100 sheep. It took me 3 months to paint that room and it is a work of love that I will be loathe to leave behind when we move one day. Bunny is attached to those sheep. They're hers and they've always been hers. At first, I said that her baby brother might get her old room. That wasn't the best approach. “But Mommy, those are my sheep!”
“Well, I painted them for you and all the babies I would have,” I responded. But she wasn't convinced. When we found out that the baby would be a boy and that she would, in fact, need a separate room, my husband and I decided to give her my craft room and give the new baby the sheep room. This time, we approached it this way: “Bunny, guess what??? You're going to get a new room!!! Isn't that great?” This time, she was thrilled to the core and actively participated in giving her opinion on colors, fabric choices, and furniture. Now, she is nicely settled in her new room and only too happy to give her old one away to her little brother.
We have two months to go, now, and there are days where all the progress we feel we've made with our daughter are lost. There are days where she insists she doesn't know how to put her shoes on or take off her pajamas, and days where she forgets how to use a stepstool to turn off the light or how to lift the cover of the potty. We pick our battles. Some days, we indulge her in her “forgetfulness” and do the things she wants from us. We realize that, first of all, her days of getting all the attention are numbered and it won't hurt her to get just a little more, and second of all, that soon she'll feel too big and too old and too accomplished to need us to kiss her boo boos and put on her dresses. But then there are other days where we insist that she do these things on her own. We don't want her to have formed bad habits of being unnecessarily dependent when the baby comes and we really need her to be able to do some things on her own. It's a fine balance and I'm not sure I know how to do it all, but I guess that as long as we approach the whole thing with love and understanding, she'll be raised right.
When the baby's actually here, I don't expect that our daughter will remember everything we've tried to teach her. I hope that things will go smoothly and that she'll feel nothing but warm fuzzies when she thinks of her new brother, but I'm also realistic enough to know that this might not be the case, at least not all the time. There will be days with tantrums, jealousy, and resentment. There will be days where she regresses to old behaviors to try to regain what used to be all hers. But I hope, too, that there will be days of three and four-way snuggles, days of sibling affection, and days where she chooses to be responsible and help out her family as much as possible. At this point, I can't really know what it will be like because I've never observed this particular child with a new sibling. But I'll do what I can to prepare her and pray for the best when the moment of truth comes. Ultimately, I feel that the whole experience will be an overall positive one for all of us.