The Pain Of Leaving Babyhood Behind

The Pain Of Leaving Babyhood Behind

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We’re done with babies. We always wanted more than three kids, but I get too sick when I’m pregnant. I’d struggle to take care of the kids I have and go through another nine months of constant vomiting from hyperemesis — last time it landed me in the hospital — and the insulin injections that come with gestational diabetes. Now that my youngest has turned six, I have to stare it in the face: I’ve left babyhood behind.

There will be no more rides in a snuggly woven wrap, no more cloth diapers to wash, no more onesies and no more tiny shoes. No longer does my eight-year-old insist on carting a stuffed Brobee everywhere. My six-year-old doesn’t really need to be carried. Babyhood is finished in our family.

Because we always thought we’d have more little ones, we saved everything. Now I’m left with the flotsam and jetsam of babyhood, the clothes and the diapers, the board books, the Paw Patrol toys. Some days they annoy me, all those clothes in my attic, the books still on the shelf. Some days they break my heart. But the time’s come. We have to leave the stuff of babyhood behind.

I’ve been working slowly on it. Maybe some people can do it in one fell swoop. I envy them. But we always wanted that big family. We won’t have it now, and the idea of leaving babyhood behind still hurts. So I’ve done it little by little, bit by bit. I’ve figured out some ways to make it less painful in the process.

Keep the really sentimental parts of babyhood.

No, this doesn’t mean you keep everything. But you probably have to keep the first outfit they wore home from the hospital. I kept the blankets my sons slept under every night. I kept that Brobee my son carted around: Always keep the special stuffie, even if they don’t care about it anymore. Leaving behind babyhood doesn’t mean you throw everything in the trash. It means keeping the important parts. I have a few hats they wore, the things people hand-knitted or crocheted for us.

I asked myself, when I wanted to keep something: what does this mean beyond “this is a part of babyhood?” You can’t keep all those board books. But my favorite one to read my sons, Magritte’s Imagination, I left on the bookshelf.  I sifted through the clothes and kept those outfits that I really loved: the onesie with tiny Vikings killing dragons that always made me laugh, the teensy David Bowie shirt, the shirts I had sewed designs on. I didn’t keep much. But I didn’t get rid of things that meant more to me than babyhood itself. These things had a specific memory or feeling or meaning attached to them.

I used to babywear all the time, for example. I kept a few of my favorite wraps; I turned one into a poncho, and I got rid of the rest.

Give things to people who need them.

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The best: if a friend’s having a baby, you can hand them whole seasons of clothes. Then you know it has a so-called good home, and maybe you’ll see that baby in some of your kid’s old clothes from babyhood. It might make you happy, and it might hurt your heart some, but mostly, you’ll find you’re glad someone you know is using it.

If none of your friends have babies, it’s time for a thrift store run. This hurts. You might feel like you’re dumping memories, a terrible sense of loss. But it’s important to remember that someone will buy them and use them, and hopefully the money will go to charity. If it’s too hard, you can pack it up, and maybe have a partner or spouse do the actual drop-off. I did. I worried I would cry at the hand-off. You can also donate to an organization that helps women and children.

I sold a few really nice pieces — the Polo, the Hanna Andersson — but I donated the rest. I couldn’t stand to sit and price everything for a gigantic baby sale, and I couldn’t watch my kids’ babyhood go piecemeal at a yard sale, strangers rooting through it, bargaining for it.

Remember: they’re only things.

You are not throwing out your child. You are not throwing out your memories. You are not throwing out the years you spent diapering and cuddling, carrying and hugging (and when we’re going through stuff from babyhood, we tend to forget the hard parts, like the sleepless nights and the sudden fevers and the crying fits). You are getting rid of things. In and of themselves, these things have no meaning. These teensy newborn jeans are no more than a scrap of cloth. This board is some pieces of cardboard. This rag is a diaper your kid pooped in. The baby wrap is a piece of fabric. They don’t mean anything. What means something is the memories you carry with you, and when you give up the physical items, you don’t give up those memories.

What about the things from babyhood that blindside you?

Sometimes weeks will go by without any baby finds. But sometimes, they come out of nowhere. I found a diaper fastener the other day, stuffed in the back of a drawer. In my husband’s car, I found one lone handmade Star Wars shoe. These can slam you from nowhere, remind you suddenly that the baby who needed a diaper is in the bathroom right now; the tiny thing who couldn’t keep that shoe on is in a size one and complaining that he needs bigger shoes. It hurts then, the realization that babyhood has come and gone.

It’s an important season of life. You have children, and the small ones are such simple, uncomplicated beasts, so cuddly, so easy to please (most of the time. You’re already forgetting the hard parts of babyhood). You need to honor it. You need to grieve it: it’s okay to feel sad that your baby time is over. It doesn’t mean you want to stunt your kids’ growth, or that you love them any less now. It means you loved them so much then, and that love has changed. Sometimes you miss the kind of love you shared before. That’s okay. Let yourself be okay with it. Sit with it, take it out, let yourself cry.

Seasons change. Children change. We change with them. You are no longer that uncertain baby mom, terrified you’ll break your child if you breath on him the wrong way or don’t feed him all organic food. And thank God for that. But let yourself be sad. Children don’t last forever. Hold them while you can, and remember: the things are just things. It’s what we carry in our hearts that matters.