“You are giving your son the greatest gift there is, a sibling,” a friend told me when I announced that I was 14 weeks pregnant with our second child.
Her congratulations stung.
Her words were those of a mom of four, who’d seen her own children’s sibling relationships bloom. But they felt heavy with unspoken judgment to me, who’d traveled a rocky path to parenthood. If we hadn’t decided to have a second child, would I have been denying my son the world’s best gift?
After all, we saw Teddy, our son, as our greatest gift. He arrived after three miscarriages, two rounds of thyroid cancer treatment, and one highly medicalized pregnancy, labor, and delivery. After what it took to get him here, and in my mid-30s, I doubted whether we’d be able to try for a sibling. I didn’t know whether my body could handle more doctors. More than that, I didn’t know whether my mind and my heart could handle the stress of trying – and potentially failing – again.
But we went for it – for pregnancy #5 and baby #2 -- with my doctors’ blessings. Even then, the decision was nearly out of our hands. At seven weeks pregnant, I began to bleed. On the way to the ER, my husband and I – convinced that our fourth miscarriage would soon be confirmed – decided that we were done. Pregnancy didn’t seem to agree with my body, and we weren’t up for the challenge of trying and wishing and hoping again. We would be a family of three, a one-kid family, and it would be okay. Maybe it wouldn’t be exactly what we’d chosen, but we’d be okay. Teddy would be okay, too.
We never expected what happened next: a report of a perfectly healthy embryo, measuring right on target. The bleed was one of those unexplained, one-time things that sometimes happens, and my pregnancy continued on, unremarkably, for the next 33 weeks.
But that comment at the 14-week mark stayed with me. I think my friend’s words made such an impression because my track record demanded that I believe that we, and that Teddy, would have been just as happy as a one-child family. Maybe I was feeling defensive about making a choice that we nearly weren’t given. Or maybe I was afraid to picture what life as a family of four – and life as a mom of two – would look like. I couldn’t bear to consider that it might fall short of the happiness and gratitude I felt for the little family I already loved so much.
Katie, Teddy’s sister, was born at the end of October. His early indifference to her turned rapidly into fierce, all-consuming adoration. His first question each morning, before even “Hi, mama,” is “Where’s Katie?” His last act every night is a kiss for Katie. And in between, he insists on holding her, on feeding her, on being her personal play-by-play guy. “Katie’s crying, mama, Katie’s crying,” he so helpfully reports. The concept of personal space is lost on him, because to Teddy, the very best place in the world is curled up next to the baby on her play mat, two-year and 20-pound differential be damned.
My life each day now features my conversation partner looking past me, watching to see if someone better has come along. Katie is that someone better in Teddy’s life, and he in hers. Their mere presence in the same space brings them joy and elicits deep belly laughs of unknown origin.
And then there’s this: “I love you, Katie.”
The first time I heard Teddy say those four words, my defenses crumbled.
I had to admit it: My friend was right. We’d given my son his best gift ever.