I was putting a fresh diaper on 5-day-old George when I heard the front door bang open. “We’re okay!” my husband, John, called from the living room. I scooped up the baby and ran to find John in the doorway cradling our 3-year-old, Levi. Both of them were covered in blood. A rag John held to Levi’s forehead leaked red droplets onto our welcome mat.
Levi saw my shocked face and began to whimper.
“We’re okay,” John repeated, giving me a pull yourself together look. “Levi had a bit of a bike accident, and I’m taking him to the doctor.” He grabbed his keys and the two of them were off. Shaking, I laid baby George in his bassinet, sat down and sobbed.
Nothing since George’s birth in September had gone the way I’d hoped it would. I wondered, not for the first time, if having a second child had been a huge mistake.
George entered the world like his brother: painful labor and an unplanned C-section. But that’s where the similarities ended. With Levi, John and I spent the first four days in the hospital together while the three of us learned how to be a family. We ordered huge plates of room service, took naps, and spent hours holding and gazing at our beautiful new son. Photos document us proudly buckling him into his car seat for the ride home, posing with favorite nurses and bouquets of flowers.
This time, John spent one night in the hospital after George’s birth, then left to take care of Levi, who’d been juggled between family and friends in the two days since my labor had begun. Instead of feeling the fullness of our family expanding, I felt it fracturing, breaking; George and I were in the hospital, while John and Levi were at home.
These feelings are common, according to Carmen Maron Walker, a South Burlington psychotherapist specializing in prenatal and postnatal counseling and parenting support. While many parents expect to come home to some challenges after the birth of a second child, Walker said, the shift actually happens earlier — in the hospital, or even on the way there.
“It’s the moment of departure from our family unit of three. If we’re not expecting that, it can feel like a shock,” she explained — for parents, and for the older child. “There’s grief and loss involved.”
The night John brought Levi to the hospital to meet George, I was unsure of what to expect. Levi appeared in the doorway, holding an enormous vase of flowers he’d picked from our yard. He gave me the long hug I’d been craving, then climbed up on a chair and giddily peered into the plastic crib and said hello to his little brother for the first time. Then he climbed back into my bed and ate my entire tortellini dinner while snuggled in my lap.
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