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.

  • Anonymous

    I promise it will be okay. Really.

    My son, Will, was born in February of 2004, as well.

    We brought his baby sister home when he was 3-1/2. First, I couldn’t believe how enormous he suddenly was. Yikes!

    Second, he couldn’t believe we would bring home a girl when he clearly requested a baby brother.

    But today, he tells me how adorable she looks EVERY SINGLE DAY. And he is mortally wounded if she does not give him a hug and a kiss before bed and bye bye.

    I know they will be the best of friends when we are no longer here for them and that warms my soul.

  • Kate

    You are killing me here.

    My daughter is due late July; my son is 2.5. I am TERRIFIED that he is going to feel replaced, unloved, unwanted, etc. I’m doing everything I can to lessen that as much as possible, but I’m feeling very protective of him right now.


  • I am crying now, too, because this is EXACTLY how I felt about my 5-year-old daughter when my son was born four months ago. I still feel this to a degree, but I also now see how my daughter loves her new brother and I can’t wait for the two of them to go through life together.

    Thank you for this post and for articulating your feelings so beautifully.

  • It’s hard and scary adding another child, but things will fall into place like dominoes. Keep your chin up. 🙂

  • I think we have all been there. The guilt, the sadness, the wallowing in the sadness because kids grow up too fast.
    They will both always know they are loved despite some jealous behaviors and some stealing of hairbrushes or clothes in a few years.
    Welcome to the parenting more than 1 child club. Its brutal, but so great.

  • Amy

    The best present my parents ever gave me was my baby sister. I’m 34 and she’s 32 and she’s my best friend in the whole entire world. I couldn’t imagine life without her. Leta and Marlo are so lucky to have each other, sisters.

  • When I brought home my second baby I kept crying about how grown up the first one was. My irrational mind couldn’t wrap itself around the fact that she would have grown up whether or not I had brought home a new one. Ah hormones.

  • Audrey

    I don’t even have children and you’ve made me teary eyed. Your love for your family is vibrant and truer than anything else. It’s an amazing world where we can share it with you like this.

  • What a moving post, Heather. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • CJ

    I had the same issue when my first daughter (born March 2004) met my second. Guilt, guilt, guilt and oh, wow, you are enormous! My oldest picked up on that guilt immediately and still tries to use it against me with very calculated “Mommy, do you love Maeve more than me?” But the sting wears off. Someday soon, Leta will discover that Marlo adores her ABOVE ALL OTHERS, even the boob lady. By giving her a little sister, you’ve given her a fan who will laugh at all of her jokes and mean it. Then eventually they’ll get big enough to pummel each other and they’ll annoy you so much that you won’t feel guilt over either one of them. 🙂

  • That was beautiful. Congratulations.

  • I hated my little brother. I hated the idea of him. I hated him even more when he became real and invaded our house. I am almost 4 years older than him. Today……27 years later, he’s one of my best friends. I hope Leta, too, will embrace the love in the house and realize that you all are a team. A beautiful team.

  • Mandy

    I just had a baby a month ago and have a 5 yr old son. I too had guilty feelings of bringing home another kid. Boy- do I hate post partum hormones! Good luck, as I need it too!

  • Thank you, Heather. What you’ve described is a big (secret) reason I only have one child. I am so happy you’re doing well and know Leta will come around!

  • AC

    Thank you for sharing this story! It made my day. I hated my little brother’s home-coming (I was 7 at the time) but after a few years he grew on me and became a great partner in crime.

  • Beautiful post. Very touching and honest. Leta is going to be a fabulous big sister because she’s had wonderful examples of how to nurture from her loving parents. Let the games begin!!

  • Amy

    I guess I’m “lucky” if you could call it that, to be the last born in my family. I can’t imagine how it must feel to a child to have another child come into the home. Probably how my roommate’s cat felt when I showed up with my own cat. Except, you know, more so. And without the chocolate ice cream for breakfast.

  • Had the same exact thought when seeing my 2-year-old after the birth of our second daughter. She was a giant! And the diapers – oh, the crap that would come out. Freakish! And yet, all so normal…

  • oh sweetheart… xoxo

  • You captured that experience perfectly! It does get better, promise 🙂

  • Dear God, please give Heather some huge, tangible reward for spilling out the hard, emotional parts of life so beautifully that it makes thousands of people stop and consider the smell of their firstborn’s hair.

  • Alexis

    I have 2 girls (2.5 and 4.5) and I remember well how ENORMOUS the older one (only 2 years old at the time) looked when I came home from the hospital. They are best friends now and the younger absolutely idolizes the older and now that they play together all the time it has made our lives as parents much easier! It’s definitely not all bliss – they do fight and argue, but as an only child myself I am jealous of their relationship.

    Keep up the great posts (although I don’t know how you find the time to do it with a newborn…)

  • Melissa

    My 4 year old went to stay with the grandparents when our second son was born. They brought him to the hospital to see the baby and he was excited. Then he saw grandpa holding the baby and about had a nervous breakdown. That was HIS grandpa and NO ONE else’s. I remember how huge my oldest felt when I hugged him. I just cried and cried because I felt like I had abandoned him to take care of this new child. We have had our ups and downs. My baby is now 6 months old and we are into a comfortable routine. It takes a while but it will eventually get better. Good luck and Marlo is so beautiful.

  • Isn’t the hugeness of the older child bizarre? I remember feeling all of these things when my second baby came home from the hospital last year. My older son was GIANT, and would never be my little baby again. It was so wonderful and painful all at the same time.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • You will quickly see how Leta takes to Marlo and plays the older sister role. As the oldest of two, I was a little hesitant when my brother arrived on the scene. But I cannot imagine my life without him. It makes me weepy just thinking about it. We may not speak every week or even every month sometimes, but he will ALWAYS be my little brother. And I know we would both do anything in our power to help one another out in a time of need.
    Congratulations to all of you!

  • Laura

    My son was six when we brought his little brother home from the hospital. I felt as if I had crushed his little world and betrayed him in the worst way. Now, 8 months later, my oldest wouldn’t know what to do without his little brother. They ADORE each other and I realize it is the best thing we ever did. It’s an adjustment for everyone. Give it time. It will be wonderful.

  • This is a record, three comments from me on one post. Ok, this is a reply to the mom whose daughter wants a sister:

    I am an only child and always, always, wanted siblings SO badly. I still think I would have preferred to have siblings, but I’ve made peace with my only childness and enjoy the blessings of it such as getting my mom all to myself and, in the future, having all the doting of the grandparents go to my kids!

    The biggest thing that comforts me about not getting brothers and sisters is that I have managed to create a supportive, great network of friends for myself.

    STILL if I had the choice, I would have brothers and sisters! Your girls are lucky. (for lots of reasons.)

  • Girlmama

    I went through the same thing with my first girl. I used to look at a picture of her the day before her sister was born and think to myself “This was the last time she was truly happy” Like you, the feelings that you describe took me completely by surprise. NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THIS. Thank you for sharing.

  • tweety bird

    My biological clock is on overdrive right now! I know it is the last thing you’re thinking about right now, beying all bussy with leta and marlo, but you should update the info in the “about this site” cathegory…

  • DC Girl

    My older sister never got over my parents bringing me home from the hospital and into her life. She’ll be 40 this year. Hopefully your oldest will take it better and understand that a “family” is not created just for the first-born.

  • It might feel like you’re putting her through such a hard transition right now, but siblings are one of the most wonderful things parents can give to their children. Sometimes I crawled out of my bedroom window onto the roof just to get away from my brother, but it’s painful to think of what a Christmas morning would have been like without him.

  • Anonymous

    I remember this. I remember *exactly* this when I brought my 2nd born son home to meet his big brother. It’s ripping my heart for you right now. But, it does get better. For Leta and for you. I know your head knows this. It’s just going to take awhile for the heart to understand.

    P.S. My boys are 23 and 20 now and the very best of friends.

  • Leta’s reaction is so much better than mine was when my mother had another baby. I did not want another brother so I told her to shove it back up where it came from because I didn’t want it. Nice right??

    My daughter is 7-1/2 months and I still cry uncontrollably sometimes, good luck.

  • Ava

    i’m ready to pop any minute, and this is exactly what i’m terrified of: my high maintenance 4 year old feeling like OH MY GOD I’M NO LONGER IMPORTANT LIFE ISN’T WORTH LIVING I’M GOING TO RUN AWAYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
    thanks for the reminder that my daughter is going to need some help during this arbitrary transition. i hope we are able to be as sensitive to her needs as you and jon are to leta’s.

  • Missy

    That is one of the more bittersweet moments of adding to your family. I felt exactly the same way. And I mean EXACTLY the same way. That I had somehow ruined my older daughter’s life or that I had taken something from her. But now that my girls are 10 and 7, I can tell you without a single doubt that giving them each a sister was the best thing I’ve ever done. Seeing your daughters form that special bond that can only be created between sisters is worth all the growing pains and then some. I know that doesn’t make your heart hurt any less now, but it will come.

  • I’ve heard it’s SO common that your firstborn feels like your baby until you bring your second child home, and then your oldest child looks huge!

    I think chocolate ice cream for breakfast is an excellent idea, you’ll find your rhythm as a family of four, just give it time.

  • Liz

    Maybe because I gave birth to my 2nd a few months back, but I’ve had a teary-eye smile for the past 5 minutes. That post was moving and beautiful. Thank you.

  • That makes me want to cry a little too. I often think about having another baby, but (besides the logistics of the whole thing) the thing that makes me not so sure about it is feeling like I would be betraying my daughter.

  • It was the best advice I got when my second was born: It’s okay to be sad. Your firstborn and you.

    It’s the end of your first born being the most important person in your life. You kinda cheated on her and she knows it.

    Just wait until that moment when they are first Sisters — when you see that they love each other in a way that is none of your business and entirely about the two of them forever — I promise it makes up for it. Your sadness will be less than your joy.

    It’s the third one you totally can’t justify. 🙂

  • losifra

    Mom of three here, with similar age differences. The crying (yours) is so normal; or at least it was for me–but it was so excruciating while it lasted. When my youngest was born, my middle one ran to get the little dog-head-attached-to-a-blanket that he sleeps with–his best, most beloved thing–and placed it lovingly next to the baby. I cried over this little act of kindness for weeks. And eventually stopped. You will too.

  • I felt the same way about my two-year old son when we brought “that baby” (as he used to call her) home six months ago. I felt somehow like an era was over, that things were going to be different forever, like I just wanted to hug him and kiss him and hold him tight to prevent the future from happening. It’s a weird feeling but I think it’s completely normal.

    I love our new daughter more than life itself, but I’ll borrow from “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Toddlers” when I say that there will never, ever be a relationship as mystical and wondrous as the one between a mother and her first child. How could there be?

    In a few months you are going to love seeing the relationship grow between your girls, and the relationship between you and your girls. Only good things ahead. Congrats again!

  • ChrisV

    What is chocolate ice cream if not another version of frozen hot chocolate…no?

  • Claudia

    This is a wonderfully sweet post, and I am so happy that you can make the time to record all these amazing thoughts and feelings. Your post brought back so many memories of our own growing pains as we looked forward to each addition to our family.

    Someday, in the far, far future, you and Jon will be gone, and then Leta will be especially grateful, in a way she never imagined, to have a dear sister that she can call her own. Hang in there … the adventure continues!

  • Cari

    I GET THIS completely. Thank you for articulating all of the tremendous guilt and love we feel at the same time.

  • Marie

    I do not even have kids. Or want kids. But i am sobbing. How beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • I famously asked my mother on multiple occassions whether we could take my newborn sister back to the hospital. I was two and a half, she was a newborn. When asked who would take care of her, I would say “The nurses!” My mom gently explaiend that he nurses were pretty busy so she would have to stay with us. We’re the greatest of friends now, of course, but my little sister still loves to tell that story.

  • What you have to realize is that you are giving her a SISTER. Which is possibly the closest relationship she will ever have with another human being for the rest of her life.
    I have three daughters and they love each other more than anything in the world. Yeah they fight over stupid bullshit but at the end of the day, if one of them is unhappy it will break the other’s heart.
    You’ve given Leta something so priceless in Marlo. She’ll need a little adjustment time but one day, they will both be so grateful to have each other and thankful to you and Jon that they do.

  • Oh, hon, she’ll be fine. And you’ll be fine, even if it may not seem like it right now. In reality (though this might make you cry harder), Leta’s probably only going to have vague, hazy recollections of a time before Marlo. Her life will be filled of memories of being a big sister.

    Get some sleep if you can.

  • Deb

    Oh, yeah. I guess I should have warned you. I felt the same way when I brought home my second baby. As if I was cheating on my son. I even had brief moments of wondering if I could ever love another person the way I loved my son – so fiercely. But of course, I could. And do. It gets better.

  • HeatherNC

    Just tell Leta that its way better to have a little sister. First of all, Leta will get all the new stuff and the baby will get all of the old, ratty, stinky, old stuff. AND Leta will get to tell her what to do for the rest of her life.

    The. End.

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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