The first thing I felt when I stared at my positive pregnancy test was guilt. By that time, Sawyer was 1 year and 9 months and was taking up every inch of my time and energy day in and day out. What if someone were to happen to me during childbirth and I left him without a Mummy? What if I couldn’t give him the attention he needed once a brother or sister came along and took up a big portion of the time I’d always allocated to him? How could I possibly have considered bringing another child in to the world when my heart was already so full of Sawyer and my mind was so full of everything it meant to be his Mummy?
At that point I was member of an online forum, filled with other mums, expectant mums and their experiences. Alongside the steady stream of invaluable information each day came, as you would expect, competitiveness and judgement. Shortly after finding out I was pregnant, I remember lurking on threads where the topic of conversation was scathingly similar to my own situation – it isn’t unusual on parenting forums to find other parents with a small age gap between children. One comment, unfairly to both the person who posted as well as me, still rings in my ears and pushes my heart downwards. Her eldest son was 4 and her youngest was around 2 years old. I remember feeling numb and disbelieving as she decided merrily that a 2 year age gap was perfect because the toddler is able to help you with simple tasks like bringing you a nappy and fetching the wet wipes. She happily described the way her son had helped her out at such a young age. I looked up from my screen and called Sawyer’s name in sing-song tone. Nothing. I tried again. Again, nothing. “Sawyer, do you want some chocolate?”. Nothing.
We found out we were having a little girl during a private scan when she was around 17 weeks gestation. By that point the initial feelings of guilt had lessened and I realised that we were about to give Sawyer the greatest gift of all time. I am 1 of 4 siblings (two crazy sisters, one crazy brother) and I cannot imagine what life would be like without them. Having siblings, to me, is like having friends that you know will have your back no matter what crazy shit you do to get yourself in trouble. My husband and I had started to get excited about the prospect of having a little girl, and so began the process of baby clothes, blankets, breast-pads, overnight bags and tens machines. When the kicks began, I knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be, and already I loved that baby girl with such inexplicable fierceness.
A few weeks later, I got chatting to a colleague who I don’t chat to all that much – we work in a big building and his lab is two floors up – but when we do chat, we always have an express catch-up effort. His son is a few months younger than Sawyer but it was obvious from the way he spoke that developmentally he was far ahead. He asked me something that I would come to hear a lot over the months that followed: “How does Sawyer feel about having a baby sister?”. I explained through false smile that Sawyer was far too active to stop and listen to us talking about anything in particular, and that he didn’t really understand he was having a sister at all. It was a sugar-coated version of the some truth, but I would say it was about 95% sugar. The truth was that I hadn’t even attempted to explain to Sawyer that he was getting a sister, because there would have been as much point as explaining it to a brick wall. He simply did not have the ability at that point, to listen to a conversation or understand anything other than very clear and simple instructions. I started to think about all the books I’d seen in the past – children’s books designed to prepare a toddler for their new baby sibling. I started to think back to when my sister had her second son and she and his Dad put a gift in to his moses basket ready for his big brother to find, both of them hoping it would help their eldest son understand that the baby was a friend and not foe. These things sound so small and unimportant, but for me they are added to my long list of opportunities I was never afforded when so many others were, and still are. I don’t resent anyone. But it is a bitter pill to swallow when you realise you are living in a world where good advice and common sense are simply not tailored to fit you.
My pregnancy with Sawyer had been difficult, and so my pregnancy with Piper passed with comparative ease. Before I knew it the cot was set up, my bags were packed, and I was already starting maternity leave. Although the excitement had increased immeasurably as the weeks passed by, I still had an underlying yet overwhelming feeling of guilt that plagued my days. My biggest neurosis was leaving Sawyer when I went in to hospital to have his sister. At first we planned to take him to Grandma’s house for the night but somehow the thought of him being sent away and not sleeping in his own cot (yes, still cot – where he stayed until he was 3) devastated me, and it wasn’t until I called my Mum and burst in to tears (I don’t do that often, so people generally shit themselves) that we came up with a solution I could cope with. I was at the end of day 2 of labour, exhausted, and Mum was coming to the hospital with us to act as my birthing partner. She would come over with Dad, and he would stay with Sawyer (who would already be in bed) whilst we went and delivered his sister. We got to hospital at around 10pm and our daughter was born at 12.56am. I refused pain relief of any kind and the real reason was that I didn’t want to risk anything slowing down the labour. I had already told the midwife that I wanted to be home before Sawyer woke up, to keep things as normal as possible for him, and despite her assumption that I was joking, that is exactly what I achieved. I thank Sawyer for getting me through that labour – he gave me the strength and determination I needed to get the job done and go home. And home is exactly where we went, 4 hours after my long-suffering and awesome Mum saw ‘THE HEAD, IT’S A HEAD!!” for the very first time.
I had worried so much about how I could possibly love another child as much as I loved Sawyer, and how she would possibly find an equal place in my heart. What I didn’t realise is that they wouldn’t need to share at all. The second I met my baby girl, my heart widened and both children took equal place, naturally. Easily. When we arrived home, I woke my Dad up mid sleep cycle and I still remember the pale and confused expression on his face as I told him the baby was downstairs. He then spent hours washing up and making tea, periodically appearing at the door, staring at this gorgeous new baby girl and stating ‘I can’t believe it’, as my husband and Mum slept next to me on the sofa. But I couldn’t sleep. My mind wouldn’t let me rest until the final piece of the puzzle had been fitted.