My baby wants a hedgehog costume. He says a hedgehog is his “animargus” and sleeps with a stuffed hedgie puppet at night. He wakes up, with his long blonde hair a fuzzball of sleep, demanding a blueberry muffin, and Octonauts. He yells at the dogs. Then he curls around me on the couch. “Me love you, Mama,” he says. He is almost 4 years old. He is my baby. He will always be my baby. I cannot have another.
There is a deep pain in being done, even when you know you should be, even when you might want to be. Our family feels good. My oldest said just yesterday that he doesn’t want a baby or a big brother, that he’s happy with just the five of us. Then my middle son chimed in, “But there are only five of us!” And my heart broke all over again because I know he wants another brother too. These are the warring factions in any mama’s head when a family decides they’re finished. We’re complete. But no, we don’t feel done.
This became obvious slowly, then all at once. We always wanted a very large family — five, maybe six kids. But I cannot take the medications I take — the drugs I need to stay healthy — and also stay pregnant. I cannot carry another pregnancy to term and care for three children while suffering a likely worse case of hyperemesis gravidarum than I ever have before (and the last one was so bad I wound up in the hospital). And so this uterus is closed for business.
We could adopt. We may adopt. But the ease of biological conception is no longer an option because of the medications and health concerns. This is my reason, but there are so many others women have for being done. Money. Their own sanity. A traumatic medical event like a ruptured uterus or an emergency hysterectomy. Cancer. Genetic risks. Life events of familial death or moving or the sickness in another child. A difficult pregnancy or birth. Or the personal choice to be done.
We’re done. Done with babies. Done with babies clothes and carriers. Done with baby wraps and diapers. Done with those long middle-of-the-night stretches that last from midnight to 4 a.m., those stretches when you rock and bounce and pray for sleep. Done with gummy smiles and all the firsts: first food, first steps, first time he can fit in that dinosaur shirt all his brothers wore.
There is something about a baby, about the way their small body molds to yours, about their smell, about their unapologetic milk guzzling and the man-deep farts that follow, that give you belly laughs every time. The idea that I will never have this again is almost unendurable.
My mind tries to make sense of it, but the sadness and longing lingers. I cannot see pregnant women right now. Their glow, their bursting new life just reminds me of the possibility I no longer have. A friend texted to say she was pregnant after a long series of miscarriages. I should have been thrilled for her. All I felt was loss, and I burst into tears. When she called later, I turned my phone off, ashamed.
There is so much shame that comes with this emotion, when we are done and still raw from that realization because we haven’t rubbed off the sharp edges of our decision yet. We hurt. We long for the baby we cannot and will never have. We don’t know what the future will look like. For so long, it stretched out into small children and the unending cycle of their need.
People tell us to be grateful for the children we have, as if this longing is not separate from them, far from them, light years from them. This longing has nothing to do with the gifts we’ve been given. We’re like kids who have gobbled down three chocolates and demand one more. It’s not that we didn’t love the chocolates we had. We loved them so freaking much we want another. And yes, we know we will love the big kid stages, the big kid firsts. We’re loving them already. But they are not the same as a baby. They are no less wonderful, but they are different.
We loved our children so much when they were babies, and we love them even more now, and we want more of that love. We want it to grow and change and blossom. We want to watch it happen again, that change, that shift — the lengthening of leg and flattening of tummy, the way they drop their lisp and learn to draw the letter “A.” We want someone to love the discarded doll in the kids’ stuffed animal bin — the one that once upon a time went everywhere. More than anything else, that discarded doll makes me break down. I want that again.
For now, I will enjoy my almost-4-year-old. For now, I will comb his long blonde hair, I will delight in him using “me” instead of “I.” He will babble about his hedgehog “animargus” and Paw Patrol and demand to be picked up and carried. I will love my almost-6-year-old demanding to hold my hand. And I will love the furtive creep of my 7-year-old’s hand into mine, the way he picks up his baby brother even when I tell him not to.
I will love them fiercely, love them all. And in secret, in small moments, alone, I will cry for the ones I will not have.