Why I Can't Hold Your Baby

by Alice Jones Webb
Originally Published: 
A woman holding a baby in her hands carefully
Image via Shutterstock

You came in with your newborn wrapped snug in a blanket. Of course you are proud, and happy, and drunk in love with her (quite possibly induced by a severe lack of sleep). She’s beautiful. She’s precious. She’s the essence of innocence and sweetness and she’s pretty darned cute to boot. She’s everything a newborn baby should be.

Of course you thought I would want to hold her. Who wouldn’t want to hold this tiny little creature of perfection? Especially me; I must love babies, having had four of my own. I apparently exude an air of confident maternity or something. But when you attempted to pass that sweet pink bundle to me, I had to decline.

It’s not because I’m afraid I’ll drop her or break her or anything. I’m a professional when it comes to holding babies (All four of mine are still physically intact. No guarantees on their emotional states). I could carry your infant two miles through a minefield in hurricane force winds one-handed, and I wouldn’t drop her. I’m that good.

It’s nothing personal. She is wonderful. She even looks a little less like a wrinkly, grumpy old man than the standard issue newborns, so you should be proud that your genetics created that wriggling beauty. And I do love babies. They really are awesome… and I say that without an ounce of my usual sarcasm.

There’s nothing wrong with your baby. There’s something wrong with me.

I have four wonderful kids, and I’ve managed to survive sleepless nights, and potty-training, and stomach bugs, and teething, and four simultaneous cases of the croup. I’ve survived countless toddler tantrums, and broken heirlooms, and toppled Christmas trees. I’ve survived trips to the emergency room, birds & bees discussions, and sibling fist fights. They’ve screamed. They’ve stomped. They’ve slammed doors.

I’ve made it through most of the really hard stuff. My youngest is eleven. She’s been sleeping through the night for quite some time. She’s potty-trained. She’s on her way to self-sufficiency. She even managed to fix her own pancakes for breakfast this morning sans help from her mom.

I really don’t want any more kids.

Most days I’m trying to keep my head above the laundry that constantly flows over the edge of the hamper and across the laundry room floor (which I think is brown, but I haven’t seen it in a while). I’m surviving teen angst and eye rolls and the questioning of authority and pre-algebra homework. I’m struggling to keep them fed and the bills paid (we aren’t exactly rolling in dough over here). Right now my counter is covered with dirty dishes, my minivan has an aroma that is difficult to categorize (but seems like a sad combination of fermented apple juice, sweaty socks, and moldy french fries), and the dogs just cleaned up some soup that someone slopped all over the dining room rug… So I’ve pretty much got it all together.

I feel like I have a very slippery and precarious hold on my sanity. Sometimes I lose it and yell, at myself, random objects, my kids, the post lady. Sometimes I think I have no business having the four kids that I have. Because it’s hard. It’s really hard.

Plus, I’m forty-one years old. While my body is still capable of growing and birthing and raising a baby. It’s not as young as it used to be. My hair is going grey and my skin is starting to wrinkle and my knees are kind of creaky. I have no business having any more kids.

And I really don’t want any more kids…

But as my body gets older and my biological clock ticks rapidly down to zero, when Mother Nature will forever slam that door shut for me, I don’t want it to be over. The thought of never having another baby placed in my arms, squalling and wet and new, of never looking into the blank page of possibilities that every newborn holds, of never meeting for the first time the tiny person that I’ve known forever… It’s more than I can bear.

I will never again hear the first time a little one says “Mama” and know that they are calling ME. I will never again have a child softly pat my cheek as they nurse at my breast. I will never again have chubby arms reach for me as they take their first steps.

And I want it. I want it so very badly.

Because mine are walking away from me. In tiny ways, every year. They don’t need me. I can’t hold them anymore. I wouldn’t want to hold them back, and yet I want to. I have always pushed them toward independence… encouraging their first words, their first foods, their first steps. And yet we mothers are like our own worst enemies. Even as we are pushing them from our nest, we are mourning the loss of our babies.

Motherhood is so very bittersweet. I miss them, my beautiful babies with feather-soft skin and peach-fuzz hair and tiny pearl-shaped toes.

So you see, I can’t hold your baby. I can’t smell her fresh newborn smell or feel the way her body molds to my body or watch her little fingers furl and unfurl as they reach toward me. I can’t feel her solid, grounding weight in my arms because it just might be too much. Her 7 pounds 10 ounces might just be enough to tip the precarious balance of my emotional scales. My weak and creaky knees might just crumble under her weight.

So you hold her. And hold this moment that passes so quickly, because I just can’t.

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