During my pregnancy with Charlie, my husband Cortney made it known that two kids were enough. He was very happy with two sons, with being a family of four. I was not convinced.
Then Charlie was born. The night of his birth, after everyone had left the hospital and we were alone, I held Charlie close to my face, breathed deeply, and whispered, “You are not my last baby.”
My heart knew then that I couldn’t call it quits yet, and as my sons, Charlie and Eddie, grew and interacted with each other, it still felt like our family wasn’t whole. Someone was missing. There was a spot in all photos of our family that seemed as if it was waiting to be filled.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted all boys. Four boys. I wanted tall, loving boys who doted on their little mother. I pictured boys when I pictured my family. Back in high school, the husband in the picture was never quite clear, but four boys were.
Then Alice was born, and she was not a boy, and I was confused. I had two boys, and I thought for sure I was having another. Cortney and I talked about whether or not we would be done after Alice, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think I could be sure until the baby was here for a while. Maybe I still needed that fourth child I always dreamed of … even if all of my kids weren’t boys.
To complicate matters, my pregnancy with Alice was difficult. In fact, each pregnancy was more difficult than the one before. Could I even endure a fourth (well, actually sixth) pregnancy? Somewhere between finding out Alice was a girl and feeling like garbage every day for 39 weeks, we became 98 percent sure there would be no more babies. It wasn’t because Alice was a girl, but rather because there was no way my body could go through another pregnancy like hers. It felt as if my body was constantly shouting at me that it just couldn’t go through this again.
When Alice was born and placed in my arms, I knew. Our family was complete. The missing piece of our puzzle was a little girl I didn’t know I wanted … or needed. Three was our number.
Both Cortney and I are very okay with our decision. We are totally sure. We are at peace. And yet …
Last Friday the doneness became official with a 30-minute doctor’s office visit for Cortney. In the days leading up to the procedure, I had feelings. They didn’t have anything to do with wanting to be pregnant again or having more children. I feel very, very good about not being pregnant again and not having more crazy children. We are a party of five.
The feelings are about an almost imperceptible shift.
Last Monday Alice and I were at Meijer to get groceries. I was just getting her out of her car seat and fitted in the Moby wrap when an old high school friend walked up to say hello and congratulations on the baby. She had seen pictures on Facebook and thought Alice was precious. I love it when people stop to say hello and tell me my baby is cute, so as Alice and I made our way to the carts with our grocery list in hand, I had a smile on my face. I felt good.
But as we navigated the baby department looking for diapers and formula, I thought about that friend and her children—all older than Eddie (who will be 6 in June). Then I thought about the vast number of women from my high school graduating class who have kids who are all older than my kids. One friend has a son getting married. Another is a grandmother already.
I pressed my nose against Alice’s fluffy hair as she snoozed against my chest, and I sniffed the new baby smell.
I felt old.
For the first time in my life, I felt old.
Birthdays have never really affected me. The number has never defined me, or how I felt about myself. My experiences are what have generated my feelings. When I got married at 27, I felt young because I was a bride! I even said to my best friend and matron of honor, “Oh my gosh! I am getting married today! That is such a grown-up thing!” She laughed at me because, duh, I was 27. I was a grown-up.
When I had Eddie at 31, I never thought, “Aw jeez, I am having my first child in my 30s.” Rather I felt young and naïve because I was a brand new mom with a new baby.
Now something has shifted.
I am no longer a newlywed; we are celebrating 10 years in a month.
I am no longer a new mom; this is my third baby.
I am no longer in my childbearing years; Cortney has taken care of that.
We are now officially starting a new era.
Cortney always liked to use soccer terms to talk about whether we were trying for a baby or not. We were either practicing, or pulling the goalie and playing for real. Now he has said we are just on an alumni league where no one keeps score anymore.
It’s much harder on me than I thought it would be.
Not because I want more children, but because the baby years are over.
At the same time, we are at the beginning of something new. Of the growing up years. These are the years that family memories are made of.
Looking back on my childhood, the years after my youngest brother was born are where those family memories really begin.
That is where we are: starting those years my kids will remember as their childhood.
There is a loss I am grieving, though. The loss of my “young” years of childbearing. The excitement of not knowing who was coming into our family next.
We are all here now. We are done. We are ready to begin.