Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Sibling Factor

I often think that siblings have the toughest task of any family member when a family is faced with CHD. Not only do they lose much of their parents attention during "high-stress" periods, they fear for their sibling, and they are often left out of the loop, but realize something is wrong.

I can see substantial changes in my oldest daughter, who is now five. She was a few weeks shy of turning four when her sister was born with TGA. Her world crumbled around her - instead of going to the hospital and meeting her new little sister we'd all been so eagerly anticipating, she came to the hospital and waited a few hours, until we realized something was wrong and sent her home with her grandparents. It was several days before she saw us again, and her new baby sister was hooked up to machines, swollen and blue. I didn't realize at the time how bad her new baby sister looked - but looking back at the photos, I'm shocked that I let my older daughter see her in that condition. I guess we just do the best that we can at the time.

My oldest daughter was bounced between family members while we stayed in the hospital that first month. It was also the first month of school, and she missed the crucial bonding period in her new preschool. By the time we came home, she'd fully regressed in her potty training, and had stickers covering her babies "to monitor their hearts."

The next few months didn't let up for her. We faced a flurry of doctors appointments every week, the challenge of fitting into a preschool with kids she didn't know (who by that point all knew eachother), and a crying, frantic bundle of energy that she so desperately wanted to cuddle with, but couldn't stand to be touched. Our oldest daughter tried so hard to love her baby sister, to hold her during "good times" and she was fiercely protective of her. I remember one time I had to take both girls to the doctor, and she got very angry with a nurse who was going to give Sadie a shot. She just wouldn't stand for it.

Over the past year and a half, the baby has gradually calmed a bit, and now will even give her big sister hugs from time to time. Just the other day, the eldest was hurt, and the youngest came running to give her a hug and kiss. It melted my heart - finally my big girl is getting the baby sister she's always dreamed of.

Since those early days with the baby I've seen a lot of changes in my oldest daughter. She's more self-reliant. She's confident and more outgoing. But at the same time, she panics if anyone is sick or hurt. She is scared of the doctor. And she's incredibly clingy with the people she is closest to. It's not a surprise in anyway that we've noted these changes... but it is sad that she's gone through these changes so quickly. I miss her innocence.

I'm so proud of my oldest daughter. She has been such a good girl throughout the entire ordeal, and she's so incredibly compassionate and strong. There were many times this past year during this whole ordeal that I simply would not have made it another day without her. She's a shining light and I'm so thankful she came first, to light the way for her special little sister.

1 comment:

GoofyJ said...

I hope you don't mind if I leave a comment. We noticed a lot of sibbling issues too, especially since Jacob was our fourth child. He was rushed to the hospital so fast at 10 days that our kids didn't really know what was going on. We were lucky in that Grandma and Grandpa happened to be visiting - and they stayed with our other three for the first few days. There were a few things we decided to do to lessen the trauma on the kids: (These were things we felt were right for our family - not neccesarily right for everyone else)

1. We didn't take them to the hospital until after Jacob was without most of the tubes - we have one daughter that is prone to nightmares and associates everything with herself (in other words she would have basically envisioned herself in Jacob's place) - we were also afraid it would be especially traumatic to our 2 and a half year old who wouldn't understand what was going on.

2. We had a friend taking calls for us, and when we were talking with the grandparents we made sure they were out of earshot, so that kids wouldn't pick up on bits and pieces of things and get more scared than needed. We made sure that we talked to them about it - but in a way they could understand. We didn't want them over hearing things and their imaginations taking over.

3. We made sure to spend time with them everyday if possible

It has been a few years and the effects still last. One daughter is concerned any time Jacob goes in for anything, or when Mom and Dad leave. They have grown up and dealt with a lot of it. But at the time we didn't really think about how much it affected our other children. Sometimes I wonder if some of the "issues" we are dealing with today have stemmed from Jacob's hospitalization (and the instability they felt at the time) and our not realizing how it could be affecting our other children.