Originally posted April 1, 2008
Cradling my newborn should have brought me nothing but joy,
right? Shouldn't I have been content to marvel at the miracle
of Holly's tiny fingers wrapped tightly around mine the night we
brought her home from the hospital seven years ago? So why
was I a sobbing mess?
Because my firstborn, slumbering in the next room, felt a
million miles away. My new preoccupation with the sweet
stranger who nursed into the wee hours had distanced me almost
overnight from my little Noah, my constant companion for more than
two-and-a-half years. I was suffering from the
I remember the impulse to crawl under the covers and snuggle him
as he slept.
When Noah woke the next morning, my husband dressed him while I
nursed Holly. "It's been five days since I changed Noah's
diaper," I whimpered. For me, this was no reason to
Sure, a firestorm of post-partum hormones had been unleashed in
my body, a phenomenon that has been know to wreak havoc on even the
steadiest of psyches - particularly vexing with sleep deprivation -
but I knew that my heartache couldn't be explained that
simply. I felt stunned by a loss I'd intellectually
anticipated, for which I could never have emotionally
prepared. I've yet to hear more than a whispered
acknowledgement of this kind of grief.
I'd heard that my firstborn would suddenly look 'ginormous' to
me once I had a new baby, and figured that our easy routine,
spontaneous walks and visits to the library while Daddy worked
would change some, but I could never have anticipated that the
intimacy I enjoyed with my first child would be forever altered.
That's not to say I wasn't wild about baby Holly, the
unwitting interloper I'd just met, "But I know Noah.
I miss him," I recall wailing plaintively that first
night. I was grieving my first baby.
In his own way, Noah grieved too.
One afternoon before Holly's birth, Noah hung out with Daddy at
work so I could get a nap and finish nesting. Sensing a
shake-up, he pulled the office fire-alarm and caused a
ruckus. The day she was born, Noah locked his father out of
the house when he took out the trash, then climbed onto the kitchen
counter and squeezed all of the dish soap down the drain while Todd
watched helplessly through the kitchen window. The next day,
after cuddling his baby sister for the first time, he marched into
his playgroup with a swagger and announced "I'm gonna roar my
terrible roar," a line from his then-favorite book, "Where the Wild
People who study child psychology talk about attachment as being
the most important task of early childhood; developing skills
enabling them to engage and bond with their caretakers assures a
child's survival. When a threat to this attachment is
perceived, which classically occurs when a new sibling is
introduced into the family system, a child may respond by acting
out in attention-seeking ways.
Mr. Noah was a text-book case.
At any age, we unconsciously manage stressful circumstances
beyond our control by asserting power and control over the things
we can control. When you're little that means eating
when you feel like it, potty-training when you're good and ready
and running out of the house in your Scooby-Doo skivvies while
mommy nurses the baby. That's not to say that parents
shouldn't continue setting limits and imposing consequences, but a
little extra reassurance about an older sibling's importance to his
changing family doesn't hurt. Sometimes special alone time
every week helps siblings (and parents) adjust.
Legendary antics aside, Noah adjusted to his baby sister's
homecoming like a champ. Before she was even born he put his
own blanket, which he'd slept with when the crib had been his, into
the crib. "For baby Holly," he offered, taking my breath
away. Sure enough, precious Holly, whose tuft of platinum
hair reminded us of spun gold, quickly became the apple of Noah's
eye. I often spotted him tenderly singing to her when he
thought no one else was looking. "Puff the Magic Dragon," he
sang, just like Daddy sang at bedtime. The line that gets me
is "Dragons live forever, not so little boys." If only they
As for me, I too found Holly irresistible. Loving her did
not diminish the grief I felt over losing that magical cocoon Noah
and I shared, though - until I discovered that all I had to do was
let it grow a little bigger.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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