Aubrey Hirsch’s previous Loco Parentis columns for The Butter can be found here.
Let me start by explaining that I have a bit of an empathy problem. I have a lot of it. Way too much. When I was a little kid, my sister pretended that my favorite doll had a broken leg and I felt sick to my stomach for a week. Once a stuffed animal I won at a carnival flew out of our car window and I made my dad drive up and down the highway three times looking for it. When we couldn’t find it, I cried at school every day for a week because I felt like I had abandoned it and that it was sad and lonely and cold. I was like 10.
So when I became pregnant with my son, it was no surprise that I started imagining emotions for my fetus almost immediately. When I felt his first, twitchy movements, I read that they were probably totally out of his control and felt overwhelmingly sad for him. They sounded so scary, those tiny seizures. He was the only living thing in his little world and he couldn’t even trust his own body.
But the worst of it came in the last month of my pregnancy. As I prepared to give birth, I would rub my distended belly and think about what a crazy thing it was that was about to happen to this baby. Sometimes I would talk to my husband about it.
“This baby has no idea what’s coming,” I’d say. “His whole entire universe is about to be completely ripped away from him and he has no idea. He probably thinks this is his life. Forever. I mean, can you imagine that?”
Obviously I’m speaking as an adult here, and the rational side of me does recognize that a fetus probably registers very little of its surroundings and likely doesn’t have the capacity to miss them when things shift. But just the idea of it, of your whole world disappearing and being replaced by something entirely new is so horrifying to me that it lingers.
And I knew, while I counted down the days to my delivery, that there was absolutely nothing I could do to prepare him, or make the transition easier, or let him know in any meaningful way what was coming for him.
Now that I’m pregnant again I feel the exact same way I did before. I feel it about this new fetus, yes, but also about my son.
Adding a new human to this family is a big deal—especially when that human is a newborn with so, so many needs. We’re trying to prepare our son as best we can with lots of talking and books and playing with “babies”, but the fact is, he’s only two. And there is, once again, simply no way to really prepare him for what’s coming.
Everything he thinks he knows about his life, his family, his routine, his place as the primary focus of our attention is about to totally evaporate. Even just thinking about it on his behalf feels scary.
But the same reassuring thoughts I had during those long nights before he came out into the world are working again to reassure me that everything will be okay. Back then, I could calm myself down by reminding myself that the world he was coming into was different, yes, and unimaginable to him. But that it was so much better. There’s beauty here and opportunity. There are colors and temperatures, smells and things to look at. There’s laughing and crying and things that make noise. There’s music and pain, friendship and sadness. It’s all just so goddamn amazing that it’s undoubtedly worth that tough transition on the way in.
The decision to have another baby is one my partner and I made with our son in mind. And this transition, too, is coming with amazing things for him. Companionship and learning, a chance to grow, opportunities to figure things out on his own. And all the amazing things that come with being a big brother: learning to share, to teach, to forgive.
The transition will be hard and it’s true that his world is never going to be the same. But, just as before, I am confident that it will be better. So much better that once he’s settled in his new life, he’ll never want to go back to that dark and lonely place he was before.