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?