Preparing toddlers for a sibling. Is it really possible?

I’ve asked a couple mum friends who have toddlers a similar age to my daughter and who are expecting their second baby if they think their kids are excited about being older siblings. They’ve told me they don’t think their toddlers really know what is going on but I would completely disagree! I think that you can prepare a toddler by making the new baby part of the new norm. However, as the baby is not here yet, I am fully prepared to eat my words!

Myself and my partner have included Imogen in almost everything baby related from relatively early on. In hindsight this was risky in case something didn’t go right with this pregnancy, so I think we should have introduced her to the idea of a baby a bit later on just in case. My daughter came to the first scan of her brother, she’s come with me to some of my midwife appointments and heard her brother’s heartbeat. We talk to her about her brother all the time and let her know he is looking forward to meeting her. We tell her what a great and important responsibility being a big sister is and she seems so excited. She often comes over to me to put her hand on my tummy to see if she can feel him kick or sings nursery rhymes to him.

When I was younger I wasn’t really ready for my sister to come along. It felt like a bolt out of the blue and when I should have been excited, I was completely confused! My younger sister and I laugh about this now, but I really didn’t take the news well as a youngster, I was very jealous. So I think this is why I’ve tried to make sure my daughter is prepared, if that is possible with a toddler! I’m fully prepared that she will still be filled with jealousy and worry when the baby arrives, but I just want to do what I can to make it easier for her and if I’m wrong then it was worth trying!

Books

There are great lists online of books to read to a toddler/pre-schooler to help prepare them for a sibling. I picked two books: ‘You Were the First’ and ‘Big Sis, Little Miss’. What attracted me to ‘You Were the First’ was that the story talks about how the eldest child is special because he/she was the first child that the parents saw do all of these amazing things. The book tries to reassure an elder child that they are not valued less just because another child is coming along, it doesn’t change how much they mean to their parents. It’s so important to me that she feels as celebrated as the baby when he arrives.   

‘Big Sis, Little Miss’ is a book all about the important job of becoming a big sister and how much the younger sibling will look up to them for guidance and will want to play with them.

Toys

I was browsing online and found dolls that have a removable tummy and a baby inside. Yes they are a bit creepy, but I thought this would be a great big sister gift for my little girl from her brother. The set I got had a Dad and young girl in as well, which I thought reflected the size of our family, but obviously every family is different and there are dolls sold on their own which have the removable tummy. We have also been playing with baby dolls, pretending to feed them, wash them etc. and I have been dropping in the odd “you can help mummy and daddy do this with your brother.”

Shopping

I’ve been taking my daughter to shops that sell baby items and have been talking her through what the different items are, which is a great opportunity for her to ask questions, like “what is this and what does this do?” She picked out a cot, a pushchair and a drinks beaker, (all of which we didn’t get), but I told her how thoughtful she was. It was nice to see that she was considering what her little brother would like. She has ‘bought’ him a couple toys and helped me to pick out some clothes too.

The nursery

We have yet to decorate and sort out the baby’s nursery, but I have asked Imogen if she can help mummy and daddy to make the room look nice and welcoming for her brother and I told her we will also be getting some nice things for her room too and rearrange the furniture a bit.

The birth

Family members have asked if we want them to take Imogen out when the baby is born, which is a lovely idea and of course we will need to ask someone to help us to look after her at that time, but I don’t want her to feel she isn’t included. I would like to make her feel special, so if anyone has any ideas from their own experiences please share them!  

I didn’t fall in love with my baby right away

Everyone knows the scenario. A woman is in labour (and absolutely exhausted), the midwife is shouting ‘one more push’, and finally, a baby is born. The cord is cut and the baby is handed to mum, who feels this overwhelming rush of love they’ve never felt for anything in their life, right?

Well, that didn’t happen for me.

While I was only in active labour for four hours, I’d had what some may call a nightmare of a pregnancy. Due to my EDS I had spent a good portion of it in a wheelchair, I was having hydrotherapy for the SPD and PGP that I developed (if you’re not sure on those, click here for more info), and I’d broken my foot because my EDS couldn’t keep up with the constantly increasing weight that comes with being pregnant. In the early weeks of pregnancy I contracted a viral infection which increased my risk of miscarriage, and baby developing foetal hydrops. And those were just my issues. Add in having scans for little one three times a week because she refused to be active, growth scans because my doctor thought that at full term she would weigh less than 5lb, steroid injections as I’m high risk for preterm labour, and a short inpatient stay towards the end of my pregnancy because my hips wouldn’t stop dislocating, we were essentially living in our hospital 5-6 days a week.
So it’s safe to say I was relieved when she was born, and she started breathing around 30 seconds afterwards.
I was so excited to be passed my new baby, and to feel this huge rush that every woman I know had been telling me about since I announced that I was pregnant that I pushed through two second degree tears, a dislocated hip, failed pain relief, a small haemorrhage and an incompetent midwife just to hold her. The midwife handed her over to me, and I was so amazed that this tiny (yet huge?) person had been with me for the last nine months.
But I didn’t feel that huge rush of love that everyone was talking about.
To be honest, I panicked a little bit, and I thought something was wrong with me. She felt more like a really cute stranger that I had a really strong urge to protect (and cry all over). I tried to breastfeed her twice, but as I’d been given diamorphine too close to delivery, my new bundle of joy was a little dopey, and kept crawling past the breast to suckle on my neck. Cute.
I continued to feel this way for the next few days. I had panic attacks whenever I was left alone with her because I was terrified I was going to break her, I couldn’t sleep if I was alone with her because I was terrified something was going to happen to her, and in the end, including the time I was awake and in labour, I didn’t sleep for three days. I got so worked up about that initial meeting with my daughter that I couldn’t think about anything else. I was convinced I was broken, and that it meant I was going to be a bad mother and this was all a very bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, I thought she was adorable; I was so proud that I had made her, and I wanted to take care of her, but I was just so disappointed that I didn’t get that first meeting that people claim to be the best moment of their lives.
Looking back on it now, I realise it’s totally normal. The birth and pregnancy I had with my daughter was far from normal, my body had been through a whole ordeal, and I was exhausted. I was hormonal, sleep deprived, very drugged from labour, and did I mention they handed me my baby for the first time while stitching me up with no pain relief?
Ouch.
How did you feel when you first met your baby?

Mental Health Monday: Anxiety about having more children after PND

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When I was a 14 year old, my dream for my family life was to have twin girls (Lily and Olivia) and then a boy (Henry). I don’t think i need to go into the whys and wherefores about how that changed, but it certainly did.

Following the birth of Olivia, I suffered with Postnatal Depression for the majority of her first year. Having also had antenatal depression and just not being in the best mental state generally, I sort of knew that I would suffer with PND, though I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was or to last as long as it did. Whenever I think back to her being a baby, it makes me sad. I didn’t enjoy her being a little baby because I was under so much mental stress at the time. Of course, I can think back to happy times as well as times when I was in the middle of a breakdown, but on the whole, reflecting on her baby stage just makes me feel angry at myself, and terrified it will happen again.

Like I said, I no longer want twin girls and a boy (and my plan for having the twins first has gone to pot anyway), but I have written previously on the blog about why I don’t want any more children now and why I never want to be pregnant again. The PND plays a huge part in that.

I carry so much anxiety with me from my experience of having Olivia that things would be the same again. I honestly could not face that same depression again. It was quite crippling in many ways, and 2 years after Olivia was born I am still dealing with the aftermath and the guilt.


There’s a great twitter chat hosted by Rosey at PND & Me which has covered this topic before, and I liked reading the comments of people joining in and their very mixed experiences…

Some had PND only with the 1st child, some with both, some only with the 2nd or subsequent. I suppose, the point is, that everyone will have different experiences and every pregnancy will be different.

But we knew that already! So…

What are the actual statistics?

  • PND affects more than 10-15% of women within a year of giving birth (that’s about 35,000 women!)
  • Up to 1 in 10 fathers also suffer from postnatal depression following the birth of a baby
  • 33% of mothers who experienced depression in pregnancy then suffered with PND
  • A history of depression makes it more likely that you will suffer postpartum depression
  • Mums who have had postnatal depression with one child are more likely to suffer again with subsequent children

I’d like to think that I’m not the only mum who worries that this would happen again, after all, there are so many of us who have suffered with it once, twice or however many times.

My husband and I often look at each other when Olivia does something unbelievably cute, suggesting another one, but he knows that I don’t want anymore and I feel guilty for that too. But at those times when we think “aww, look how cute our baby girl is,” I do wish I could bring myself to have another child. I wish I could do it knowing that I would be able to enjoy the baby stage like I couldn’t with Olivia, but there are no guarantees, and really, I don’t think I’m cut out for doing it all again.

In my moments of weakness (as I call them) when I think I want another baby, I feel so conflicted because as much as I would love to have another child, I can’t face feeling like I did during my pregnancy and feeling all of the guilt afterwards of not being able to bond with the baby and feeling like I’m simply inadequate!

I know that things are really quite different now – I have none of the external drama going on that I did during my pregnancy with Olivia, so maybe because my life is more stable now, my mind would be too. If I do end up having another one I’ll be sure to let you know 😉 but, for now, Olivia is more than enough, and I am enjoying being her mummy. I can’t go back to what I was when she first arrived, so I’ll carry on being the best mummy I can be to her and we’ll just see what fate has in store for us.

Have you survived PND and gone on to have more children? How were things a second time around?

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Mental Health Monday: PND and bonding

Having trouble bonding with your newborn isn’t something limited to those experiencing PND – it actually happens to most mums after giving birth, and is a common part of the “baby blues”. There’s an expectation that everything will be wonderful and magical, but in actual fact your body has gone through an immensely traumatic experience, and for the next 2 or 3 months you will be sleep deprived beyond belief. It’s no wonder that sometimes the bonding isn’t automatic, or just takes a little longer.

Immediately after I gave birth to my daughter she was placed on my tummy for skin-to-skin, recommended to keep baby warm and to benefit baby straight after leaving the security of the womb. She stayed there for all of 10 seconds before I had to ask someone to move her. I had been throwing up throughout labour and was still being sick into a paper bowl, shaking too much to hold her properly.
After that I didn’t hold her very much, except when she was being fed. I didn’t know what I was doing with her. It was the single most daunting experience of my life that first day in the hospital – a midwife huffily “helped” to latch her on to me, told me I was doing things wrong and fixed them for me, not advising me but just doing it for me because I seemed so incapable. Even nappy-changing was a struggle, and with 4 younger siblings that was something I’d done my fair share of in the past.
Around 2 or 3 weeks after she was born, my mother-in-law got back from her holiday to New York so we went to visit, driving from Kent to Essex. The drive wasn’t so bad, but when we got there, it was impossible to settle her to sleep. She just screamed, for hours, and I didn’t know what to do.
My husband and I drove around Corringham with her, hoping that the motion of the car would settle her, but, if anything, it made her worse. Usually, that would have done the trick. We started to suspect it was colic, something I’d never heard of, and, of course, that made me feel even more unprepared and inadequate to be a parent.
Don’t worry – this story gets better, I promise. That night I received the best advice I’ve ever been given, though I didn’t use it straight away. My mother-in-law asked if I’d tried singing to her, took Olivia, rocked her and sung a song her mum used to sing.
Poof!
Just like that, the screaming, crying baby was gone. She was asleep, and peaceful.

At first, I didn’t think it had anything to do with the singing. I thought my baby had had enough of me already in the first month of her life.
The next night, the outbursts started again, so I tried it, not holding out much hope that it would work.
But it did.
And not only that, but I cried tears of joy for the first time since she had been born. Partly due to the fact that I’d found something that would allow me some sleep for the foreseeable future, but mostly because for the first time I felt needed for something more than just milk. I felt like my baby loved me because she felt safe and secure enough in my arms for me to soothe her to sleep with a song.
I forgot that she had spent 9 months listening to me singing and talking from inside the womb. I forgot that she was already so familiar and comfortable with my voice that she would recognise it now that she was on the outside. I didn’t know that, at the same time as calming her, it would calm me, too.
So, if you’re one for singing in the shower, your baby has heard it and fallen in love with it already. Try it. Even if you’re not one for singing at all! Try singing to your baby and see if it has the same effect. You don’t have to be Mariah Carey or Beyonce… You just have to be you.
Your baby knows you and your voice better than anyone else in the world.

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