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Helping Isaiah Adjust to Baby Joshua

Before Joshua arrived, I spent most, if not all, of my day with Isaiah. There was a rhythm and routine to our day with which we were both comfortable. We spent several times a week playing with other children, so he was used to sharing toys and negotiating a bit. He was not used to sharing me. I was not used to triaging the needs of two children. Helping both Isaiah and me deal with the transition took a bit of forethought, understanding and patience.

During my pregnancy, we tried to prepare Isaiah as much as we could for Joshua’s impending arrival. A friend loaned me two books What to Expect When Your Mommy’s Having a Baby by Heidi Murkoff and I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. These were both quite helpful and Isaiah wanted us to read them over and over even months after Joshua’s birth. They helped him to make sense of the changes. Throughout my pregnancy, Isaiah received a little less attention from me and more attention from Paul. The evening became a special Daddy time. This was less intentional and more a product of necessity as I battled exhaustion. Still, it worked to our advantage. After Joshua arrived, Isaiah received a lot of special Daddy time and he took to it quite naturally. We have lots of pictures of Isaiah and Paul out on adventures at the Bronx Zoo and the local pool while I stayed home with newborn Josh. Paul had six weeks of paid paternity leave (I cannot say enough good things about his company) and it was a meaningful time for all of us.

That is not to say that it was a seamless transition. I really missed my one on one time with Isaiah and I wanted him to feel just as important as the new baby. Sometimes, as I headed off to nap or to care for Joshua, I really felt as though I was abandoning Isaiah. Rationally, I knew that “abandon” was too strong a word, but it felt that way. My friend, Bev, recently gave birth to her second child and emailed the mommy focus group asking if anyone else mourned the loss of one on one time with their first child. Every mom with 2 or more responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

We have all dealt with it in similar ways, all tried to find ways of communicating to our first child how much we love them. We have all tried to find ways of spending quality time with our oldest, both with and without the baby.

When I came home from the hospital, I intentionally entered the house without the baby, went straight to Isaiah, and hugged him. I told him how much I missed him. Paul came in with Joshua, we introduced the brothers then gave Isaiah the opportunity to hold Joshua. “Hello, baby Joshua,” Isaiah said, “I’m your big brother.”

I also took a tip from my ob and played with Isaiah if I knew that I was going to nurse soon. Often times, Isaiah was on to the next thing by the time I needed to nurse and I could have a quiet moment with Joshua.

A doula and childbirth instructor told me, “The baby doesn’t need you emotionally as much the sibling does at first. Let other people help with the baby as much as possible. Don’t feel guilty. You are still bonding with your baby and your baby will need you more later on.”

This was one of the most helpful things that anyone said to me during my pregnancy. Surprised to find that I had more energy post partum and sleep deprived than I did when I was pregnant, I took Isaiah to the park across the street in those first days and played with him as much as I could. We made our arms into wings and flew around the basketball courts. We made nests out of leaves and jumped into them. It reminded both of us that we still love each other and enjoy time together.

During the day, Isaiah adjusted fairly well. Nighttime, though, was another story. I took over the bedtime routine as another time when Isaiah and I could spend time together. Within a week or two of Joshua coming home, Isaiah didn’t want me to leave him at night. “I’m scary!” he cried.

We believed that he was scared and unsettled by the changes in our household and we wanted to help him work through his emotions. At the same time, we didn’t want to end up with one of us sleeping with him. We tried a few different tactics to get him to feel at ease. We added cuddle time with mommy in the rocking chair to the routine. This worked for a week or so, but soon he was back to crying, then screaming. We then started a modified version of Ferber, constantly going back to reassure him at varying intervals. It worked for a night or two, but then he was back to heart-wrenching sobs. Eventually, I lay down with him until he fell asleep, rubbing his back and singing to him. He would grip his arms around my neck, as if trying to ensure that I would never leave his side. Although he had been sleeping through the night for well over a year, he started waking up again, inconsolable if anyone but me came to him and so I went. The first few months were grueling, getting up with Joshua for nursing every 3 hours or so, then getting up with Isaiah one or two times a night. It settled down when Joshua started going to bed before Isaiah, somewhere between 3-4 months and Isaiah could see that the baby was not up with us, playing, while he went to bed alone.

That was months ago, when it seemed as if there would never be a time when Paul and I would be together without a child with us. In retrospect, that time passed fairly quickly. These days, Joshua goes to bed at 7:00 p.m. and Isaiah goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. It works very well. We have some one on one time with Isaiah at night and Paul and I get time together after that.


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