Two and a half years ago on a warm Friday night in October, my husband and I sped down the freeway from Sacramento to Davis at approximately 80 miles per hour. The clock on the dashboard flashed 12:13 a.m. I was 60 percent sure I was not in labor.
I had signed the VBAC consent form a few weeks earlier as a formality, and remember practically smirking as I did so. Just in case I go into labor early, yeah right.
Turns out, the joke was on me as I winced in the passenger seat. The possibility that I was, indeed, in labor, grew with each contraction and each mile of freeway passing underneath our car.
We left the house a mess. No food in the fridge. I’m almost positive we were down to one roll of toilet paper, because “buy toilet paper” remained on my Costco shopping list. You know, the errand I had planned to complete one week before the scheduled c-section? Yes, that one. I cannot remember if we had purchased newborn diapers. I think those were also on the Costco list.
But that’s not the worst part.
We left the house in such a hurry that we never said goodbye to Everett, our 2.5 year-old.
My friend Christina, who was also eight months pregnant at the time, waddled through our front door at 11:50 p.m. to sleep on our couch while Everett slept in his room. A flurry of texts, a five-minute shower, a handful of items thrown haphazardly in a bag, and we were gone. We didn’t even have a car seat installed in the car, a fact that would later be funny (in a pathetic sort of way). We said goodbye to Christina, but we never said goodbye to Everett.
I did not even think to tiptoe into his room to kiss his forehead in the dark, a fact that would torture me for the remainder of the drive.
I always knew I wanted more than one child, in the same way I knew I wanted to be a mother. That desire was mostly selfish.
Sure, I wanted a sibling for Everett, in the same way I wanted more grandchildren for our parents. But those desires were secondary to my own. I wanted to experience motherhood more than once. I wanted to feel more kicks in my belly, to hold another newborn against my chest, to feel the earth moving under my feet as I bore the immense privilege of becoming a mother all over again. I, I, I. Me, me, me.
Sure, I wanted a sibling for Everett, but that desire was more of a side benefit, a bonus, the cherry casually dropped on an already-sweet ice cream sundae.
The most miraculous part of adding a person to your family is somehow finding more love within yourself that you weren’t sure existed in the first place. When we got pregnant five years into marriage, I remember fearing that I might love my husband less as a result. As if a new baby could use up the love meant for my marriage, as if my love had limits, as if it could run out, like water contained in a pitcher. There’s only so much love to go around, I thought to myself. Only so much water here. Only so many glasses on the table.
How will I make sure there's enough for everyone?
The exact same panic set in when I became pregnant with my second. How will I ever love another baby as much as the first one? How will I love my husband, this child, and that baby, all at once?
I felt guilty for everything our first child would lose: the constant attention, the full capacity of our love and energy and financial resources. I felt guilty for the second child in my belly because he would only know a life sharing all of those things; he would never know what it’s like to have his parents all to himself.
It wasn’t until I was home in the grey rocking chair with two children in my arms that I realized my love does not have limits at all.
As it turns out: my heart is a well, not a pitcher.
As it turns out: so are theirs.
“Shhhh ... she’s coming!”
I walk down the hall to the sound of giggles and see Carson, our youngest, diving into the bottom bunk. He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep. I pretend to not know he’s pretending.
The second my silhouette flashes past the door frame, they are at it again: telling knock-knock jokes, playing with their stuffed animals, giggling incessantly—anything but sleeping. It is 8:30 p.m., and they’ve been playing in the dark for over an hour.
I don’t mind, though.
The first 18 months after our second was born, my kids lived on different planets: Baby Planet and Big Boy Planet. Every day they orbited around me until I got dizzy. Their needs were different, their interests were different, their diets were different—I was pulled in half on a daily basis, breastfeeding here, potty training there. While Everett was always kind and gentle with his baby brother, there was no real connection between them, no friendship. How could there be? The baby only slept and cried, an alien if Everett had ever seen one.
But then, around the 18-month mark, something incredible happened. Those two little planets started orbiting around each other instead of orbiting around me. Carson started walking and talking, and a friendship bloomed right before my eyes.
Everett started asking if we could wake Carson up from his nap.
Carson started asking if we could pick Everett up from preschool.
Fast forward another year, to today, and they want to be together 24/7. They look out for one another in the way that brothers do; if one falls down, the other helps him get up. I remember a few months back the kids were climbing a treehouse ladder. It seemed a bit too high for Carson. But Everett scaled the top and yelled, “You can do it, Car Car!!!” and sure enough, my tiny, not-even-on-the-growth-chart toddler made it all the way to the top. I would give anything to have that moment on video, because I have never seen Everett beam with pride for someone else’s achievements like he did that day. He jumped up and down, clapped his hands, hugged his brother, and exclaimed, “Carson! I am SO proud of you!” (I almost cried.)
They’ve created their own precious world together—one of dinosaurs and train tracks and toy cars and trampoline games. They are playmates, brothers and best friends, never sitting more than two inches apart on the couch while they watch Paw Patrol with matching snack cups in their laps.
Their lives have intertwined like a soft pretzel, so much so, that it’s hard for Everett to even remember his own life before he had a brother.
If I’m honest, it’s getting harder for me to remember, too.
I know their relationship will not always be this sweet, this easy, this simple. They hardly ever fight, and I fully expect that to change as they get older. There will be seasons when they don’t get along, possible punches thrown when no adults are looking, harsh words spoken late at night. I am not so naive to believe we can live in this Daniel Tiger-esque bubble forever.
But no matter what ebbs and flows from here, I can’t help but feel like I spent nine months worrying for nothing. I was so concerned about everything that everyone would give up; I couldn’t see forward, to the future, to this moment and this friendship, to everything that each of us would gain.
And if I could go back to that Friday night in the car, 35 weeks pregnant barreling down the freeway with a heap of guilt on my shoulders, that’s what I’d tell myself. (Also: yeah girl, you really are in labor, and this is about to hurt like hell.) I’d tell myself to keep my eyes on the road in front of us, not the rearview mirror. I’d tell myself this is the end of a chapter, but it’s not something to mourn. The next chapter is going to be 100x better. Just you wait. Give it eighteen months.
I had it all wrong back then. I had everything backwards.
Because as much as having a second baby was a gift to me, make no mistake ... it was a far greater gift to each of them.
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode, This Is How We Do: Raising Siblings.