Not too many weeks after the positive pregnancy test, we told MaiTai he was going to be a big brother.
We wondered if he even knew what it meant to be a brother… to have a brother or sister… or even the differences between himself at not quite three years old and a newborn baby, much less one in a womb. He knows what a womb is, right?
We had a lot of work to do! Or so I thought.
As with all things, learning takes time, increasing interest, and often repetition of known facts with the addition of new ones.
First we introduced some episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that depict the title character in his journey of becoming a big brother. From his mother’s pregnancy, to the birth (she went away to a hospital, but we’d explain later how situations differ), to taking care of his little sister afterward… it was enough to seriously draw MaiTai’s interest.
“Aww, look she’s a mama…” … “What a cute baby, so so cute…”
Yesss. On a roll already!
We made sure to explain how a baby was growing inside me just like Daniel Tiger’s mom, how he’d be a big brother just like Daniel Tiger, and how the baby would be cute and tiny just like the one in the episodes. Sometimes we asked if he thought his sibling would be a boy or a girl, but always referred to the baby as “little sibling” to avoid confusion if we picked the wrong sex.
MaiTai has accompanied me to every prenatal appointment. He knows the midwives as his little sibling’s ‘helpers’ who make sure he’s okay.
And speaking of “he,” right after the anatomy scan that revealed baby’s sex we told MaiTai the awesome news: little sibling is a he!*
*(for all intents and purposes unless he himself reveals that such a pronoun isn’t suitable; only he and time could possibly tell).
We watched the ultrasound video with MaiTai, narrating what we saw in the black and white mini-film. But he’s not really black and white like that, we clarified.
Soon “little sibling” became “little brother”… and shortly thereafter received his name, Julep (like MaiTai, not his real name 😉 ).
As my belly has grown, I continue to talk about how Julep is growing too.
Bigger and bigger and bigger, I say, getting big enough until he’s ready to come out! Which will be soon.
Yes, soon. (Insert number of months).
This is when I got a calendar for MaiTai. I showed him the days, weeks, months, and encouraged him to fill up his calendar with things he wants to do on certain days. (Going to the library, park, and Whole Foods were in rotation most often).
Then I showed him where Julep’s guessed arrival time might land. This helped him understand the meaning of “soon” and the forward progression of days that leads us to a more narrowed reach of this ambiguous “soon.”
“And… come out?”
This one has required the help of repetition and little-by-little addition of new details. We’d already explained how Julep is living inside my uterus (or womb), swimming in water, spending his time flipping around, sleeping, hiccuping, listening to us talk to him, breathing and eating through a cord attached to his belly.
MaiTai already knew Julep could feel his daily ‘Morning Time Kisses and Hugs,’ ‘Afternoon Kisses and Hugs,’ and ‘Bedtime Kisses and Hugs.’
He knew his baby brother could hear as he placed his hands and cheek on my navel, whispering about how his day was going and asking how Julep’s day was going, reciting stories about his favorite kind of cars and how he is going to help him swing at the park and learn how to build with Legos.
But he didn’t yet know how Julep would come out. Soon… but from where?
He pointed to my flattened, stretched-out belly button circled by the linea nigra like the ring of Saturn.
He will come out from between my legs, from my vulva, through my vagina. It’s connected to where he’s living, growing, swimming in my uterus.
“Ohhh. Okay! From here!”
He pointed to the space between my legs. No questions about how such a thing could be possible, as would many adults and even those numerous doubters with obstetric degrees. Just a simple assurance and belief that this is what happens.
We’ve spent countless months preparing both for Julep’s arrival and for his permanent stay in our home. MaiTai has been involved in every aspect.
He loves knowing that he’s a ‘big boy’ now and not a baby like Julep. He regales us in tales of “When I was a little boy…” or “When I was a baby…”
He wants to help pick out supplies at the store for his little brother, to plan out loud what kinds of things he’ll teach Julep to do (walk, talk, use the potty, eat solid foods, “wear sunglasses like Daddy do’s it”).
We say things like “Let’s go upstairs — you, me, and Julep”; “Let’s sit on the couch together with Julep”; “Julep heard your joke and he wiggled. I’ll bet he thought it was funny.”
We talk about how babies cry often because they don’t know how to use words to communicate, how they need to be held all the time, how they can only drink nanoo milk instead of eat table foods, how they must be held, protected and loved on gently because they are so tiny and precious. Just like he was when he was a baby.
Julep’s arrival has become imminent and we’ve talked about our plans for his birth, too. The wheres and the hows and what to expect when meeting for the first time. MaiTai is looking forward to helping light Julep’s very first ‘birthday candle,’ the flame that will burn his cord separate from his former womb companion, the placenta (in the ceremony of sacred severance).
We’ve always treated Julep like he’s already here, because he is — right here in my womb. He’s been an important member of our family since before he had a dresser full of washed, folded, and ready newborn onesies… since before he had a name… since before I felt his first fluttery kicks.
It’s clear: MaiTai has long known what it means to be a brother… to have a brother or sister, and even the differences between himself at now almost three-and-a-half years old and a newborn baby, especially one in a womb. He even told me that he remembers when he was in my womb (“When I was a baby…”).
“It was too loud in there,” he said. 😛
*All photos are credited to Anel Lestage, portrait photographer for Tender Nest Portraits.*