I wrote this a month ago in the throws of trying to figure out how to navigate going from a mother of one to a mother of three…
“It’s not an easy task, being asked to go from being the baby of the family to the big brother who has to give away so much time and attention that once belonged to him to his baby sisters. My heart breaks a little every night once he’s asleep when I think about how much I wasn’t able to be fully present with him the way I was able to and have been over our past decade together. I have this kind of melancholy feeling of missing him and missing us and this awareness of how much has changed which I’ve heard is quite par for the course anytime you add to your family. Then I scroll through this picture I took tonight when he wasn’t looking and I realize that he’s becoming a young man even though it felt like just yesterday that we were snuggled in the rocker reading to sleep. What a crazy, complicated, chaotic, and downright heart aching thing this parenthood thing is. I’m so lucky he’s mine.”
I will say the most difficult part of giving birth has been the effects of this process onto my first love Habi. I know I have written a great deal about the loyalty I feel towards Habi. I have put a great deal of thought and intention into the best way to guide this process of adding two more children to our family – especially two biological children while still embedding into Habi that he was always “enough.” Habi is adopted. It is a simple fact of his story that I cannot, as much as I desire to, undo.
I know my adoption tribe “gets it”. We sob watching “This Is Us”. It speaks directly to our hearts. We ask every day if our love is enough. If we are enough. If we can heal the wounds of trauma from adoption and fill in the blank spaces of disrupted attachment and embed new neuro-pathways onto our children to combat the cellular memory that tell these incredible children the lies that they were not enough for their parents to stay. The lies that say that they must be “bad” in some way…or their parents would have kept them. This is simply the reality of disrupted attachments regardless of what we want to believe.
Habi got really sick pretty soon after we were home with the babies. He had a fever and was shaking and when he admitted the symptoms he was feeling he did so with the assumption that I would do what mama bear always does…I would come to him and cover him in my body and my love and nurse him back to health.
The problem was this time my body did not belong solely to myself. My milk and my body was a necessary life force to two new lives and I had to protect these two little newborns from an illness that had the potential to be extremely risky to their fragile new lives. And so I was in the most horrific and gut wrenching position ever of choosing in that moment to go to my beautiful boy and give him the love and comfort he so desperately needed in that moment both physically and emotionally – or to turn away from him to protect myself and these babies from the sickness that he was carrying.
I had only been home from the hospital for matter of days and there we were in the foyer of our home, both of us sobbing as I packed up his things for him to be picked up and go elsewhere.
“Mom I don’t want to leave.”
“I don’t want you to leave” … SOB.
It was awful.
Once he realized what was happening – that the sickness meant he had to leave – he started to lie – telling me he wasn’t sick. And there I was – a bubbling mess of hormones and diverged loyalties, feeling like the worst mother on the planet as I sent him away so I could protect the babies “from him.”
My stomach hurts even now just recounting that moment.
And it sucked me into a wave of pain and despair that completely overtook me. I remember in those weeks of strep throat sweeping through our house while I disinfected every surface like a mad woman in between the 30 minutes I would sleep between feedings and drowning in guilt wondering what in the world I had done to my life just drowning and wanting to wave the white flag.
I had never felt like a worse mother. So incompetent to the needs I had placed onto myself. So under water. So inept. So overwhelmed.
Did I mention it was awful?
The ice covered streets and the deadly viruses circulating St. Louis certainly didn’t help matters.
The minute he left the house I cried for an entire day. Sobbing as I nursed and cleaned and wandered the house like some kind of sleep deprived maniac.
I felt like one of my appendages was being extracted. My kiddo needed me…now more than ever – and there simply was not enough of “me” to fill the needs of this family. It was a foreign and horrific experience.
In those weeks I wondered if I needed a pill. I wondered if I had ruined all our lives. I wondered if I would ever get my head above water or if I was destined to drown forever.
And he hated it. All of it. Who wouldn’t?
He hated that his mom disappeared into this bed reddened fraction of the mother she used to be in the months leading up to these babies and now that they were here all of the magic of what our life was as the three of us had disappeared all together.
He wasn’t alone in that worry.
I quickly acknowledged that it was going to take a lot more help and many hands to give me the space I needed to hold my first love to give him the kind of love and support he needed to get through this gigantic transition.
And so I finally waved the white flag. I called every support system I could call and carved out tiny fractions of time and energy that he could call his own. There simply had to be parts of myself that were still left for only him.
For our family that means Sunday. Sundays were for him – and him alone. There were sacrifices I had to make to my nursing and my marriage and my work and my self that were necessary to ensure that Habi could feel security that his entire world was not going to be thrown completely upside down. There was going to be one night a week that felt like “us.”
And it took several weeks to get ahold of it.
It had been months since my husband and I had been on a date. It had been months since I had a single moment to myself and I was so sleep deprived it took a great deal of energy to find anything left inside of myself to give to poor Habi – but slowly over time I found the resources inside of myself to give him what he needed.
And with every day that passed, the five of us became a new normal.
He started to find ways to dig inside of himself and grow into his new role. Tiny little adjustments…he taught himself how to make eggs in the hole himself in the morning. He started getting himself ready for school. He quickly learned how to become more self-reliant and with only a few more weeks he began walking into his role as the “older” provider of support to the family unit.
It was a shift so subtle that I barely recognized it while it was transpiring – but all of the sudden I woke up one day and Habi was asking to help feed the babies. He had learned how to hold them, how to burp them, how to rock them to sleep.
And that was truly magic.
I have been a parent in some form for over 13 years – but I had never really known the experience of raising siblings.
Watching Habi slowly come into his role as a caretaker and support system has turned out to be one of the greatest joys of this entire process. Witnessing him stepping up into love and nurturing the babies is an incredible thing to experience.
And suddenly I didn’t need so much of “me” to spread around as they have started to have one another.
And thus…an older brother was born. We all have become a team…and love and support flows up and down and across and upside down. The joy of siblings and a larger family shift the dynamics were we all take care of each other.