When I found out I was pregnant a few days before my forty-third birthday, I was shocked and thrilled. My daughters were 16 and 11, and I had been longing for another pregnancy since the girls were little. It took a year and a half to conceive my second child, and although there was no medical explanation, it just didn’t look like it would ever happen again. When the girls were both in elementary school, we decided to open our hearts to a three year old Russian orphan boy whom we adopted. The adjustment to life with that little blond tornado was tough, and it took some time for everyone to settle in.
It was shortly after Viktor’s eighth birthday that the surprisingly wonderful news of my last pregnancy came. All of us were beside ourselves with excitement and awe…all of us except my son. While some of us had tears of joy, he had tears of sadness and fear. My husband and I assured him of our love and his importance in our family, especially for the baby-to-be who would look up to him. But even after five years with us, my son felt his place in the family was so tenuous that this little intruder would surely threaten it.
After a while, Viktor began to accept the idea of a little brother — someone he could mold into a little version of himself and someone to even the numbers in the family. That was until he found out I was pregnant with another little girl. The reaction to that news was even stronger than to the pregnancy itself. He isolated himself outside and sobbed angrily. All I could do was remind him about his best friend at the time, a girl, who liked all the same things he did — army, cars, physical play. I’m not sure he bought my attempt at consolation. While the rest of the family enjoyed every aspect of planning and waiting for our new miracle, my son seemed in denial.
Then Claire was born. She was so tiny and helpless, and Viktor immediately fell hard. He held her so gently, studied her features, and mimicked how my husband let her sleep on his chest. He showed her off and talked about her to his teacher and classmates. During one of the first days home, while I was changing the crying infant, Viktor gently said to her, “You know what is really sad? When I was a baby like you, nobody took care of me like this”. He said it tenderly, as though he was just realizing for himself what he missed. It was like he made a vow at that time to never let her feel the neglect he did.
He began to see me differently, too. He got to see me parent from the beginning of life, there for all of Claire’s basic needs 24/7. During one of my first nights home from the hospital, he wanted to sleep near the baby and me to hear my “sweet voice” and see Claire’s “cute little face”. He was truly drinking in what I wasn’t there for when he was a baby.
Until the baby’s birth, I think Viktor always sort of felt like a latecomer to our family. He knew he missed out on our first family home and many of our combined experiences as well as his own first three years of being a baby in our midst. But as relates to Claire, he was there from the start—from finding out about her to every day of her life since then. She doesn’t know life without him, and she doesn’t know that he is anyone other than her brother.
As Claire entered toddlerhood, the brother-sister relationship developed into something more typical. She annoys him, he teases her, and they get mad at each other. She still looks up to him and wants him to play with her, and of course he still loves her, but they definitely get on each other’s nerves. The gifts of this relationship, however, are still being realized. Viktor had hyperactivity and sensory issues as a little boy that felt so different to me. He never seemed to sleep, and although she is not biologically related to him, Claire also has these issues, in some ways even more significantly. Her brother prepared me to deal with OT services, extreme fatigue, and acceptance of traits I don’t relate to. And now that a child I gave birth to has some of the same difficulties, Viktor’s characteristics don’t feel so foreign to me; he doesn’t feel foreign to me. I see that I absolutely could have given birth to a child like him, because I did.
It is interesting how things work out sometimes. A little boy came into our family’s life and there were lessons on both sides, and then a little girl came along and somehow made those lessons easier for all of us. It’s one love story among many in the chapters of our life as a family.
Related post: Sibling Bonding: Setting Them Up for Success