A Second Born With Her Second Born

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.

Son, we gotta talk

Son, we gotta talk.

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.


45 thoughts on “A Second Born With Her Second Born

    • I agree on all fronts. My complex about it has been greatly lifted as I raise my own children and learn that different doesn’t mean less than. It’s just different. It also helps when I don’t pretend that everything is exactly the same, because it’s not.

  1. “I already did.” Me too. The pregnancy and during birth journal is so much shorter for my 2nd. The photos mostly have her brother in them too. And she struggles with being “littler” – although she’s quite the spitfire.

    This was lovely. Thank you!

    • I am still looking for peace on this one. HEr baby book is brimming and busting with stuff and his is a slim volume with half the material. How does that not make him feel less loved???

      • My youngest sister, the third, has next to nothing. It’s pretty much a joke in our family. I think time, hugs, kisses, and the occasional lollipop count more in the long run.

      • Oh, he’d trade it all for a scoop of ice cream and a picture of Spiderman! I keep meaning to look up whether Bill Clinton was first or second, though I am not sure where that puts the argument either way!

  2. I have to admit to my first born that I simply don’t get her plight. I’m sure it is hard to be first and contend with all of our expectations that we can adjust for #2. Sometimes I tell her to call my sister for sympathy that I just don’t have. It’s definitely different. And my second has fewer photos & barely a baby book…fewer vacations, hand-me-downs, but a saner mom than my first.

    • I have thought of that too! That Simon gets a saner mom that didn’t call the ER when his umbilical cord fell off, for example. Everyone gets some good and some not great. That’s that’s just how it is.

  3. Awww, that picture is stabbing me in the ovaries with its cuteness!!!!!!!!! It’s a tough lot being the second child, but as some of the great comments above mention, there are benefits and drawbacks to all of it. Simon is going to be his awesome own self!!!

  4. Lovely moment. Gosh. I remember thinking those kind of thoughts in the hospital with my infant son. Now with my daughter — it was a little different as my second and third child were adopted as infants. Sweet photo.

    • Oh I love how each mother shows me a different perpsective. I know he’ll encounter much worse in the world than not being first, but it was memory conversation for me. (I meant to write memory.)

  5. Simon is such a lucky little boy. Your pre-apology was heartwarming and heartbreaking at same time. I know the second born curse and I worry about the same with my second born. Thankfully, she is as spirited and full of life as our first – she’s impossible to treat as invisible and keeps Ava on her toes for attention. Lovely post. I’m off to take more pics of Rhys! 😉

  6. I love this glimpse into your mind as a new mother. I can’t remember much from my own experiences, sadly! Your boy is already so much better off having a mother who gets what it’s like to be second. I worry about my youngest, as his baby book is virtually empty, and my daughter’s has every darn blank filled in. Oh, well. We do the best we can.

    • It’s true. My dad was second and his baby book is hilarious. For his 4th birthday he wanted a stick of gum. Not sure how that’s relevant to this discussion but it was cute.

  7. Awwwww, very sweet. IDK. I’m sure there are down sides to every place in the birth order. The oldest is the guinea pig so by the time you repeat the process with the second born you at least know what you’re doing. Great post, as always.

  8. But there is something really special and lucky about being a second child. I’m the oldest, and all the mistakes my parents made with me, that I’m sure all parents inevitable make with their first, they didn’t make with either of my sisters.

  9. This is so wonderful Mama. And you made me laugh at the image of a baby chipotle burrito “minus the foil”. 😉 Your son is already ahead of the game because you’re upfront and honest and cognizant about the reality of being the second born. And it sucks even worse to be the third.
    I think there are maybe ten pictures of me when I was a baby. lol

  10. as the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter there was some funky family legacy that was handed down…but it didnt affect the birth order rites of passage. For example…what’s a baby book? and why are there no photos of me before the age of 8? I actually think its pretty funny so … not to worry . This was very sweetly told…quite a lovely vision of you with your new baby alone for the first time.

    • can you even imagine the baby book for my fourth? What the hell will I whisper in that kid’s ear??? “Sorry your mom is 50 years old the day you were born?” “Sorry pigs are flying outside”?

  11. Love this, and not just because I had my third born and failed VBAC. 🙂 Great tenderness and I appreciate the way you vowed to mother honestly. I’m sure you have had a great sensitivity toward him from your experiences and that’s such a great bond you share!

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