Coming home to siblings
Buzz Baby is a column about life with babies. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 6.
When a baby is born at a hospital, parents are surrounded by helpful nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, and sometimes even in-house hospital photographers. The typical hospital stay often doesn’t feel like enough time to fully prepare for the moment they give you a discharge summary and the baby, smile, and say “good luck.” And then comes the expectations-filled introduction to other family members, especially siblings.
In 2016, Liz Austin had just given birth to her second child, a second daughter, Lucia. Lucia’s big sister, Everley, was 2 at the time. Liz and husband Jeremy decided before their hospital stay that they would do things a little differently than many for the introduction of big sister to baby Lucia.
The couple chose to skip a sibling visit at the hospital, which was allowed at the time, pre-pandemic. “One of the best and non-traditional decisions we made was not to have her come to the hospital to meet [Lucia],” said Liz. She said it helped eliminate heightened emotions for Everley and saved the big surprise for the comfort of home.
When they were packing up for the hospital, Liz explained to Everley that she was getting a fun stay with grandmother, and that they would be back in a few days with a special present.
When Liz and Jeremy came home from the hospital, they planned it so they arrived when Everley was napping. After she woke up, Jeremy recorded the first-meeting moment of the two sisters. “We have the most adorable video of entering her room and telling her we had a surprise. She ran out and found the baby in the bassinet,” said Liz.
Liz said the best part of that choice was there was “no end, no need to say goodbye” and no need to send her home, away from her mom and sister and leave with the sight of mom in a hospital bed. “I felt like a hospital visit and the subsequent separation would be too hard for her, and it turned out to be the exact right decision for our family.”
The Austins welcomed their third child this year, a baby boy, Fletcher, amid strict Covid-19 restrictions. While other families have been enduring restrictions on big siblings at the hospital, Liz says it was not a problem for them. They were going to skip it again anyway.
Big sisters Lucia and Everley even chose to forgo FaceTime with their new baby brother. “They wanted to be completely surprised when we walked him through the door,” she said. The girls got the exciting big reveal they patiently waited for, and it did not have to end. “They spent the rest of the day snuggling him on the couch,” she said.
There is another important introduction to plan in many households, and that is introducing a new baby to the family dog.
The Austins have a 5-year-old Poodle, Ouisie. They relied on advice Liz picked up from an old episode of The Dog Whisperer. They had Ouisie in her kennel upon their arrival with Fletcher, as the older kids’ excitement might have been too much for her.
After the kids met him, they let the introduction take place slowly, letting Ouisie come sniff the baby blankets and check out the baby carrier – and, finally, the baby. “She totally ignored him for two weeks. After that, she must have realized he was a permanent addition to the pack. She lies down next to him during tummy time and attends every diaper change and every bedtime as if she thinks we can’t manage without her,” Liz said, laughing.
Another Buzz neighbor recently experienced a sweet moment with their dog, too. Upon entering the house with their new baby in the baby carrier, their dog started whimpering at the baby’s side with excitement.
According to advice from the ASPCA, it is important to start the introduction process for your dog even before the baby is born. One issue is, when your baby arrives, there will inevitably be schedule changes in the household.
Experts advise that about one month prior to baby’s arrival, start making those projected schedule modifications so that it is not an abrupt change when the baby does get there. Also, of course, give the dog, as well as the baby, lots of love and attention.
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