Breaking Baby News to an Only Child

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The day my bonus daughter opened a package and pulled out a shirt adorned with the words “Big Sister” was the day her world experienced an unexpected shift in the atmosphere. Her only-child-orbit was rudely being invaded by a force that was still far from lifting off, as he, her future little brother, was still a tiny alien in my stomach. We observed for any body language cues as she sifted through her box of big sister gifts and we saw what seemed like a forced smile when we asked, “Isn’t that exciting?!” No emotion. No anger. Just a shrug of the shoulders and an, “I guess.”

“Well,” I sighed to my husband after we hung up, “at least she didn’t have a total meltdown.” Enter foreshadowing here. We thought we were in a good position. We had researched how to tell a child they were going to be a big brother or sister and we collected cute little gifts to soften the blow of the potential “bad” news. And when I say “we,” I mean me, because, let’s be real, as her stepmother I was very worried how she’d take the news and if it would be used as ammunition to hate me. The challenge in all of this was that most everything in my internet search results was geared toward young children, who may have a hard time understanding the gravity of such an event. I felt that our almost-twelve year old needed to be told that she was going to be a big sister as softly as possible because, while she wasn’t young and could fully understand what gaining a sibling meant, she was hyper-aware that she was her mom and dad’s world — a mom and dad who divorced when she was very young and she had to split her time between.

My husband and Bonus Daughter at our wedding reception in 2015.

When I came into the picture, she also had another person to split her time with and — worse than that — to share her dad with. I have always tried to make her feel like she wasn’t sharing her dad, because I remember being a jealous only child. Anyone I had to share my mom with, I wasn’t a fan of. Just ask my stepdad (shoutout to Rick)! I wanted all of her attention and I was used to having all of it, for the most part. So, I acted out in response (sorry, Rick). Fortunately, my bonus daughter is way sweeter than I was as a little girl.

However, my mind couldn’t help but think of one very, let’s say, memorable experience with her three years prior. On a summer day after shopping together and getting some bonus daughter/mom bonding time in, I decided I wanted to warm her up to the idea that one day she might be a big sister. She bluntly stated that she didn’t want to be a big sister. When I asked why, she said, “Because they (her future sibling) might be the devil.” Now, imagine that emoji with the big, shocked eyes and paste that on my face. That’s exactly what I looked like, yellow face and all, after hearing such an alarming statement. I had to evaluate if this nine year old (at the time of said statement) meant that little siblings are bad in general or if a sibling that I, her stepmother, birthed was deserving of such a label. I decided it had to be that younger siblings are just not fun, because YIKES if it were the other option.

So, I guess accepting a shrug of the shoulders with an indifferent, yet kind of disappointed, response to the baby news was better than the above devil comment. Not long after we broke the new baby news came the meltdown I hinted at earlier. I’d like to attribute it to fear that the relationship with her dad was going to change and she was imagining only negative adjustments that were going to accompany her new big-sister life. I absolutely cannot fault her for that. I understood it and empathized with her. Don’t me wrong. The thought, Well, this baby is coming and she’s going to have to accept it, came out of my mouth in conversations with my husband, but what does that solve? How does that make her feel confident in her relationship with her father? How does that make her comfortable with me? How does it make her want to contribute in her new role? Two simple words: It doesn’t.

I learned that ushering my Bonus Daughter through this process and reassuring her what an amazing influence she was going to be on her little brother was helpful in affirming her place in our family. Introducing such change is delicate. I mean, it’s a whole new human addition! It’s not like we added a magnet to the fridge. I had to put myself back in my own 12-year-old shoes to understand this.

One of the sweet moments with her baby brother that melts my heart

I find myself watching her sweetly interacting with her little brother now and my heart swells. No, he’s not the devil (round of roaring applause for that). And no, she hasn’t been replaced in her father’s eyes. She is, indeed, the most amazing, attentive big sister.

I hope every smile she shares with her brother is a moment that replaces another negative feeling she may have ever harbored about our family expansion. To be corny, “We have lift-off” as a collective family unit learning our new roles in this wild, yet amazingly rewarding and challenging, atmosphere. Now, if I could figure out how to contact Houston with any future issues, that’d be great!

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Raised outside of Orlando, Florida, redheaded Melissa is an avid sunscreen and shade enthusiast. She left Florida in 2007 to serve in the United States Air Force as a radio and television broadcaster. After basic and technical training she was stationed in Illinois, South Korea, Italy, and Alabama with two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan sprinkled in between. In 2013, she met her husband Gregg and in 2015, they were married. This gave Melissa the new title of Bonus Mom to Gregg's daughter, Isabella. That year also welcomed Melissa back into the civilian world as her eight years of service came to a close due to medical retirement. She has called Birmingham home for the past 3.5 years. Shortly after they were married, Melissa and Gregg found themselves wading through the confusing and emotional world of miscarriage and unexplained infertility. They excitedly welcomed a son in November of 2017 after two years of trying for a little miracle. Melissa dedicates her extra time to spoiling their three rescue dogs Ginger, Typsy, and Bruno. She also fosters dogs before they find their furever homes.