With the recent and abrupt self-weaning of my 2-year-old comes yet another stark realization: I think the growing of my family is done.
There’s no “think”, actually. Rob would most certainly state that we are done. I suppose I say think because it’s only just recently that I have slowly and finally come to agree with my husband.
Lately, I have found myself warming up more and more to the idea of closing this chapter of our lives and moving beyond the baby stages. With each instance of us getting to sleep in longer, have a Date Night, leave the kids with Grandma, or observe any one of our children gain a new independent skill, hazy recollections of a Normal Adult Life will start to pulse through my temporal lobe and swarm me all over with a palpable, giddy tingle. Oh, the possibilities!
And yet…there is a kind of mourning that comes along in deciding that you are really, truly done: that difficult-to-grasp notion that you will never again feel the stunning, breathtaking flutters of life moving inside of you, the magical grit and will of labor and delivery, the supple softness of a newborn’s skin as they snuggle and sleep upon you. For me, it is a complicated sensibility that stems from a complicated history. For when it comes to children, I’ve run a gamut of emotion, deciding initially to have none, shifting all the way to imagining myself with as many as five or six! I waffled all the time, adoring being Auntie to my nieces and nephews, yet always finding that the best part of our fun-filled, sugar-fueled days together was taking them back to their parents at the end. And babies? Not interested! Eventually I decided to venture into the child realm after all, and still there were lingering doubts. I remember vividly my visit to a postpartum friend while I was 9 months pregnant. I awkwardly held her baby girl, expressing the requisite “Oh, how cute” that I felt was expected, and three seconds later found myself thinking “Umm, ok… I’m really ready to hand her back now.” That incident honestly worried me. Here I was about to deliver any day and, up to that moment, had been very eager and excited for my baby’s arrival. Or so I had thought. But now I fearfully questioned myself. How could I hold a baby at this juncture and still not be oozing over with maternal emotion? What had I gotten myself into?!
I was relieved to find that it is true when they say your feelings will change when it’s your own child. I was amazed by and taken with Lila from the moment she arrived. But that total awe also vacillated daily (if not by the minute) with pure befuddlement. The dichotomy in living with this squalling, beautiful creature became very confusing. To have wanted something, someone, so badly, only to find yourself feeling so…lost.…resentful even…at this drastic, topsy-turvy upheaval to your life; the likes of which you simply could not have readily imagined or have emotionally prepared, no matter how much you thought you had. The transition was overwhelming, from only weeks before living an untethered life in which the only person’s well-being to worry about was my own to now being an anxious, frenzied mess, hovering over baby for the slightest sign of distress, never wanting her out of sight, consumed only in determining her needs and wants in order to ensure her happiness. As any new parent might be. But while that devotion to her care and comfort would have appeared to the casual observer as a sign of love and duty (and there was that) it in truth felt more to me like a panicked obsession driven by fear. Many times I would hold her and feel like I just wasn’t quite sure what it was exactly that I should be doing with her. Several months in, I continued to wake in amazement that I had managed to keep her alive for another day. I wished fervently for her to change, to do something, to just not be so utterly break-able anymore! The anxiety was agonizing. I was scared to death of her and all I wanted was for this frightening period to just be over.
A wonder then, that I would turn around and immediately have another child! I had always known, though, that if I did have kids, that I wanted them close in age. And with each day, I became more enraptured with Lila’s growth and development and more confident in my ability to care for her. This part I was finally enjoying! So 17 months later, we welcomed Baby #2. I did worry over having the same postpartum experience repeat itself, as well as that ridiculous anxiety on my part over having a boy. But while my first newborn foray had been literally only a few months prior, this second episode was a world of difference from the very start. I was ecstatic to discover an immediate bond with Matthew. We had the loveliest of nursing journeys and he went on to be just the sweetest little boy ever who (true story) skipped right over the terrible, tantrum-filled toddler stage. Seriously, it just didn’t happen! No eye-roll needed though; trust that it was all short-lived and that he more than made up for it later in life. But at least in the beginning, from birth and throughout ages 1, 2, and 3, he truly was a delight at every turn.
Even so, raising two littles back-to-back absolutely was still challenging and exhausting. And while in the recesses of my mind I continued to entertain visions of my five or six stair-step children, in the end it just never felt like the right time. With all that we had going on, even I was unable to fathom adding in yet another piece to our puzzle. So one year went by. Then another. And after that passed another one yet.
And in an effort to adjust and self-preserve during those first few years, my internal desire for more children became latent, muting itself some rather than fully going away. It did change shape, however, morphing from a vision of six to (what I now deemed) a nice, round, more reasonable four. With the same spacing, we could have our very own built-in buddy system with two sets of two. And with this new dream, slowly at first and then ever-increasingly day-by-day, that desire began again to sprout and bloom. But whereas my urge seemed only to have intensified while in dormancy, Rob’s had nearly altogether withered away. In his view, we had already hit the presumingly coveted “baby jackpot” of both a girl and a boy. And our life, schedule, and sanity were all just now finally starting to level out. Why rock the boat? He had a point, I knew, and so I quietly acquiesced. But even as we forged on with our family of four, there persisted still a nagging heaviness that something just wasn’t right. Something, someone, was missing: our Joshua. And once the decision was made, we knew without question that it was the right one. He was absolutely meant to join us. And what a blessed treat this time around has been!
Life with a baby still has its pits: sleepless nights, ear infections, and dirty diapers are not all of a sudden a joy to deal with. But in both Rob and I, the benevolence of time has positively matured our attitudes, confidences, and abilities. The gift of retrospect is remarkable, propelling you through even the toughest challenges armed with a new and calming acceptance of that moment’s merciful impermanence. But so too, will all the best parts be just as fleeting, and you can’t rush away one without rushing away the other. So better instead to just breathe, let go, and live. Exist only in the moment (be it of giggles or of poop) in full appreciation of its brevity. The third time’s the charm, for in this, I feel that I have finally succeeded. With a relaxed disposition, I have concentrated on everything about this child’s “baby-ness” in all its forms, and I must say that it has been fantastic! And as for Rob? To witness his interactions would have one believe that Joshua was all his idea and his alone! The way he swoops him up and wraps him in his arms, standing motionless for minutes on end, as if time and all the world around them has stopped. His eyes closed, face nuzzled in Joshua’s neck, I watch him breathe in…exhale slowly…breathe in deeply again… and I know. I know that he is basking, mentally etching this hug, this feeling, this emotion, prudently into permanent memory. He, too, wants to soak in every single moment and every single thing about this baby. Time waits for no man. And already, these moments are passing in swift.
Soon there will be no traces of any baby left in my arms or in our house and yet the buddy sibling that I had envisioned for Joshua has not yet come to be. How did that happen I wonder. How did we forget? And slowly, the realization dawns: we’ve been so busy spending this time cultivating and enjoying our family as is, and all the while, everything has felt right. We didn’t forget; rather my self-imposed “window of opportunity” came and went unnoticed because nothing felt off. No one felt missing. In search of a clue, I meticulously scan the three tiny, eager faces before me and I am mildly surprised at the revelation brought forth: my heart is full.
There is still a part of me that feels as if I could do it all again. But what I now believe powers that thought is simply my certainty in being capable of raising another; that if it were to be, we would openly welcome the addition and go on to wonder in hindsight how we had ever managed to live without said child. Yes, the capacity and wherewithal will be there always, but no longer does that deep-seated urge reside.
What, then, to make of the wistful emotion I sometimes encounter after spying the rounded belly of a pregnant woman or the angelic turned-down pout of a days-old baby? How to explain when I am struck into stillness browsing photos of L and M at 2 and 3 years old, gaping in astonishment at their short statures and cherub-cheeked faces that smile in return? When were they ever this tiny? I wonder incredulously. Oh, how I would love just once to go back to this place in time and hold them in my arms again.
And maybe… that’s all it is. That the tug I feel on these occasions is not the want for another child, but rather the heart-aching wish to live again the children that I already have. My poor, sweet Lila, whose infancy I so unfairly and regretfully rushed. While understanding that I am not to blame for my postpartum depression, what I’d still give to have all 6 of her feathery pink pounds in my arms yet again; a new and improved shot at better cherishing every minute the first few months of her beautiful life. What I’d do to have another blissful night cuddling and nursing my beautiful Matthew; to once again hear his devastatingly sweet tinny voice recite from his beloved, tattered 10 Little Penguins. If only I could keep Joshua a toddler forever: so very sweet (though at times also very sour) but all the same, still the most perfect “Sweet Little Baby Joshua” (as his “BruhBruh and “YiYa” refer to him) for us to dote on and adore. What a paradox is life, that I finally grow and learn to appreciate babies only after I no longer have any more for which to care?
I will acknowledge this pang of sadness felt. The feelings are mine and they are true. But this validation does not mean that I am wallowing in woe and regret. I know that I am very fortunate, richly blessed in love and family. And while they are newborns no more, what is still in infancy is my journey into motherhood. The road of raising these tiny humans has only just begun, and there is way more ahead of me than behind. It is this reason, this unfolding and evolving adventure before me, that pulls me to write, pushes me to record all that they say and do, and compels me to papparazzo them on the daily. So that at any time, whenever needed, I can relive a moment fondly remembered, holding on just a little to the past while still embracing the future and all that is yet to come.
We are done
Our family is complete
I am…a mother of three