I have a reader question for you and your amazingly helpful readers:
I'm due to give birth in the next 10 days and I will most likely have another c-section. I have a 2.5 year old son already and I'm wondering how much/what I should tell him about mommy being gone for a few days when I give birth. We've been talking about "the baby" for a long time and I think he's aware enough to understand that there is a baby and its in mommy's tummy but I haven't really broached the subject of actually going to the hospital, having the baby and re-couping for a few days. Most likely he will be in the care of a neighbor-friend for an afternoon/evening until my mother gets into town so the birth will be accompanied by a change in his routine and a
sleepover which I'm sure will give him some anxiety as it is. I've never been away from him for longer than a school day so I think my 4 day absence will be hard on him (and probably me as well). Currently, he thinks people go to the hospital to "be fixed" but I don't want him to think that I'm broken, or something bad happened to me from the baby and that's why I have to be at the hospital. Any advice on what we should say/explain? Thanks!
The book I remember being helpful when I was expecting my second baby was Za-za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins, which I see is out of print. It's not so much that the book was so awesome; instead, it's that I felt like it did a good job setting up the timeline of a new baby---rather than just focusing on the feelings feelings feelings FEEEEEEELINNNNNGSSSS of the older child. In some books (Berenstain Bears and Little Critter, I am looking in your direction), the mom just vanishes and reappears an hour later with a smiling baby, and it's all about how jealous the sibling is, or how the baby is too little to do anything, or how the baby is so awesome.
But in Za-za's Baby Brother, the mom is pregnant, and then grandma comes to stay with the child while daddy takes mommy to the hospital (we see them leaving in the car); then the child visits tired/happy-looking mommy in the hospital and brings a present for the baby; then mommy comes home and is very tired, and the daddy is very busy (and then there is the usual mention of the older child's feelings of being left out and neglected).
Anyway, I think that's the gist of how I'd present it to a 2-year-old: The baby is growing in mommy's special tummy (or however technical you get with that part), and soon it will be time for the baby to be born. You will go to the neighbor's house (add details here about maybe having a meal, maybe watching a video, maybe playing toys, maybe even sleeping there---whatever) and mommy will go to the hospital where doctors will help the baby be born. Then mommy and the baby will rest at the hospital for a few days while grandma takes care of you, and then they will come home and all of us will live together. Mommy and daddy will be tired and busy at first while we all get used to having the new baby live with us, and it might be weird and loud to have the baby around at first---but then before long it will seem normal to all of us.
You can put in tons more detail if he likes that kind of thing: you can say things like "And then Grandma will give you dinner, and you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won't be home! And then you will [whole day's routine], and then you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won't be home!"---and on and on, for as long as he's interested and you can stand it. I think this is a good way to give toddlers a feeling for the passage of time.
Our firstborn (he was 2 years 2 months when the second child was born) was pretty oblivious, but he enjoyed the endless repetitions of the story of what would happen and when and how. Our hope was that even if he didn't really understand it ahead of time, then when it DID happen he would recognize it from the story. (The funny thing was that he continued to want us to tell him the story, even long after the baby was born.)
More tips and ideas and advice for Bird? How did you prepare an older child for the birth of a baby and the accompanying schedule upheaval?