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Birth Reorder

Since the very first time I ever read about the impact of birth order on personality in a Redbook magazine a zillion years ago, I’ve devoured the analyses as a way to make sense of family dynamics and their impact on my personality. As a middle child, I learned that it’s no accident that I am a gigantic people pleaser with shadowy self-esteem; it’s because I was born second and another baby came after me. It’s simple: My older brother got everything first and then my baby sister got everything best. And I—well, I was left to tread water in the middle where I became convinced there was nothing that special about me.

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For years, I’ve manipulated the data on second-born children to excuse wide swaths of questionable behavior and character traits. I’ve used it to justify everything from my insecurity, my commitment issues and morning breath. Every childhood slight I saw through the lens of being the child who wasn’t special because she was neither first nor last. If you asked me which child had it hardest, I’d hesitate for less than a nanosecond before proclaiming, “The middle child!” Duh.

But now I’m starting to question my enduring loyalty to the idea that middle children have the least advantages. It started when three of my close friends took the plunge and had their third babies. Unlike their first two babies who received gifts from me within the first few weeks of life, their third babies were almost a year old before I sent a “welcome to the world” baby gift.

I didn’t put the same amount of effort into the celebration.

Then my sister had her third child. Proud of my track record as a conscientious and thoughtful aunt, I watched my third nephew’s first birthday come and go without getting him my signature gift of a monogrammed backpack. I didn’t miss the date, but I couldn’t deny that I didn’t put the same amount of effort into the celebration.

Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite so perfect to be third.

Of course, getting gifts on time isn’t the only way—or even the most important way—to shower a baby with love. But my gift-giving was an indication that something was different—so different that even I, the consummate champion of the beleaguered second-born, could not deny. It wasn’t that I forgot any of those third children, but I never felt that surge of urgency to get the gift in the mail. I didn’t touch base as often with my friends and my sister after the births of their third on the theory that they were pros now and didn’t need my check-up calls. After all, they’d done this twice before. While I always believed that it was inviolate truth that the middle child gets the least attention, my own behavior was disproving that theory.

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I haven’t admitted this to my parents or my siblings because I’d have to eat years of complaints about the supposed raw deal I got, but, truthfully, I'm seeing that the glamorizing I’ve done of third children may have been a little off-base. But don’t tell my baby sister, because the guilt trips I’ve laid on her will be hard to give up.

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