There are a multitude of reasons to decide you are done having kids. Maybe you can’t afford more children, maybe the choice isn’t yours (biology), or maybe you are just at your mom limit. Regardless of the reasoning, watching your last child grow and develop is a bittersweet time.
When I look back at what it was like with my first child, I remember drowning in uncertainty. I was absolutely clueless about this parenting gig and, as it turned out, my first child was more challenging than some babies. No matter what advice you hear or how many stories you are told, nobody can truly understand being a mom until you have a child in your arms, a child that fills you with love so deep you know you will never be the same again. And then comes the sleep deprivation, diapers, crying, nail trimmings (hello, baby talons!), bathing, feeding, and endless other things your baby is completely dependent on you to provide him or her.
Through the fog of exhaustion, you still smile and glow in the moments filled with snuggles, first smiles and laughs, and the joy and pride of each and every milestone: rolling over, crawling, eating solids, walking and first words. Never have I experienced anything in my life with such extreme highs and lows, sometimes changing every 20 minutes.
As I struggled through my uncertainties as a first-time mom, I knew I would have another child (I have 4 siblings and couldn’t imagine my child without a sibling). Somehow having a second child in the plan comforted my anxiety over being a terrible mother, knowing at least I would be better prepared the second time around with all I had learned from the first.
When my second son was born 5 months ago, I felt much less anxiety about caring for a baby. My main concern was making sure my firstborn came to accept the new addition to the family. The transition to two kids has had its up and downs, but I can already envision them playing together. I’m so happy they will have each other as lifelong friends…whether they like it or not.
But each month or each day, I see my youngest son learn a new skill and depend on me less and less, and I am struck with unbelievable sadness. He will be my last baby. The last child I will feel kick and move inside of my belly. The last person to look at me with utter and complete love and trust (before he has his own opinions and choices). The last baby I will nurse (well, the first and last I will successfully nurse). While there are plenty of firsts to love and enjoy, there are an an equal number of endings that make my heart heavy with grief.
On the other hand, while pregnancy is miraculous, I’m glad I won’t have to go through it again. Sure, I miss knowing my child is safe growing inside of me and feeling those kicks (and jabs!). I miss the anticipation of bringing a new life into the world. However, I don’t miss the back pain, lack of coordination, heartburn, bruised ribs, insomnia and round ligament pain. And let’s not forget labor.
Everyone will tell you to enjoy your baby while you can. They grow so fast! This is absolutely great in theory, but it’s amazingly difficult amongst the chaos of daily life with a child. Sometimes it’s like you have tunnel vision or you are in a thick cloud as you go through your days with routines and much the same as the last day: diaper, feed, play, sleep, repeat over and over and over again.
There is no way to spend 100% of your days appreciating and experiencing the glory of parenthood. However, I find that there are moments in a day when suddenly your vision is clear and you truly see your child, maybe while he is playing with a smile or gazing directly in your eyes. It’s in these moments when you can stop time for just a second to let the love for your child fill you. These are the moments that truly matter.
But hindsight is funny. The things you hate the most can sometimes be the things you think about when you know you will never go through it again. I won’t miss the sleepless nights filled with a screaming newborn…but I will. When will there ever come another time when your child needs you so much? Before I know it, my son may push away my hugs and kisses for independence instead. How could I have ever wanted that phase to end?!
Even as I write this (one-handed), my second son is in my other arm staring at me with wonder, his eyes so innocent and accepting. I don’t think of myself as a terribly sentimental person. Maybe it’s hormones or maybe it’s something else, but I am wracked with the dread of last moments. The rational part of me knows that these changes are all natural, and I should just be proud of my son (and of myself for making through to another milestone). But emotion isn’t rational. No matter how hard I try to put all the emotions to the side, my son rolls over for the first time and I’m both laughing in pride and literally crying with grief.
I keep coming back to the old saying “if you only knew you were in the good old days when you were in the good old days.” So what do you do when you know you are in the good old days NOW?
In an effort to deal with these emotions, I’ve decided to try to live more presently and mindfully, something I have always struggled with as a planner and introvert. There will be plenty of time later to lament. Letting go of strong emotions is easier said than done, but I want my sons to grow and be proud of themselves without seeing their mom sad over an accomplishment. They both deserve better than that. I want both of my sons to become men who are confident, compassionate and happy.
I may not be having any more kids, but the two little boys I have are amazing and wonderful. I also want to relish my sons’ victories, big and small, without feeling sadness or remorse in the next instant. My life is forever changed and made better by their existence. So I will do everything in my power to take the advice everyone gives to all parents: enjoy your kids because they grow up fast.
This article was originally published on