When my sister got pregnant for the second time, her first child was barely a toddler. He was still new and tiny, far from the milestones of potty training and self-sufficiency. He still didn't sleep through the night.
Her biggest concern from the jump was how her first baby would take to a second baby invading his space, his family, his life. He still needed his mom very much. Would he resent this new baby?
Fast-forward to today: Baby Faye is 6 weeks old, and Big Brother Ben is proud, loving and endlessly sweet to his new sister. I've honestly never seen a sibling relationship quite like it. While much could be attributed to personality and luck, I know that her conscientious planning and prepping made a huge impact on their bond.
So I picked her brain to find out how, exactly, she prepared baby No. 1 (Ben) for baby No. 2 (Faye):
1. "I waited to tell the news."
Because her first baby, Ben, was just one year old, she waited until her pregnancy was past the high-risk stage before preparing him for the upcoming change.
2. "I involved him in all of the appointments."
While it might be tempting to sneak away for your appointments, she strongly suggests including baby No. 1 in the process. For her, that meant bringing Ben to her ultrasounds and checkups, having him listen to his sister's heartbeat and help measure his mom's belly. To this day, Ben still "plays ultrasound" on his mom's belly with LEGOs.
3. "I read him the book 'Waiting For Baby.'"
Unlike other books, "Waiting for Baby" by Rachel Fuller has an open-ended narrative without gender specifics. She was able to change the language to fit her circumstance (i.e., a home birth rather than a hospital birth). She credits this book for helping to introduce the concept in a way he could understand.
4. "The midwives came to the house, on his own turf."
Because she had a home birth, she had extra preparation. Ben met the midwives in his own living room (and still talks about them to this day), and she prepared him for noises he might hear during the home birth. (They made funny faces and grunting noises in the mirror, so that he'd know mommy was OK and safe; that it was normal.)
"With preparation and involvement, I think it's very possible for young children to understand a lot more than we think they do," my sister said. "Many people were worried that it would be 'scary' or 'traumatic' for him. I completely disagree with that. Childbirth is natural ... It's only scary and taboo if we make it that way."
5. "I bought him baby dolls."
Which they used to practice diapering and baby care.
6. "I gave him scripts to prepare him for life with a newborn."
7. "I gave him a list of 'helping jobs' ahead of time."
Ben was excited to "be a helper" by fetching diapers, putting lotion on her feet and singing her lullabies.
8. "I was very careful about how I worded things."
"For instance, I said, 'Come feel the baby moving,' rather than 'kicking.' I wanted to make the language positive and age-appropriate."
And against the traditional advice, she avoided the stork explanation. "I was sure to say that the baby was going to 'come out of my body,' so he understood what was happening in simple terms. I didn't want this to be a scary, confusing experience."
9. "Our nighttime routine included reading and singing to my belly."
He sang "Baby Beluga" to his mama's belly and kissed his sister goodnight. That routine continued after she was born, too.
There's something to be said for creating a loving, tender foundation for brand new siblings.
By incorporating his soon-to-be-born sister into their conversations and routines early, it was a natural transition once she arrived. Ben knew what to expect, he had his scripts and songs and duties, and he had been practicing his gentle, loving approach for months.
"I really wanted to normalize the process," she said.