Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

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.

  • I’ll never forget my 2 year old walking into the hospital room after I had his baby brother and thinking to myself, “OMG! HIS HEAD IS ENORMOUS!” Until we hold the tiny new person the big one is our baby and we see them that way. Giving our oldest a sibling has made him a better person in so many ways. I’m sure the same will be true for Leta and Marlo. Best wishes.

  • Congratulations! Marlo is perfection personified in beauty.

    While you welcomed her to the world on June 14, I welcomed my first grand-child and grand-daughter Olivia Grace on June 15.

    It’s just a WOW feeling…

  • Anonymous

    omigosh! I am so happy…I felt the exact same way about my first born when she walked into the hospital to see her new sibling…she was soooo grown up!!

    And I can definitely relate to feeling as if you have completely betrayed her and broken her heart….how could I have brought another child in this world, much less my own home, when I already had perfection????!!!

    …don’t worry…the feeling goes away with time…like just yesterday, when she (age 6) punched her baby brother (age 3)in the nose for refusing to get out of her room….feelings of betrayal gone!

    Have fun mom and never stop smelling the ears!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for writing about this and sharing your experience. It’s probably my hormones too, but I cried reading this. We’re expecting our 2nd baby in Dec and I’ve been feeling very guilty towards and anxious about my (first born) toddler…it helps to see someone else surviving the experience and even be able to write and share about it.

  • Aww! Now I’m weepy at work. Of course you know Leta will be fine, but as the mom of an only child, I totally get your nerves at the thought of introducing someone new to your carefully-crafted mix of three. xoxo and congrats again! Welcome back – we’ve missed you!

  • It is terrifying to see how much your child grows when you are not looking!!! Moanna just turned two, and when she returns from spending a week or two with her grandparents, she doesn’t even fit into her cloths anymore! One day she is going to leave for a week and come back with a training bra!

  • Alright. I must be hormonal as well cos I’m crying for the two of you. I only have one child but I remember well when I was 5 years old and my baby brother was born. It’s an emotional time for everyone, but just know that in a very short time this will all even out and seem like a distant memory.h

  • Trish

    Awww crap, now I’M crying.

    It’s a bittersweet moment. But then you realize these two beautiful human beings came out of your body and you cry for a different reason altogether. Pure joy.

    Your family is beautiful. We’re lucky to have a sneak peek. Thank you.

  • Rae Louise

    Wow, gosh, did that ever make me sob. A really beautiful read though, beautiful imagery with the description of Leta’s room post-downpour, and beautiful in your absolute adoration for her. Your little girls are so lucky to have each other [as an only child I can only dream] but they’re also so so lucky to have you.

  • Jessica

    I had a moment just like that with my older daughter (she was two at the time) when my younger daughter was born. I just sat in her bed and cried as she woke up from a nap, feeling terribly guilty for shaking her world so dramatically. Six years later and she and her sister fight over clothes and punch each other for no good reason. But on a sappy note… They also face the world as a team and depend on each other without even realizing that that’s what they’re doing. The other day my little one fell asleep in a restaurant with her head in her sister’s lap. So sweet.

  • That, right there, is the main reason why I stopped at 1. I didn’t want the guilt.

    and a second round of the baby years just wasn’t something I was clamoring for either.

  • awww way to make me tear up. I feel for you – that second baby is a tangle of emotional madness!

    I like to tell my kids, when they’ve been fighting, that I had each of them for the other. I guess this makes more sense for me than them since I’m an only child.

  • Anonymous

    So been there. When we brought home our new baby I felt like our two olders girls had morphed into giants. And quite honestly…they have never looked small again. Thank you for sharing…it brought back very real memories.

  • Meg

    Oh Lord, I’m bawling at work. I’m 35 weeks pg and struggling with this very issue. My 6-year-old DS will be heartbroken, which, in turn, will break my heart. We are his world, and he has special needs, which makes us an even bigger part of his world than parents of a typically developing child his age.

    I’m terrified.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ll be looking to you for guidance (no pressure, lol!).

    Meg

  • 11 years later, I still have moments when I just have to hug tight my oldest daughter…no matter how much I love my youngest daughter too.

    ps It’s great having two girls 🙂

  • Whoa. You just made me relive bringing my then newborn (now three) home to my then four-year-old (now seven) that first week. Yikes, it was hard. That “I want you to love me” behavior, sadly, may never go away. I know my oldest still asks if we love her less than her sister, and it’s been three years. It doesn’t get better. But they grow, the answers come easier and the times asked become fewer.

    I feel your pain.

  • tinnymc

    Just wait until you feel the guilt of Marlo not having the 1:1 time like Leta did. I felt that for my daughter and then when she was 9 months old went and got pregnant on her to ensure there was an extra does of guilt!

    You will find your new normal…Armstrong v4.0

  • Diane

    Hi Heather –

    The guilt will always be there. Am I favoring one over the other? The boy over the girl? Spending more money on one than the other? Should I be working or not working, if I’m working should I helicopter in more often? How come Mary H’s mom is the room mom every year and you’re not?

    It’s always something. Just love them, discipline them, take them out for ice cream now and then, read to them and have fun. It passes so fast. Mine are 14 and 11 now, and I can see college looming on the horizon. It was just the day before yesterday when the older one was born!

  • Bridget

    I was knocked stone dumb with guilt when my second child was born six months ago. Just looking into my little 2 1/2 year-old’s eyes sent me all woozy with betrayal. It does get easier, but, at least for me not right away. Give yourself several months to figure it out. When you least expect it your baby will turn and look with adoration at her big sister…..when Leta walks into the room little Marlo with erupt with giggles. When you are in a strange place Leta will make it safe for her little sister. Then you will watch their mysterious sibling relationship grow, knowing, it is their little marvelous secret.
    My siblings drive me bonkers at times but I adore them and would be a lonely lady without them.
    Hang in there!

  • Sally

    Wow.
    Your sadness at Leta’s life changes mirror the feelings I had before even giving birth to our second son. I felt like we were about to pull the rug out from under our first born. And that his place as the center of my universe would forever be shared, as though two kids were trying to squeeze onto one chair.
    And I wondered what our second born would get, 2nd place? That lame red ribbon that pales in comparison to the blue one?
    Turns out that sibling love is like nothing I could have ever imagined. The two of them share a bond that has nothing to do with us parents. I think the baby’s first word will be his brother’s name. And I think that my first born will walk on air for a week when it happens.
    And that makes me cry, just anticipating the unexpected joys that our second born keeps bringing us.

    I hope Marlo and Leta share that sibling love and that you get the sheer joy of watching it bloom.

  • M.R.

    The very thought of life without my younger brother brings tears to my eyes…and I’m 35 years old. He’s 32 and the world’s most loved brother 🙂

  • Oh lordy, do I know where you’re coming from. I felt an enormous amount of guilt, forcing my oldest into becoming a sister to a crying baby that took so much attention.

    We came up with a code phrase – when she felt a little left out, or whatever, if she said, “I need some extra loving right now” I would ALWAYS give her a huge hug and some extra attention.

  • –>I vividly remember having those strong FEELINGS hit me when my hormones were on their own permanent roller coaster ride after having my son. Oh the Tears – – – and then the Laughter – – would hit me so hard and that was with my first child.

    I’m glad Leta knows that she is loved and now she will always be The Big Sister.

  • Rachael D.

    Is that bad that when I read Marlo’s name, I read it as: “Mario’s”?

  • Oh, I just totally felt the heartbreak of that moment. What a sweet soul. It sounds like y’all are navigating it just great, though. My daughter was five and a half when her brother was born, and even though she was the world’s best-adjusted child, there were a few rocky days. It’s just a hard transition no matter what.

  • Emily

    I just gave birth to my second child three weeks ago and was surprised at the same feeling I had for my first born. I have felt so guilty that she was having to go through this change. The worst was when her teachers told me one week after her brother was born that she had a meltdown when looking at a picture of her, her dad, and me. So sad for her!

  • superkittn

    Thanks for making bawl at work. My boss thanks you.

  • Missy

    I remember feeling everything, everything. Exactly like you’ve written it. With the birth of my second, and then my third. The second was colicky, and we spent months crying together, me and my two year old, and this intrusive infant… I felt horrible for what I’d done to my little two year old girl.

    Same with #3, so obviously, it got better.

    But I told my then-two year old (now almost 11) that SHE was the reason we had more babies. SHE was so fantastic, so utterly wonderful and adored, SHE made me a mom, made her dad and I parents.

    Leta will need chocolate ice cream for breakfast, and you might, too. Maybe for a while, but not forever. It’s the best gift you can give her, a sibling. Congratulations a million times over.

  • OMG! Now I’m crying and I don’t even have any extra pregnancy hormones. ACH LIEBEN!

  • Aw. A bigger bunch of silly, weepy, wet blankets I ain’t ever seen! You are all so sweet, and I hug you from the deeps of the Internet. Congratulations on having a mad excess of wonderful daughters! 🙂

  • Heather C.

    God this is beautiful and painful at the same time. I felt every word.

  • Anonymous

    When our daughter was born, we got our 4 year old son one of those Fisher Price digital cameras so he could join in with all the picture taking. He was so over-joyed at the camera he hardly noticed there was a new being in our house. Now I look back at the pictures he took catching moments that I didn’t with my fancy expensive camera. He still takes pictures of her one year later and they are such great buddies.
    Enjoy these moments because the second one grows up even faster than the first.
    Thanks for everything you’ve done so far and be glad you can drink coffee!!!!

  • Ashley B.

    Heather,
    I don’t have kids, but I was (am) an only child. My parents divorced when I was 6 and I had always wished for a sister (or brother…I’d really take whatever I could get). I was always mad at my mom for never giving me a sibling. My friends would always tell me I didn’t want siblings because you would always have to share and fight with them. I never cared about that! I wanted someone to share my life with, it was always boring just playing by myself and I think it also made me grow up faster. Both parents re-married and I now have 2 half brothers from my mom and a step-sister from my dad. When I found out my mom was pregnant (when I was 16!) I was so mad. I thought it was disgusting and also thought it was too late for her to give me a sibling to share my life with. Now that I am almost 26, and brothers are 6, 9 and step-sister is 16, I am so happy to have them in my life. I get to take care of my little brothers and even though we are so far apart, we still fight as if we were close in age! Trust me, Leta is so lucky to have a little sister and won’t turn out spoiled like I did and am now paying for it as I get older!! Good luck with both of your beautiful girls! I can’t wait to have 2 of my own!!

  • Vanessa

    Oh, Heather. All that you described is exactly how it felt/went for us as well. It’s so hard! I remember later even feeling a bit of guilt about not spending as much time with our newborn because I wanted to give our firstborn extra attention, besides the fact that I missed him so and my heart ached for him. I’ll be thinking of you as your beautiful family goes through these big transitions…

  • Tobamom

    Heather, please remember to be as kind and caring to yourself as you obviously are to Leta. Your family will grow into itself and these days will be a memory. Peace.

  • Ann

    You need to quit making me cry.

  • You know, Heather, it is very embarrassing to cry in the middle of a bookstore with a bunch of hip young writers around you. Thanks a lot.

    (No seriously, thank you. What a beautiful post.)

  • Also, a hint from your CAPTCHA: “sobriety out-out”

  • Katie

    I felt exactly the same way when I had my second child. Except mine were not even 22-months apart. I remember crying because I thought my son would hate me for bringing his sister into his life. I remember him bringing the car seat to me and saying, “Baby go home now.” But there will always be something special about your firstborn – the one who made you a Mother. Nothing can take that away from each of you.

  • Janet

    Wow, that brought tears to my eyes and a flood of memories! I remember feeling the exact same way with my older daughter, Zoe, when my second was born. How could I have done this to her? I’m neglecting her! Can she handle it? I was bawling uncontrollably and I distinctly remember my Mom (a mother of 7) saying to me… “Oh sweetie, she’s fine! You can’t do it all. You have given her a little sister and that’s just about the most special thing you can do for her.”

    Suffice it to say, 2 years later, she IS totally fine. She loves having a little sister (most of the time) and I can see their relationship growing, even at such an early stage.

    I make an effort to spend quality time with Zoe, just the two of us, and I think this helps. She has also become quite a daddy’s girl but I think that is a really good thing as well. It has allowed my husband to grow even closer to her which I don’t necessarily think would have happened if we didn’t have a second child.

    Best of luck to you (and the fam) and here’s to many more years of joy (and heartache)!

    -Janet

  • Also: I was just trying to imagine how I would feel if I had a second kid (I have none) and wondering if I would feel guilty too.

    Then I remembered that just yesterday I had a similar feeling about my cats! I am taking my cat up to my Granddad’s house and I feel really guilty because I know my Granddad’s cat is very underloved and likes to cuddle with me and I feel guilty taking my new well-loved cat up there. 🙁 I’ve really been having a hard time deciding what to do!

    So, I guess the answer is YES, I would feel guilty.

  • Desiree

    It has just been me and my daughter for the past 7 years now. I have a fiance now and we have discussed children, but I am not sure if I want to do it for this exact reason. My daughter and I are SO close and I would almost feel as though I betrayed her. Your tale almost made me cry. I am sure it will get better though, soon. Keep me posted. Your experience will help me make my decision.

  • Ahhh, motherhood! Nothing else makes us so bloody irrational, yet sure we are right. Thank you so much for sharing- you remind me of why I became a mom, especially when I want to rip the heads off my surly teenagers.

  • I went thru EXACTLY the same thing. I wrote about it here if you are interested in reading it: http://paigerun.blogspot.com/2008/10/thoughs-on-going-from-3-to-4.html

    All I can say is IT PASSES. It’s normal and I felt the exact things you are feeling and you gave Leta a gift.. you will see. It is just an adjustment period, hang in there!

  • tonya

    This made me cry. You perfectly described what I felt when I had my second daughter. My oldest was four, and when she came to see us in the hospital, I, like you, was amazed at the size of her hands. And I also felt like I’d just totally screwed up her little world. Fast forward four years, and while they can fight like maniacs, they truly are the best of friends. They can play for hours all wrapped up in their own little world, and my oldest is fiercely protective of her baby sis. You know this already, but a sibling is the greatest gift you can give a child.

  • It’s hard now, but it does get better. You’ll all adjust and all of this will eventually seem normal. Hang in there.

  • Maude

    I have a huge lump in my throat right now. I sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of trying to make sure Leta continues to feel secure and loved. She is lucky you are able to be so sensitive, and even though it feels like it, you are not really betraying her, you are giving her a sibling to love and be loved by. As you know, that can be a wonderful gift.

  • Oh no! You totally have our shoulder! When my brother came into the world the first time I saw him it looked like he was on some sort of tray, I wanted the tray rather than the brother, everyone though it was hilarious, I’m still thinking it over…

    My daughter was 4.5 when the human hurricane daughter arrived. #1 had led a sort of Zen existence until then, so I felt a little guilty disrupting that, but we thought more that it would teach her to deal with others in close quarters with kindness and care and generosity, something she never had to face. It did for exactly 1 year.

    Man! I won’t lie to you, we were not prepared for the shit when it hit the fan when the hurricane started to walk! But I can also tell you that beyond the tears and tantrums were some of the funniest times of our lives and the 2 were so different that is was an absolute marvel.

    The story has a happy ending for the three of us so far…
    #1 is still trying reeeeeaaaallly hard to think that one out…(she’s only 13, we may have seen nothing yet!)

    Huge hugs and ice creams!

  • phylly3

    My daughter has three children, 5 1/2, 4 and 18 months. She was describing her fears about her first son feeling betrayed while pregnant with number 2 to the pediatrician. He told her that jealousy in siblings is natural and a process. He said that is is no accident that children are more resilient than grow-ups. “Imagine, he said, how you would feel if your husband brought home a new wife and said it’s ok, I still love you, don’t be upset”?

    Best wishes to your family.

  • What a sweet post.

    I remember this exact thing, when our second daughter was born, just a few weeks shy of four years after our first one.

    We deliberately spaced them so that Johannah would have the chance to be her own kid for a while, to have our undivided attention, and to enjoy the limelight for a while (I am the fifth of NINE children, so maybe it was more of an issue for me than anyone else).

    When Julia was born, Johannah seemed to take it well until one day, a few weeks into it, she told us that she felt like we were trying to push her out of the family.

    Oh, the guilt.

    Next week, Julia will be 11, and Jo goes into high school this fall. They are the best of friends now (although very different), but your instincts about the ice cream for breakfast are right on: you got to bend some of the rules to make it work, but it’s all worth it!

    So glad for you and Jon. Enjoy your growing family.

    Pamela