Anyone who knows our family will tell you that Lewis was always destined to be a big brother. From the first day we told him, just two years old, that there was a baby in my tummy to grow with and love, he had beamed with excitement. And as we prepared for Joseph’s arrival, picked out his clothes, painted the nursery, and rehearsed manoeuvring the double buggy, Lewis had taken it all in, kissing my tummy and telling anyone who would listen that “Baby Joses” was on his way.
And I knew, without a single doubt in my heart, that he would be the best big brother in all the world.
I will always remember the moment we told Lewis that Baby Joseph had gone to the sky, when he had looked up at the stars and searched for him, his little face so confused as to where his baby brother had gone. I will never forget the feel of his hand in mine at the funeral, how he had stared at the tiny coffin being lowered into the ground, his eyes searching mine to make sense of what had just happened, and how he knew, even at two years old, that our world had changed forever.
And over the years I was often guilty of forgetting the fact that, however hard is was for me to be a Mother to a child I could not hold in my arms, it was equally hard for Lewis to have a sibling he could not grow old with. Not only was he thrust into a world of grief and loss at such a young and impressionable age, but he had to learn to navigate a life that we had not planned for, without the brother he had spent his whole life waiting for. And that was hard, not just then, but with every passing year.
I lost count of the number of times when Lewis asked me, “Why don’t I have a brother or sister to play with?”. It broke my heart to see him sat beside me, watching other siblings play together, the beat of our hearts synchronised with that all consuming loss, the unspoken words that sat on both of our lips, I wish Joseph was here.
When Lewis’s Dad and I divorced when he was just four years old, divided by grief with no way forward, I felt I had failed Lewis all over again. Not only would he never have the sibling he so desperately wanted, but he would live his entire life weighted down by a broken childhood, torn between both parents, so far removed from the life we had planned.
And so it was an unexpected twist of fate when Gaz came along and, despite experiencing a series of losses at the start of our relationship, our next pregnancy progressed and we learned we would have a baby girl. I will never forget the moment we sat Lewis down to tell him that he would finally have a sibling to love and how, at eight years old, the sadness reflected in his eyes was replaced by a flicker of hope. I can still remember how he had flung his arms around my neck, laughing in disbelief, and how my tears had turned to laughter when he asked, “Can we call her Jennifer Lopez?”.
And whilst my pregnancy was fraught with worry for all of us, it was Lewis who voiced those concerns out loud. Each night when I kissed him goodnight at bedtime, he would place his hand on my tummy, desperate to feel a kick, and ask me, “Will this baby die like Joseph?”. I can still remember how those moments took my breath away and how, even now, it breaks my heart that I hadn’t been able to promise him that she wouldn’t.
And yet the worst didn’t happen, and she was born healthy and well and breathtakingly beautiful. And when Lewis rushed into the maternity ward on that cold winters night, his cheeks flushed with excitement as he peered inside the cot, that was the proudest moment of my whole life right there. And as we all made a fuss of what a wonderful big brother he was, as he proudly held her and kissed her and adored her from the offset, I knew that it wasn’t just my heart that had healed, but Lewis’s too.
And it’s crazy to think that, after eight long years of longing for another sibling, that four brothers and sisters arrived within the space of two years. With the subsequent arrival of Megan and Harry, and a baby brother for his Dad and Stepmum, we often joked that he had wished so hard for a sibling that all of his dreams had come true at the same time.
But he loved them, at eight, at nine, at ten, at fourteen. He completely and utterly adores them.
So last week, when Lewis became a big brother for the sixth time over, to a new baby sister born to his Dad and Stepmum, I was over the moon for him. And later, as I bought a congratulations card in our local supermarket, the cashier, chatty as ever, looked confused as I explained that my son had welcomed a new sister. “Oh!” she said, as it dawned on her it was not me who had given birth, “A half sister!”. And I had awkwardly nodded, packed my bag and quickly left, a bitter taste in my mouth at a term I have come to loathe.
Because let me tell you, having watched Lewis with his siblings over the last six years, there is nothing fractured about his relationship with his brothers and sisters. Having seen the way they look up to him, and the ways in which he looks after them, there is nothing lacking, nothing missing, nothing lost. When I see him with Eva, Megan and Harry, or hear him speak about his little brother, his eyes light up with amusement and love, and occasional annoyance, and they are everything he waited for and more.
When he reaches for their hands as we cross the road, or calls their name when they wander too far ahead, when he nervously reminds them, “Be careful!”, I can see just how protective he is of each of them. When he patiently explains to Harry how to work the Play Station controller, or compliments Eva on her latest artistic masterpiece; when he allows Megan to jump on his back for piggyback rides round the garden, or drinks imaginary cups of tea served in pink plastic teacups, I know that he would do just about anything for them.
When he gives in to Harry’s demands to play dinosaurs, or Eva’s pleas to share his chocolate; when he lets Megan use his iPad, or lie in his bedroom to watch his telly, I know that they have him wrapped around their little fingers. When I bombard his phone with photos of the three of them, or send him videos of them being crazy, when he uses those photos for the home screen on his phone, when all of his friends have something way cooler, I know that he is resolutely proud of them.
And when they rush into his arms when he returns home from his Dads, when he allows them to climb up onto his knee and rest their head against his cheek, when he wipes away the slobber from one of Harry’s smothering kisses, I know he waited his whole lifetime for those moments.
And when he told me about his new baby sister this week, his eyes lighting up with excitement and love, when he showed us her photo and told Eva, Megan and Harry about her chubby cheeks and her squishy little legs, about how utterly adorable she is, I knew that his heart was so very full.
Because there are no half measures when it comes to these relationships. Their bonds are unbreakable, in all of their entirety, and they are real, and they are beautiful, and they are whole.
And together as a family, with seven beautiful children between us, and four parents who want the very best for all of our children, we are far from broken.