Jeff and Sadie had just left, and the nurse on duty had given me my final two painkillers for the night. The only sound was whirring of some machine I was hooked up to. I was alone for the first time with my son. It had been 14 hours since he was born and over 41 hours since I’d slept.
I picked up the clicker at my bedside and futzed around with the bed height: I wanted to be able to see him but I didn’t want to aggravate my incision.
Using my arm strength to prop me up, I peered over the plastic crib railing where my son lay sleeping.
I should get some sleep too. A potent mix of exhaustion and adrenaline had so addled my brain that I couldn’t think clearly enough to settle on a name. But before I could surrender to sleep, I wanted to hold little CharleyAlexanderHenryMillerSimonSatchel in my arms and get something off my chest.
To warm up I started with some platitude-y discourse. Why scare him with the big stuff right away?
“Someday soon you’re going to find your way in this family. You’re going to learn that you have a neurotic-but-entertaining mother, a kind father who’s the original MacGyver, and a spirited big sister. There will be adjectives we use to describe you soon enough—some of which will fit and some of which will chafe.”
He was all wrapped like a Chipotle burrito minus the tin foil. He didn’t stir so I kept going.
I jumped to the punch line. “Son, I’m sorry. This won’t be the last time I say this to you, but it is the first. I’m sorry you were second. I can’t control birth order any more than I could control that unfortunate failed VBAC we just endured a few hours ago.”
This was the first time I cried in front of him.
“I am afraid there won’t be as many pictures of you as there are of your sister. Your baby book may be totally lame. I’m going to do everything humanly possible to record your milestones just like I did hers, but I’m going to fail. I already have.”
He wiggled and made a scrunchy face. I kept talking. “It sucks to not be the first. So many things you are going to do, she will have already done. It’s already happened. With the ultra-sounds. Yours were exciting, and I was filled with gratitude that you were healthy and thriving. But it was not the same kind of thrilling rush as I felt with your sister. It was different, because I had done it before.” That was the confession that I wore like a hair shirt– that his stuff felt different because it wasn’t my first time.
Using words I hoped would speak to his hours-old soul, I whispered through his hospital cap into his tiny ear. “I love you, my sweet second born, and I promise to be honest. And it honestly sucks to be the second born sometimes. I’ll do my best to make it suck a little bit less even if it is just by being honest.”
With that I fell asleep — a second born cradling her second born with a promise on her lips.
I meant every word.