The day my daughter was born, I proclaimed to a busy delivery room that we were done. I was triumphant, exuberant. I’d passed through the pregnancy finish line and our family of five was complete. I held a ticker-tape parade in my mind: horns honked. Crowds cheered. Confetti covered the streets like snow.
I even joked that if we were to have another, we’d name the child in honor of the contraceptive that failed: Mirena or Yasmin or Trojan or Cyclessa.
And while I was certain that the baby I held in my arms would be my last, this chapter of my life has been a difficult one to close. There is a nagging, a pin that pricks my heart when triggered by a newborn’s cry, a baby shower, or the nervous excitement in a pregnant friend’s voice.
I cannot hold a baby without noticing the curve of its back, how it’s shaped like my belly in those third-trimester days. I can’t resist the sniffing of the head, the patting of the bottom, the urge to nurse when it roots and squirms for milk.
It’s an ancient desire, a biological pulling. It’s hard to shake.
I felt it last week with a call from a friend. I knew it was good news when she said my name, the way all formal announcements begin. She only calls when the life-changing is about to occur: acceptance to law school. A marriage proposal. A baby, then another, then a move far away. Her name flashed on the screen and I could hear her smile as she said it: So, we’re having a baby…Can you imagine? Our fourth!
Congratulations were offered. We laughed, remembering her special gift for gestational girth.
She was the fifth of my friends to announce a pregnancy this year. They’re all in their mid 30s. They all have other children. And with each of them I’ve had that most intimate conversation– the one that starts with the question: Do you think you’ll have more, or are you done?
That night I slid between the sheets with a knot in my stomach, a knot that drew attention to what wasn’t inside. I stared at the ceiling, watched the fan spin. And then came the question, more to myself than to him: Are you sure we’re done having babies?
My husband didn’t look up from his book. Yes.
He turned the page. I watched the back and forth of his eyes. So, who’s pregnant now?
His boredom with the subject is justified. We’ve gone back and forth one hundred times, and in the end we always decide that the reality of four children and two dogs and two working parents would be much different than the fantasy.
Babies grow up, he reminds me. They have dirty diapers and colic. Soon there’ll be potty training and time-outs and soccer practice and spelling words. They smoke cigarettes behind the garage and kiss boys at summer camp. They get detention and head lice and talk back and slam doors.
In the fantasy, a fat baby sits on my lap. She plays peekaboo with her siblings while I prepare dinner. She naps well, she nurses, she sleeps through the night. There’s no jealousy. No tantrums. No teething. When I imagine her name, I don’t hear the sound of my own voice screaming it up the stairs.
In the days since my friend’s phone call, I’ve gone on a wild ride in my mind. The overwhelming urge has been reduced to a twinge. My baby fever is now low-grade, out of the danger zone. It’s a case of the sniffles, a mild cold.
Reality has prevailed over fantasy. There will be no more babies, no more swaddled bundles of joy. The chapter’s closed, for now. I’ll pull the book down from the shelf the next time I hold a newborn or hear from a friend that she’s due in the fall. I’ll peek in its pages and reread the words.
I’ll go on the same emotional journey through the trenches of expectation. Through the maze of my hopes. I’ll arrive at the same conclusion: I’m already satisfied.
When I look into the future with my family of five, I see children growing up. I see the good and the bad, the peace and the chaos. I see the track meets and spelling bees, the dance recitals and first dates. I see myself aging too, more patient, less insecure.
I hold the hand of my husband as the ticker tape floats through the crowded streets in my dream, then slowly, quietly lands at my feet. –Mary Lauren Weimer, My 3 Little Birds