I’m fairly sure I’m smaller this time around than I was with Jamie. (Either I’m right about this, or the patient population in the area where I now work are a lot less discerning than the ones in Clacton-on-Sea. Last time around, by around five months I was starting to get the odd discreet enquiry as to whether I might possibly be expecting a happy event – this time, my patients sounded genuinely surprised when, as I approached the eight-month mark, I started mentioning the fact of my fairly imminent absence and consequent need to make alternative arrangements for their follow-up.) I’ll be interested to see if I’m right or not – I remember that when I was on my obstetrics attachment one of the consultants told us that a study had shown that women who had given birth before were more accurate at judging what the birthweight of a subsequent baby was going to be than ultrasonographers were. I have never seen the actual study and thus can’t guarantee that I am remembering that snippet of information correctly, but I’ll be disappointed if I ever do find out that I’ve got that wrong – it always stuck in my mind as such a great example of patient know-how trumping the best of medical technology. Anyway, I’m going to go out on a limb and state that I expect this baby to weigh less than Jamie did, and then we can all see whether I’m right or not. Given that Jamie was a healthy 8 lb 10.7 oz, I have to admit it’s not really that much of a limb to be going out on – even without any estimates of my size coming into it, statistical averages would seem to back up the likelihood of that statement.
There’s something so strange about knowing so little about a person to whom you are so closely connected not just in the emotional but in the literal sense. There is a recent novel about conjoined twins which starts with the narrator musing about the fact that she has never spent a minute apart from her sister, yet never looked into her eyes. (The novel went downhill from there, unfortunately, but it was a great opening.) Pregnancy is like that. That little head bobbing around somewhere above my pelvis already has a little face that might look like someone in my family or Barry’s or a mixture, and a little brain that is, on some level, already taking things in and processing them, listening to what’s going on. But I have no idea what this baby looks like or what kind of person he or she is going to turn out to be. I remember when I got to the birthing centre in labour with Jamie and the midwife told me that my baby had lots of hair, feeling thrilled that finally I was learning something – however inconsequential a detail it was – about this tiny new person.
Tomorrow is Jamie’s actual birthday, and thus the one day above all on which I really don’t want to have this baby. I feel they ought to have separate birthdays so they can each have a special day. Perhaps I’m making too much of that – I knew someone at medical school who was a twin, and recall her mentioning once that she didn’t know what non-twins did on their birthdays without someone else to share it with and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to. "It must be so lonely," she mused. But I’d still prefer it if I could hold off a further 24 hours and 26 minutes (as I type this) and give them each their own day in the sun.
Jamie is adapting fairly well to the idea of being a big brother (since he hasn’t yet got too firm a grasp on gender-specific nouns, his main grievance on the subject was that he couldn’t be a big sister instead, which apparently left him feeling quite cheated.) How he takes to the reality may of course be a different matter, but so far he has taken to the idea of a new baby in much the same way as he takes to most things – a general benign interest in the oddities of the world and a willingness to tolerate them quite happily as long as they do not interfere with his computer time. I’ve talked quite a bit to him, in a general commentary kind of way, about the baby in my tummy and of what sort of thing he might expect when it emerges, and he seems to have the general idea. The baby is in Mummy’s tummy, it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger before it comes out (I hope that last bit isn’t prophetic), and it’s going to drink special milk when it does come out. That seems to cover quite a lot of what he needs to know. He’s even said hello to the baby on a few occasions without me prompting him, and occasionally even remembered he has to put his face against my belly when he does so rather than simply addressing his "Hello, little baby" to the world at large.
Having read reviews on a number of the books intended to prepare young children for imminent siblings and bought, or at least browsed through in the bookshop, several of them, the three I would particularly recommend are Jeanne Ashbé’s And After That, Joanna Cole’s I’m A Big Brother (which also comes in a Big Sister version), and Lucy Cousin’s Za-Za’s Baby Brother. What I liked about this selection is that not only are they all lovely little books in themselves, but they also complement each other rather well by focusing on different aspects of siblinghood. "And After That" introduces some factual points about life with a baby – baby nurses but bigger child gets a snack, baby gets a bath in the little bath but bigger child gets a bath in the big bath – which I felt was a particularly helpful approach in Jamie’s case as he’s a concrete little soul and I think absorbed the whole thing better for being given some definite facts about the matter that he could focus on. "I’m A Big Brother" plays up the positive side of older siblinghood, with a lot of hype about being big, being able to do all sorts of things the baby can’t, and being able to help take care of the baby, while still being very special to Mummy and Daddy. (Actually, that would be Mommy and Daddy, as it’s an American book, but I adapted it in reading aloud.) "Za-Za’s Baby Brother" helps prepare a child for the fact that there’s a negative side there as well – Mummy and Daddy may be busy with the baby and not always able to play with the older child and sometimes the baby will get in the way of you doing what you want. (There’s a happy ending, in case you were worried – Za-Za discovers the baby himself can be a fun playmate, and she gets the parental attention she wants when he settles down to sleep.)
Exactly what Jamie got out of them is a little hard to say. He enjoyed reading all of them, and I’m sure he got some benefit from them and is better prepared than he would have been without them, but he is not the type of child to sit and discuss points raised. "And After That", as I said, certainly helped with getting some of the practical details across, although he was a lot more interested in some of the non-baby-related pictures that are mainly there to introduce the whole concept of particular things happening after other things (a baby getting a bath in a little bath is of some interest, but a spilled drink needing cleaning up is noticeably more interesting). His main interest in "Za-Za’s Baby Brother" was in the traffic lights with a green zebra instead of a green man (although he liked that enough to make me feel it was a worthwhile buy, even if it wasn’t quite the point I’d hoped he’d fix on). However, he picked up on a more relevant point from "I’m A Big Brother", and that was a line that I’d barely noticed in passing, about singing the baby a little baby song.
"How does the baby song go?" he enquired.
"I don’t know. Maybe we can think of one?" I stalled. I have never been a great one for lullabies. He was not to be fobbed off, however, and insisted on getting to hear the Baby Song. So I sang him the words that my father made up to Brahm’s Lullaby when we were children (at least I think it’s by Brahm’s – the really famous one that always ends up on baby mobiles) – "Lullaby and goodnight, go to sleep, little baby…" He was far more enthralled by that than he ever was back when he was a baby himself. When I’d finished that he insisted on another baby song, and thus got "Hush, Little Baby", a song the tune of which I love but the lyrics of which I feel very dubious about (I mean, what kind of message does it give a child to tell them that every time something you buy them turns out to be defective or gets broken you’re simply going to go buy them something different? Or am I overthinking this?) but which, again, he loved. And Barry tried singing him "Rockabye Baby", which he promptly dubbed the Falling Baby Song. The other two are Sleeping Baby Song and This Little Baby Don’t Say A Word, and he has insisted on a number of repetitions of both since then. If the baby likes the baby songs as much as Jamie does, then calming him or her down in moments of upset isn’t going to be a problem.