An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Family of four

Saturday afternoon Leta returned home from a week spent with grandparents and cousins, a much anticipated “vacation” that had been planned for months. In the weeks leading up to Marlo’s birth we’d ask Leta if she was excited about becoming a big sister, and she’d say, “I’m excited that I get to go stay with Grandmommy when it happens!” Like, while you’re pushing that baby out of your body, Mom, I’ll be having chocolate ice cream for breakfast. You should get pregnant more often!

I had missed her terribly, achingly, and was shocked at just how big her hands and feet were when she walked in the door. She was implausibly big! HUGE! ENORMOUS! I was afraid that the gravitational pull around her gigantic head was going to suck all the furniture in the room into a spiraling black hole. I tried not to appear shocked as I can’t imagine a more unwelcoming face than one that says OH MY GOD YOU’RE A MONSTER.

But there she was, my vibrant, skipping, gorgeous five-year-old girl. I hugged her a little too tightly and buried my head into her hair so that I could smell the back of her ears, a scent very different than the one emanating from a newborn’s head, a bit rough, sweaty and full of life. I told her I had missed the smell of her hair, and she just rolled her eyes, like, this is why I needed to spend a week away from you people. WEIRDOS.

She’s handling the addition of her baby sister much like I had anticipated she would. She’s fascinated, and yet she doesn’t ever want to get too close. Why is the baby making that noise, she’ll ask, taking it personally. More than once in the last two days she has said, “I don’t want her to cry at me,” which is just about the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard. I’m quick to comfort her and explain that Marlo is not crying at anyone in particular, it’s just that sometimes it’s sad to find oneself sitting in a pile of their own shit.

Saturday night I sat on Leta’s bed with Marlo in my lap while Leta spun imaginary tales of princesses in various corners of her room. It had been raining all day, and the giant, west-facing window in her room resembled an abstract painting, a mottled palette of raindrops and setting sun. And I guess it’s the hormones, the RAGING, TERRORIZING HORMONES, or maybe it’s the sleeplessness, but I started bawling uncontrollably. I felt so guilty, like I had betrayed my first born by bringing someone else into our lives. Here I was forcing Leta into one of the most painful transitions of her life, and even though I knew I was being completely irrational, I just wanted to clutch her to my chest and apologize.

I had no idea I was going to feel that way. I was totally unprepared for it.

And then last night in an effort to tie all of the pieces together for her, we broke out a book of photos I had made of Leta’s first two months of life. There are shots of me and Jon in the moments before we left for the hospital in early February of 2004, of the first few moments of her life where she is clutching at the scale as they weigh her seconds-old body, of her adorable round face as she contorts it into a smile. When suddenly she jumped into Jon’s lap, buried her face into his neck and cried, “I want you to love me.”

Oh my god, the crying. Mine, not hers.

So when I put her to bed last night I spooned her tiny body for an extra few minutes and told her that of course we love her, we adore her, she will always be our first born, our special, brilliant child who first changed our hearts, and nothing could ever take that away. And maybe tomorrow when we woke up all four of us could have chocolate ice cream for breakfast.

  • robbie

    Your situation sounds a lot like my own, except that I wasn’t prepared for how my 5 year old would react to her new sister. She didn’t understand how to control her newly shared environment, and showed her frustration by becoming much too outwardly excited – as in way too goofy and silly. She was also dealing with the change of Kindergarten, which is another big move for such a little person. My oldest ignored her sister completely until she started smiling, laughing, talking, moving – only then was there an understanding that this new little thing was also, in fact, a person. I wish you all the very, very best. Sounds like you’re handling everything beautifully.

  • Aww Heather, you caused a lump of my throat as your description of the transition. It makes me wonder how it was for my Mom to bring home me as a baby to a household with four boys and what they went through, let alone my Mom.

    Can’t wait to read more of the four of your transitions with each other. 🙂

  • robyn

    Oh my god the crying. Mine.

    She’ll totally adjust soon enough, but of course she’s going to feel left out. We ALL feel left out when there’s the novelty of someone new in the crowd. All your extra kisses and love will heal her.

    xo

  • Marlana

    I totally understand this guilt. It does get better but it is heartbreaking.

  • Antje

    From my journal 5 days after my son was born by c-section, about my 2 year old daughter:

    “2am: I ache for Clara. The feel of her. Her body. I can’t carry her, can’t hold her, can’t bathe her, can’t be anything to her. I miss her so much. In a few hours she’ll cry for me, and Mitch will go to her, and I’ll probably cry again like I am crying now. What if, when I can hold her again, she has grown out of me?”

  • Kim

    I completely feel your pain. My youngest just turned 1 and I have started to relive the first few weeks we brought her home. Our, then, 4 year old had NO idea what her life was about to be like. And I couldn’t even warn her, because I, myself did not even know.

    You just have to try and make special “dates” with Leta and remind her that you do love her, like you are already doing.

    Be warned that the following questions may arise…”Why do you care more for her than you do for me?” “Why have you not “loved” on me like you “love” on her?”

    It is heartbreaking! However, we shall persevere!!

  • Cat

    It’s when you start enjoying the pile of your own shit that you’ve really got a reason to cry.

    I’m sitting here about to bawl my eyes out over this post and I don’t even have kids. Living vicariously through you…it’s wonderful!

  • Great blog, Heather. I am amazed at your punctuation and grammar skills, being the mom of a 10 day old! Hats off to you!

    My boys have the same age gap as your girls. The oldest would always complain when the baby cried: “It’s making my ears tired!”

    All the best to you!

  • sma

    Gosh, I shed similar tears and felt the same guilt when we shifted from one to two kids. The real heartbreaker for me was when my daughter (then 3) said f”I don’t want to have to share my daddy” . . . which, of course, made me doubly sad since she seemed OK with sharing me! Oh, the joys of hormones! Good luck!

  • May

    I still mourn the times I had with my first born when it was just the two of us. And now I’m sad that my second child did not have that same quality time with me.

  • kim

    Oh does this bring back the memories! I remember when our firstborn came to the hospital to check out his new brother. I felt so bad for him! How could I have disrupted his life like this??? Now they can’t live without each other. You have to believe me when I tell you it gets better very quickly. Especially when the hormones level out. Hang in there!

  • impy

    It’s beautiful, and an adjustment, and remarkable. I hope you are not feeling too sad though. I hope there are moments of joy to counter every feeling of concern. The thing I wish for most, is that you don’t feel anything like you did in the first months after Leta when the sadness came. Take care of you too, along with the girls and their dad. If public sentiment was worth a dime, you’d be soaring on the wings of well wishes. Happy Family.

  • Kirsten

    Oh yes, I remember that feeling…my son had me all to himself for 9 years and 4 days. And then came the interloper. I told my girlfriend, a mother of 3, that I felt guilty if I loved on the new baby too much in front of her big brother. And my friend said (looking back this saved me, in a way) “no! it is good for him to see you loving her, he will learn from that” And of course, you still try to make the first one feel special whenever you can. It will take some time to get your rhythm, but you will. And damn those hormones….combined with sleepless nights, it can be too much….

  • Congratulations on becoming a family of four! As an older sister of a 6 years younger half sister, Leta will be fine, great even! And she will always have this special friendship when they are grown. You’ve given her a gift! And I think chocolate ice cream for breakfast is good for everyone once in a while! Can’t wait to hear about the little gloworms birth!

  • As a big sister myself, I think I can safely say that as parents? Y’all rock. Hard. Leta will feel loved and special always and I echo all the rest who have said it: you have given her the BEST gift ever in a little sister. I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.

    Although, I might wish back those weeks of grounding when she ratted me out…

  • Anonymous

    Longtime reader and first time poster. I have to say that is the sweetest and most heartbreaking and beautiful thing you’ve written on your site.

    Thank you for this post.

  • jess

    Bless your heart!!! Bet you can’t guess I am from the South!! I am 30 and my sister and I are 5 1/2 years apart and even thought sometimes I am still not over her (just kidding!) we are the best of friends! It will all be okay!

  • Elaine

    *cry*

    *wipes tears away*

    Leta’s going to be okay.

    I have one younger sister who is just a little over a year younger than me. When we were kids, we argued a lot, but as adults, we’ve discovered that we are each other’s most precious allies in life.

    I agree with the commenter that said that you have given Leta an incredible gift: that is so true. It is also true that even positive changes take adjustment.

    You’re in my thoughts, Armstrongs. <3

    Remember to breathe.

    -Elaine from Pittsburgh

  • IT IS hard to fight the sadness when it sets in right alongside of all the happiness.
    But, the more the merrier. Especially, when they’re all your babies.

  • This is so beautiful! I too got teary-eyed! You are a terrific mom. Just put a positive spin on the whole new sister thing for Leta – you know, someone else to give you a present a birthdays and Christmas, someone you can get a kidney from should you ever need it. You needed her to qualify for family package at Disney, that sorta thing. Sibling rivalry can be tough. I have identical twin boys, but in the end, they are grateful to have each other. All the best to you and your beautiful family!

  • Damnit HEATHER!!!!!

    Your hormones are contagious…I do NOT cry at stuff like that. Ever. I am practically male….but that just killed me. Now I gotta go to work with smudged eye make-up.

    Btw, you’re word are just amazing & please give Leta an extra hug, from all of us weird anonymous people that love her too. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    This post really hit home, Heather … and I remember those emotions very well. We went to China to adopt our daughter and brought our older daughter with us; she was three at the time. After we were finally united with our youngest daughter in China, I felt an aching, horribly guilty feeling around our older daughter … I cried, brokenhearted, while spooning with her as she sweetly slept. It does pass … what you’re experiencing is a goodbye to life as a mom of one child … a time when it’s just you and that firstborn, partners in fun and crime. But soon it will pass and you’ll be so filled with the joy and challenge of two kids, you’ll feel so much better, better than you’ve ever felt. Sending love your way!

  • Courtney

    I remember so clearly that feeling of my firstborn being SO HUGE after the birth of my second child. Someone had warned be about it, but I was still shocked!

  • Eunice

    Oh my…. I don’t have kids, but that post made me all teary. I hope the chocolate ice cream helps!!

  • Bria

    I’ve got my 4 week old first born with me right now and I have tears in my eyes just trying to imagine what you’re feeling. Congratulations on becoming a family of four. 🙂

  • Anne

    Heather, I’ve been whiling away the weekend reading your blog from the start (so sue me) and am just blown away by the way you describe *what it’s like* to have a newborn. I don’t believe anyone can understand who hasn’t gone through it, but your description of life with Leta when she was tiny brought it all flooding back.

    The altimeter – oh God do I remember the altimeter. Baby fast asleep and perfectly happy on your shoulder while you stand up. The thought crosses your mind that you could sit down without disturbing the baby’s position one iota. Instant pandemonium.

    And that ‘my little person turned into a giant overnight’ thing. My first was just over 2 when my second was born. He was a very little person, but once I had a newborn he turned into a great big scary thing.

    And the guilt. Oh boy, the guilt. I still feel it sometimes. Someone told me to let the baby cry and attend to the older one, they need it more.

    But it was all sooo much easier second time round. Not so easy I’d be prepared to contemplate a third time, but although the 2nd was a completely different person (she like cuddles – wow!) and I still vividly remember the night she’d screamed for 4 hours only to finally quieten when I held her at arms’ length, menaced “Just shut the fuck up” at her, very carefully put her on the floor and burst into tears, knowing that we’d done it all before, and survived it, made it all doable.

    Oh, and when my firstborn grows up he’s totally going to have chocolate icecream for breakfast EVERY DAY.

  • Ginger

    Leta will thank you when she gets the phone call in 40 or 50 years that Mom was seen walking to the mailbox in nothing but an apron, a fishing hat and cowboy boots.

    She will be grateful for her sister at a time like that.

  • I can remember when I had my daughter seven months ago. I hadn’t seen my son in 48 hours. It felt like he’d grown an entire foot since I’d seen him last. I don’t know what it is about being around a baby that makes other kids seem so much bigger.

  • OMG! You made me cry at work! At WORK! Try explaining that to your co-workers.

    As the first born of three, I know exactly how Leta feels. It’s a hard thing to share your parents especially after five years of being the only one. I desperately wanted to give back my baby brother when they brought his big fat head home. I was only three.

    She will learn that there is plenty of love to go around. My only (unsolicited) advice is to make “Leta Time” so that she sees she’s still special and worthy of your undivided attention.

    The extra snuggles you gave her are just the right trick!

  • Oh my God, lovely, welcome back.

    I missed you. So much.

  • Jenn

    I’m pregnant with my second, and reading this made me weep. I can’t imagine the guilt, but can only hope it goes away. You have two very beautiful little girls, and like others have said…you’ll find a way. Good Luck Armstrongs!

  • Kim

    Okay so maybe this comment won’t be the most sensitive – on one hand I totally get what you went through, I have three, BUT and I say this with all the good intentions of helping you out – if you let yourself feel this guilt openly to Leta and you go overboard with all the lovely dovey stuff she will pick it up and it will kick your butt. Because what will happen is once you get over it and you try to move on she will notice the difference in attention – that at first you tried SO hard to make sure you told her you loved her every five minutes, once things start to normalize and you aren’t proving your undying love and affection to your oldest that will hit her harder, trust me!! Don’t feel like you need to make it up to Leta for her no longer being the only child, instead you have to get her to understand that this is her life now. I know it might sound a bit harsh and I know you just got Marlo home, but I’m tellin’ ya it will save you from problems months and years down the road. Don’t treat Leta any differently.
    On the other side the baby is gorgeous and I wish you all the best!

  • Snickrsnack Kate

    Oh my gosh. That is quite possibly your most beautiful entry ever. Congratulations on your new little one! I myself just found out we are expecting our first child, due in February. I can only imagine the whirlwind I am about to encounter!!! Thanks for sharing your stories with us!

  • Helen

    Awww, hugs to all and just know that it will get better. I imagine that Leta will soon be helping change diapers! And don’t be surprised if she lifts her shirt up and attempts to nurse Marlo! Does she have her own baby doll to feed and diaper? My sister and I were 11 months and 3 days apart. She passed away last year and I miss her like crazy. She was the very best gift my parents ever gave to me. Leta will feel that way someday. Sisters just have that bond that noone else does. Blessings today, Armstrong family!

  • Joan

    Try not to stress yourself out too much. Those feelings are so normal, I think we all have them. Leta will work it all out very quickly and she and her sister will soon be thick as thieves. That’s when you have to worry – when they keep each other’s secrets and conspire together to drive you completely insane.

  • Nancy

    I never thought of how you would feel, bringing another child into Leta’s world. But look down the road and believe that someday they will be so close, and such good friends, and you will realize what a lovely gift you have given her. Of course, you DO have to get them to adulthood, first. But that is part of the fun. I can’t imagine how lonely my life would be without my sisters. Sometimes I want to throttle them, but basically I love them to pieces, and am so glad I wasn’t an only child. Leta will be, too. I promise!

  • c

    I totally, totally get what you’re saying about feeling as though you’ve betrayed the first when the second is born. My husband still kids me about crying miserably when our older son was sitting perfectly happily on our bed with us, and the new baby, about a week after we brought our new baby home: “what have we done to him???” Of course that was ridiculous – what we did “to him” was to complete our family, and give him a tremendous little brother, his partner in crime and closest friend — he’s been just fine!

  • Awww that was very touching! I wish you and your family all the best! Enjoy!

  • Liz

    The night before my scheduled induction with my second, I held my little boy and bawled like a baby for hours. I felt so guilty… that poor 2 year old had no idea that just hours later, his entire world would be torn to shreds and would never be the same. And he wouldn’t be able to understand the complicated emotions and that I would always love him the same, no matter who was in the picture, and to be honest, I was just holding my breath and hoping that I actually could love my second child as much as I loved my first, because what if society had just been pulling some giant prank and parents actually DO love one of their kids the most?!

    It’s a heart-wrenching experience, but something beautiful is born out of it, I promise.

  • chiquita

    She’ll be fine, because she knows how to share her feelings. It is so wonderful that you have taught her that. wishing you rest and quiet bonding (among all 4 of you and the 2 canines)

  • So sweet and lovely.

    Thank you for always sharing your most honest and humbling moments with us.

  • Now a year after we brought our second child home I can totally relate to everything your going through. I felt so guilty for changing what had seemed to be a perfect set up for three and a half years. Now my kids are so close I couldn’t imagine not having my son here with us. I’m sure in a year you’ll look back and think the same thing.

  • Catherine Combs

    Aww, poor little girl. I know how she feels — I used to try to give my little sister away to anyone who showed even an ounce of interest in her — relatives, family friends, cashiers at the grocery store. “You like her? Keep her.”

    I also tried to get rid of her by leaving her outside once — I think that one was based on the idea that we weren’t supposed to let the cat out or he would run away, so if I left my sister out, obviously, she would run away. My mom found her about five minutes later (I’d snuck her out during nap time and left her on our porch) and OH, WAS I IN TROUBLE.

    Now, she’s more than my best friend, she’s the other half of me. My life without my sister would be unrecognizable. Leta and Marlo will thank you for each other. Meanwhile, your instincts are right on target, and I promise, underneath, Leta knows that she is loved. She just needs to be reminded of it during this transition period.

  • Rose

    Heather,

    Loved the post today. Selfishly I have missed you! There really should be a medical term for that moment when you see the first born after the birth of the second and your oldest looks Ginormous! I had that same experience! One of my first strange Mommy moments. And the need to smell your child never goes away. My oldest is now 23 and when we haven’t seen each other in a while, I long to smell her. Of course when I tell her this she almost gags! lol

  • Cheri

    Guess I’m not the first to comment here…that I felt the exact same way. Like somehow…by bringing a new life home…I was taking something away from the first. Our first was not quite two, so he had tantrums, not words, to break our hearts. It gets so much better!

  • malissa

    ok. Now I’m crying to. Such a precious story. I remember those feelings too well.

  • Oh, I remember that so well. My oldest calmly telling me: “all you want to do is nurse that BABY” like he could barely get his lips around that disgusting word. It took a while for him to adjust, and I’m sure everyone is telling you the same thing, but it still helps to know that you are giving her the best gift ever: A partner in crime. I’ll never forget the day they looked at each other and realized that we adults did not outnumber the children. It’s a fair fight now. They’re winning.

  • Jennifer

    Thanks for making me bawl my eyes out at work. The all male team I work with is collectively thinking “Here she goes again!”

    Seriously, congratulations. Leta will be the best big sister ever.

  • There were tears from both me and my firstborn during the time leading up to my 2nd’s birth and immediately after. I think that sense of loss of your little world is completely normal.
    However, I don’t feel the same way now that we are expecting our third. I think the difference is that we now know how much joy a sibling brought to Nutmeg’s life, how unknowingly incomplete we were before Nutmeg’s little sister arrived, and how nothing was really lost, only gained, with the addition of #2. How could #3 be any different?
    The only thing that makes me feel a little sad sometimes is knowing that my darling baby will henceforth be “the middle child.” But this kid could never get lost in the shuffle so I don’t worry too much.

  • Ang

    Oh I’m so sorry that you are feeling sad, I feel sad for you, too. I don’t know if it is any consolation, but it really will eventually pass. My daughter was 4 when we had her brother. She was a great helper to me, and never complained about him. . . until he was about 7 months old and could grab her hair and pull. Then she said, “I have been very patient with having him around, but now it is time for him to GO AWAY.” It was my first real laugh at the two of them together.

    Enjoy some chocolate ice cream for breakfast and a little extra cuddle time with Leta, and enjoy both of your wonderful little blessings!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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