Even as I kiss the smooth, irresistible skin of her cheek, just the right amount of chubbiness for a mama smooch, I think it.
Even as I nurse her to sleep, watching that impossible tuft of fine hair stick up straight in the back and sway with every movement of the rocking chair, I think it.
This can’t be it, my heart whispers. This can’t be my last baby.
I had my fourth baby in August, a baby some might see as a luxury, an indulgence, a number just over the limit of sanity for normal people. Four kids? People say to us incredulously. Don’t you know what causes that?
Well, yes, we do and shockingly enough, we don’t have a problem with the cause or the babies that inevitably follow for us.
In fact, I’ve always loved babies. I can remember grocery shopping with my mom when I was a little girl and spying a baby in a neighboring cart, focusing all of my attentions on the little chubby-cheeked cherub until I was rewarded with a smile. Babies were just my thing — I almost felt like I had a special connection with them somehow.
And I found everything about the mystery of babies fascinating, right down to pregnancy and birth. Before I was out of high school, I set my sights on medical school to become a pediatrician, then changed my mind at the last minute for the nurse-midwife route. When I became pregnant during my last year of nursing school, I decided against more school yet again and eventually found my way into the labor and delivery ward, working part-time as a nurse while our own family kept growing.
But through it all, since I was five years old and told amused adults that I wanted to be a “baby doctor,” through mothering my nine-years-younger sister, to soaking up every minute of the newborn days with my own children, my life has been centered around babies. Babies, babies, and more babies.
Which is precisely why I am now terrified to ever move past the baby stage in my life.
There’s no pressing physical reason that I have to stop having babies, but I know very well that my husband and I are at a crossroads of sorts. We have lived in the trenches of parenting very young kids for the past six years and while it’s been so amazing in ways hard to explain, it’s also been stifling in many ways. Our marriage has been tested and I can feel my husband struggling to come up for air, wanting — and needing — to spread his wings in pursuing his dream job.
Although I tease him all the time about wanting just one more baby to keep my arms and heart full, I know deep down that another baby right now may just push us over the edge. For the first time ever, I feel almost selfish in wanting more children, like I’m not at all considering the impact that childbearing has on the man who has vowed to raise them with me. Like it’s his turn to find fulfillment. I am so, so happy in my life right now — it’s the kind of happiness when you look around and realize, this is it. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. And you start to wonder how long it will all last.
Because as my husband has trudged up and down our hallways this week with each one of our respective screaming, feverish children and swore under his breath, “That’s it, NO more babies,” I felt my happiness slipping away from me, faster than my children are growing up before my eyes, dimpled toddler limbs transforming into awkward school girls, garbled words replaced by startlingly clear sentences.
Because the honest truth is I’m afraid of what comes next.
I’m afraid of a life without the sweet breath of my babies.
I’m afraid of a life without the sweet innocence that I see reflected back in my daughter’s big blue eyes.
I’m afraid of a life spent without the delicious weight of a baby in my arms and a pair of chubby thighs to munch on. I’m afraid, simply, to move on.
As moms, we hear the plea from parents who have lived through the baby stages to enjoy it, soak it all in, count every last minute as the blessing that it is. Every time I close my eyes I see my husband’s grandma’s face, telling me with eyes full of sweet sadness, that right now, this time of babies nestled in my arms, days spent around naptimes and stories and coloring and play time, safe in our cocoon at home, is the best time of our lives.
And I fully believe that with all of my heart.
But the problem is, if this is the best time of my life …
How do I ever leave it behind?
Image property of J&J Brusie Photography