Weaning, Fertility and Moving On

Posted on Feb 21, 2012 in Featured, Parenting | 8 comments

Last week, as I picked up Silas after his nap, I folded my arms around him, nestled my face into his neck to kiss him, and he exhaled the sweet smell of breastmilk. It was a few days before his first birthday and as I breathed in deeply, trying to save the memory of it forever, I knew it would be one of the last times I would smell that sweet odor on his breath. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t make me almost unbearably sad.

I nursed my older two children both until they were just a few months shy of three years old. I assume it will be the same with Silas. However, the weaning has already begun. He eats table food and I can go out for four hours without him needing me. The frequency of his nursing will be gradually diminishing over the course of this next year, until I notice that he only nurses when he’s sad or hurt or going down for a nap. And then, another day, I will realize that he hasn’t nursed in a few days and I can’t even remember when the last time was.

Newborns seem to always have that milk breath smell about them. But toddlers—and Silas certainly seems to be crossing into toddler territory these days—toddlers have their own smells. Soon enough, the milk breath will be just a memory.

It seemed fitting that this moment should have come during the week of his first birthday, as I reflect on his birth, as I try to make peace with the idea of not having a baby anymore, or ever again. With all of this comes the realization that my menses should resume soon. I am still waiting, but I feel my body changing, gearing up as it were.

I never was one of those moon-goddess women who celebrated having my period or who saw it as some divine female rite. To be honest, it is painful, uncomfortable, messy and pretty much a pain in the ass… However, as a woman of childbearing age, I can appreciate the idea of being connected to the rhythms of my body, and as a mother, I am grateful that fertility-wise I had little trouble conceiving, that I had knowledge and more or less the control over whether and when we had children. I never did look forward to getting my period back after each of my children were born—though I likely would have felt differently if we had been anxious to conceive again and it was nowhere in sight.

Now, at this point in my childbearing path, when I consider that my fertility will be returning soon, I can’t help but feel more than a little put out. It seems pretty pointless for me to continue to endure the downsides of female fertility despite the fact that we have made the (mostly) permanent decision not to have any more children.

Aaron went in for a vasectomy last summer, when Silas was  six months old. On the face of it, I’m ok with that. We have three beautiful children and that often feels like a lot. My life, and my hands, are very full. I’m tired. I look forward to a time when I’ll be able to sleep again and have time to focus on some of my personal dreams in a more focused and meaningful way than I have been able to as the constant mother of a nursling. I blogged when I was pregnant with Silas about being done having kids and mostly, I am.

Nevertheless, I cried when I picked Aaron up from his appointment. As much as I am certain that three kids is enough for us given our resources (time, money, energy, support systems), it is so hard to let go of this phase in my life. I love babies and I mostly enjoyed pregnancy. I had really fulfilling complication-free homebirths and I am at ease as a nursing mother. I will miss each of these things. A lot. As much as I look forward to the life phase ahead of us—as a family of five with no babies—I also feel sad to close the door on childbearing.

And then there is the loss of those never-even-dreamed-of-children. Like many parents, I had some vision in my head of who my baby might be when I was pregnant with my first child. Then he was born and he was nothing like I had imagined, and he was 5 million times better than anything I could have dreamed up. When I was pregnant with my second, I found I couldn’t even begin to imagine a child that wasn’t like my firstborn. All of my daydreams presented a smaller version of my oldest child. Then she was born, and while she looked like him, she was so totally different, and so earth-shatteringly awesome. So, then, when I was pregnant with Silas, my mind told me that he would look like them but be different in personality. This time, he looked like his own person from the very first moment, and I finally realized (for real, on a deep level) what geneticists and parents of large families must know: that there are infinite ways that the genes of two people can combine and that every single one of those combinations is gut-wrenchingly beautiful, heart-achingly brilliant and absolutely a work of art…and of course, by now I know too that despite having less time and money and energy, there is no limit to the amount of children I can hold in my heart. Picking Aaron up after his vasectomy, I cried for those children that would never be, I cried for the sister that Noa would never have, and I cried for the fact that evolution and biology want me to have as many kids as I possibly can, but that socially and culturally, it’s pretty hard to have more than two or three.

A year after my last child was born, I find myself awaiting the return of my fertility while also knowing that there will be no more children and it seems somehow wrong or unfair that my body should continue to ovulate, to ripen and prepare to grow more children when it will never nourish or cradle another. It seems unfair that I should still be at the mercy of the hormones that inspire babylust in us, that my body (from a biological, evolutionary standpoint) should still yearn for children, for more, when my mind has made the decision to move on.

This kind of moving on, this kind of relationship with my fertility seems tricky to navigate, slippery to understand. I stand in a strange place, with one foot still in the land of babies, breastfeeding, nightwaking, and one foot venturing tentatively forward, into a new terrain where I am no longer a childbearing woman, where, when Silas has weaned, I am ultimately on the road toward menopause. For now, I am suspended in a middle ground: a fertile woman who will bear no more children. It’s no wonder the whiff of milk on the breath of my last baby should make me a little tearful.

How about you? Where do you stand in the childbearing terrain? How do you feel about fertility?

 

8 Comments

  1. I still yearn, a little bit, for another child… yet I also am very settled in the feeling of not having any more children. I think you said it perfectly, here: “It seems unfair that I should still be at the mercy of the hormones that inspire babylust in us, that my body (from a biological, evolutionary standpoint) should still yearn for children, for more, when my mind has made the decision to move on.”

    And it is not just my mind, but my situation… the nuclear family disaster my friend calls it. Having our second child really brought us to the limit emotionally, and while that continued what has been and continues to be an ultimately beautiful journey of growth, I sense that another child would likely bring too many challenges for us. If we had many other committed adults in our lives who were invested in our children, perhaps. Just the two of us? Not so much. 🙂

    Another aspect for me is age — biological age but also life-stage. I had my first child at 33 and second at 36. Since 2010, I have been training to practice as a therapist. My husband is older than me and he felt more clear than I about not having more kids — he was “feeling his age” he said.

    So… that is us… my urge for more kids is there, faintly, and it fades more each year. My youngest is now 5 1/2… Though I was just saying to my brother that we want to borrow his 2 year old so we can enjoy that pure super-cute little-kid-ness that is quickly being left behind in our family. The way they talk! and walk! 🙂
    Stacy @ Sweet Sky´s last post ..this moment: fresh air

    • Yes! I know what you mean about the stress on the nuclear family. We too are lacking in the “other committed adults nearby” dept too and in fact, that was a big reason I cried when I first found our we were pregnant with Silas. I really didn’t know what another child would do to our marriage. Of course, it’s been more than fine…but I think it’s good to quit while we’re ahead, you know?

      Age is an issue for us too. I’m 34 and Aaron turns 38 this year. If we were to have another we would want to wait a good while, to recover from the lack of sleep…and well, that puts us in our 40s and we’re ready to look forward.

      I like your idea about borrowing nieces and nephews! But alas! Our kids are the last grandkids on both sides. No chance of sweet newborn goodness in the family anymore. At least not until we become grandparents ourselves.

      Now if my brain could just send the memo to my ovaries that it’s time to close up shop. 🙂

  2. What a powerful post… I have been trying to work through a lot of thoughts and emotions on this topic over the past year or so. Am I done? Am I not done? There is a big part of me that yearns for another baby, and another part that really likes sleeping through the night and working with my intellect. And I am 31, so it feels very early to me to shut down the possibility of having more babies. However, my husband is 7 years older than I am, and he’s pretty happy with only 2. And so I go, back and forth!
    Twitter: TheParentVortex

    • Thank you.
      Age is a big part of it for us too. Part of me thinks “I could maybe wrap my mind around 4 kids…in 4-5 years.” I worry about that time when Silas is about 5 and maybe it feels like I could have another baby but we can’t. Then Aaron reminds me that he would be 42 and says “No way. Maybe if we were younger, I’d consider it.”

      So that’s it then.

      I hope you get some clarity on it Michelle.

  3. This is beautiful and I so relate. I’ve always wanted lots of kids, but ended up with two early in my fertility and the second two nearly 20 years later and so am a mother looking ahead to my youngest still being pre-school age when I hit 50. It is a strange thing to enjoy a baby at my age, and the smell of a breast feeding baby sure is a marvelous smell. Thank you for a truly moving blog post.
    Ann´s last post ..Unsticking My Vocation

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I am so pleased to hear that mine resonated with you.

  4. This is such a moving post. I’m working through these emotions myself. During my pregnancy with baby #4, my husband decided that he was done having children. I wrestled with this for over a year, finally coming to peace with it a few months ago. We had 4 kids, 2 boys and 2 girls, in 5 years. I become settled in my heart that we were moving on to the next phase of parenting and was looking forward to sleeping through the night again and getting my body back into shape. But no sooner had that happened than I found out I was expecting baby #5! Oy. So now I’m working through all those emotions all over again. Life is such an adventure, isn’t it?!

    • I really do find the question of being done quite fascinating. I’m beginning to realize that it’s actually 2 questions: being done as in family completed and being done because resources are depleted. And it’s amazing how the concept can change over time, as you’ve discovered.

      When I had one child, I could NOT imagine having 4 kids, and when I got pregnant the third time, we were terrified. Now, now that we no longer have the option, we’ve both realized that 4 wouldn’t really be that bad…and I’m struggling with the realization that the only reason I’m done is because of lack of resources (extend family, support, income, energy). My heart wants more, but my personal economy can’t do it. There is some grief involved in this realization. And then I just wonder, does my heart really want more or am I biologically programmed to want more???

      Good luck with baby #5 – how exciting!!

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