by Jacquelyn Toupin
It’s a magical birthing experience. Eleven days past my due date, the daytimes melt together. Looming in the not-so-distant future is the possibility of induction, something I desperately try not to contemplate. I’ve birthed two children already, and I know I can do it again. Then in the early morning hours, after months of discomfort and weeks of impatience, I give one last, final push. He’s in my arms, and I am euphoric. I’m certain there is no high as high or as pure as the one I feel now. His skin is soft and his scent sweet. As I whisper his name into the stillness, I realize his will be the last. I know I’ve given birth to our last baby.
From the time I was a little girl, I’ve dreamt of becoming a mother. I’m not the product of a religious family; I have a college education and I’m a feminist, so this craving to have little souls to raise up is one I came up with all by myself, aided by my inner clock.
Well, those tiny people are here now. There are four of them, all between the ages of Fresh and Teenager; three have heard my heart beat from the inside. I know four is more than many people are having these days, and I am grateful for my children. They are healthy, wise, loving, and creative. I know when I add up involving them in extracurricular activities, educating them at home, preparing healthy meals from scratch, and doing all the other time and energy- consuming tasks related to childrearing, four is plenty. My head knows this, but it’s my heart that needs a reminder.
When I fold the newborn sleepers that no longer fit over his knee dimples, they won’t be stowed away with a dream of the next baby. Those tiny hats and onesies will be sorted into boxes to be given to a local thrift store.
I’ll never sit in the bathroom, waiting with excitement for the double pink line to appear. I’ll never tell our families the exciting news about the new baby brother or sister we’ll give our last baby. He won’t have one of those. He’ll never have that experience. Will he be less empathetic because of it?
His firsts will be some of my lasts— last first foods, last first steps, last first words.
When he grows beyond the baby years, there will be no more milk-sweet kisses and tiny hands that instinctively wrap around my index finger.
I’m all in, elbows deep. I’m in the trenches of motherhood. Sure, the work is hard and the stress lines are permanent, but this is a work of love. Some women passionately design beautiful clothing, others may do their best work repairing engines or selling insurance. Some women find their calling as teachers, scientists, social workers or politicians. It just so happens that I found mine in mothering. It seems such a shame, though, that by the time I finally figured out the tricks of ushering them into the world, it’s time to pack it in.
So why have we decided to call it at four? It’s not the snide remarks of those who believe we have too many, and although we consider our ecological footprint, that’s not our swaying factor either.
It’s because I’ll always feel this way. I’ll always know the emptiness of no more babies. If we had six children, my heart would ache for a seventh. One sniff of that new baby smell and I’m toast.
And if I’m being entirely honest, I’m tired. It’s been eight years since I’ve slept through the night. I’m giving them everything I’ve got to give. I used to be a ballet dancer and could leap with the best of them. Now, after three births, I avoid leaping … and trampolines.
It’s time to put some energy back into mothering myself. It’s time to put some energy back into my relationship so that it continues to grow alongside our children, and perhaps it’s time to explore his dreams too. After all, he has stood by my side, in the wee hours of the morning, when our baby was hungry but wouldn’t nurse. We were there together when there was poop up to our elbows and the baby’s back, literally, and we laughed while the rest of the house slept. We’ve taken turns rocking and soothing the baby (and each other!). We’re a good team.
I’m not fooling myself. I know my work isn’t complete; in fact, the mothering has really just begun. There will be more camping trips and visits to Pa’s house. There will be bedtime books and those first, tentative attempts to read. I’ll listen to stories of adventures with friends, and I’ll share their sorrow when their hearts are broken. And I hope, oh how I hope, there will be grandbabies. The last baby isn’t the end. Nope. It’s not over yet.