Breaking the news to your firstborn – Oh brother!
Parenthood doesn’t come with a manual and, at times, it can feel like groping around for a light switch in the pitch dark. Preparing an older child for a new baby coming into their life can often be daunting, but with the right resources and by taking it slowly, it can also be a fun and rewarding time as you include your child in the excitement running up to the birth.
There’s no written guideline about when or how to tell your older child the news, but here, one mother tells us how it all worked for her.
A baby in my tummy?
Being a mother is an all-consuming task, as I rapidly discovered after the birth of my first child. It creeps into every single area of your life and settles into a permanent position in your brain; creating a ‘motherhood’ filter through which you now view your life.
When my first son was born, I was quite taken aback by how suddenly and strongly there was a new focus in my life. He depended on me for everything. My husband tried to help out a lot, but due to the fact that he doesn’t have any breasts there was only a limited amount of help he could give in the early days. Plus, there was the fact that I felt ultimately responsible for our child’s wellbeing. If anything happened, even if it wasn’t on my watch, then it would be my fault for not taking care of him better. Well that’s how I felt!
Fast forward a couple of years and we decided that, in terms of having another baby, time was running out. I was 38 and very keen to have my second (and last) child before I was 40. Don’t ask me why, it just felt like a natural cut-off point. My husband and I had only ever wanted two children and it was important to us that they were close in age. I was very fortunate not to have any trouble conceiving and it happened for us in our third month of trying. Having already been through this all once before, I considered myself an old hand and sailed confidently into the choppy waters of early pregnancy.
Well. Let me tell you that I was in for a massive shock. The morning sickness in my second pregnancy was nothing like I’d experienced before. I was hunched over the toilet bowl for a good proportion of every day, a slave to my pregnant body and its rushing hormones. I cried a lot of the time; I couldn’t look after our son like I had before and it devastated me. I was utterly dependant on my family for help and his little life had suddenly changed dramatically. I can still remember his solemn face at the bathroom door as he stood and watched me vomiting. He was furiously stroking his toy giraffe. I felt like if I could have explained what was going on, then it would have made things better. I could have applied a simple logic to the situation which showed that this was a transient phase and it would end. But we’d decided not to tell him about his new sibling until a lot later in the pregnancy.
As it was, we waited until shortly after my twenty week anomaly scan. The original plan was to tell him after 24 weeks, when the baby would stand a chance of survival should he or she be born early, but I was sitting stroking my baby bump one morning at 23 weeks when he wandered in and said “What you doing Mummy?” – and considering that I was well into my second trimester, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to tell him.
“There’s a baby in there,” I said. “A baby in my tummy.”
“A baby in you tummy? A real one?”
So, without any real plan in my head I gently explained that before long he would have a little brother or sister.
“Okay,” he said and then we went out to the park so that he could absorb this new information one bit at a time.
Luckily for us, our boy was beyond excited about the imminent new arrival and we prepared him carefully. We bought him books about having a new baby in the house, we sorted through his toys so he could choose ones that he thought the baby would like and did the same with his clothes. The only thing that he refused to relinquish were his Paw Patrol pyjamas!
Without being overwhelming, we began to incorporate the idea of babies into his everyday life. At the toddler group we attended I pointed out the tiny babies in slings, sleeping while their siblings played. We went to the toyshop and I bought him his own baby and pram, with a bottle so he could ‘feed’ it.
By 23 weeks it was getting quite easy to feel the kicks inside me, so when the baby was facing the right way my little boy could put his hand on my tummy and feel the baby moving around for himself. It was a huge excitement for him, and the thing wasn’t anything like as bad as I had expected. He took the news happily and was excited about having a new baby in the house.
The only time when we came slightly unstuck was when he tried to put in an order for the baby to be a little brother – but I swiftly explained that it doesn’t work like that!