It has been a tumultuous first six weeks of Marshall’s life, to say the least. About four of those weeks have been spent in the hospital. Our lives have been utterly consumed by trying to get through this difficult time. Just keeping our heads above water has been an accomplishment most days. Through it all, I am ashamed to say that I have, at times, completely forgotten about our other son, Quinn.
For those who are not friends of mine on Facebook and have not been subjected to the thousands of photos I have posted about him, Quinn is our three-and-a-half year-old pride and joy. Despite now entering “threenager” territory, he has been an incredible addition to our lives. I always wanted to have kids, but Quinn was more than I could have hoped for. He is sassy, funny, energetic, and incredibly cute. There’s something about him that brings such happiness into the lives of people who meet him.
He’s pretty unforgettable, which makes the last month and a half so much harder to swallow. My pride and joy has been an after-thought in my mind. Fortunately, we have had the fortune of having supportive family who have helped look after Quinn during these tough times. Quinn has spent many nights at various grandparents’ houses. He’s not yet four, but he has certainly noticed our absence. “Can I come to your house?” he has asked his mother a few times, causing instant heartbreak.
It has been a markedly different experience this time around than the first time. When Quinn was born, I took many photos of his sweet little face nestled into my neck as he slept, or beautiful photos of him enjoying his bath time. This time around, I have just realized that we don’t even have a photo of the four of us together. And it’s not just because we haven’t had the time.
When Marshall was born, as much as I wanted to hold him close to me and love him, I had a hard time bringing myself to touch him. Revulsion is a horrible way to put it, but it was tough for me to get over his physical differences. I was afraid to touch his hands; his fused fingers invited feelings of fear in my heart. I wondered what it was like to touch his hands when I should have just held his little hands in mine to comfort him during his early days in the hospital. I remember vividly his second day of life, spent in a hospital intensive care room, when he looked at me through the wall of his incubator. It was probably my imagination, but to me, it looked like he was staring at me through eyes that were wide with fear. In that moment, I could have reached into the incubator and soothed him, but I was afraid to feel his frailty and imperfections with my hands.
It is hard for me to deal with the shame I feel when I think of those early days. It’s as if it would all turn out to be a dream if my hands didn’t feel the evidence, if I didn’t touch his little hands with mine. For all of my imperfections – and there are many – it was startling to see not only a baby with so many physical differences, but my baby at that.
Right now, Quinn doesn’t seem to care much about being an older brother. He gets annoyed when Marshall cries, and frustrated when we can’t come running to play with him, instead choosing to rock his baby brother to sleep. He doesn’t understand the health complications that Marshall has, and probably thinks all babies go through this. I get the sense that he’s also fairly emotionally sophisticated, though, and pretty soon he’s going to start noticing that his brother is unlike other brothers. It’s inevitable that he’ll be asked questions about Marshall. One day, Quinn is going to have to start working through the feelings he has when people talk about his brother in a certain way, or treat his brother a certain way, or stare at his little brother in an unwelcome way.
I hope that by then, I will have taught Quinn to be strong and confident, to stand up for what he believes in, and to do what’s right. I hope he answers the questions calmly and patiently, that he teaches his friends about his brother, and shows them how wonderful he is, if they only give him the chance. Quinn is such a loving – if stubborn – boy, and I want him to funnel all of that love towards his little brother, because he will need so much more of it than most people. As hard as it will be for Quinn to answer these questions, it is impossible for me to think about Marshall’s future without crying and fretting.
Some nights, after stories have been read and I’m tucking him into bed, after I give him a kiss and hug, after whispering, “I love you”, I tell Quinn that one day, he’s going to be the best big brother ever.
I hope I’m right.