Ten years ago this past month I began nursing my first born baby girl, and this exact month a decade later I weaned my last baby boy. The beginning was an awkward beautiful rite of passage to motherhood and the end an emotional compilation of natural closure and necessity. At 17 months, my baby is completely nourished by a healthy diet of solid foods and less interested in nursing. I needed to prepare my body a few days in advance for our service trip to Honduras with malaria medication that was not okay for nursing. I left it up to him in those last few days as he was already growing less and less interested. I was letting this natural process unfold and not offering what I knew was so good for him, unasked – a lesson I know I will come back to over and over throughout the years.
With his little “milk” fist pump sign language, he tugged at my heart and I would willingly respond. It was emotional for me. My husband would send me up to the rocker that we splurged on with our first, I knew out of both his sense of practicality and to honor sentiment – to get every last bit of worth out of our most expensive new-parent purchase and for me to be able to have a special moment where I first held and soothed and fed all of our babies.
With 4 children and the smart phone era, nursing has been a fairly distractible time of practicality and efficiency. If a kid, or three, are near, there is always someone asking something of me even as I sit bound to my babe. Or, I have had the chance to get caught up on an e-mail or a social media hit. About 6 months in, it dawned on me how much my nursing life had changed over in a decade. I had begun my nursing life bound to sit. I prayed, read or just gazed at my baby in a quiet nursery for what seemed like half of my waking (and sleeping) hours. It was soothing and sweet, quiet, sometimes lonely, time for me to think and look and smell and see my sweet baby. It made me sad to think of my last baby looking up at a face that wasn’t gazing back at him, and for myself to not be relishing this precious time. I knew all too quickly, my babe-in-arms days would be on the go with the boundless energy of a toddler taking on the world, too busy experimenting to be held quiet and still. Oh, it’s already happening – drawers are being emptied, bookshelves cleared, little feet pitter-patting to the next exploration – and my heart just hurts over the change, always hurting for what is going away and expanding for what is to come.
I put away my phone those many months ago while I was nursing, and I sequestered myself to cozy quiet(er) places in order to choose presence, and it was worth every minute. I memorized his eyes, the gray-blue becoming brown, eyelashes unfurling, the wisps of hair growing fluffier, and I kissed his sweet baby toes a thousand times. We touched each others faces, his small hands memorizing me and my large fingers tracing tiny features. I remember when my first-born discovered my eyelashes and she would ever-so-gently take her little finger and brush it back and forth across each set. My second had a thing for hair, still does. As I’d nurse him he would splay his fingers wide and draw his hand back and forth through long cool strands. Even now at age 8, when we are cozy on the couch or cuddling before bed he’ll say “can I touch your hair mama?” and he’ll gently stroke his hands through as he is visibly soothed by the sensation. And my third, her thing was ears. If you knew her as a baby you are smiling now, because she probably played with yours too! As I’d cozy her in to nurse, her little finger and thumb would instinctively go to my earlobe and she’d gently rub the soft skin endlessly. I miss these moments like mad.
I took this photo 3 days after the birth of my last baby, after a decade of burgeoning belly shots filled with hope and expectation. I was sad to see my belly so quickly diminishing. A strange thing to miss, I know, but it meant so much more than bothersome baby-fat to me at the time. It represented a womb that would never be full again. Much as I am intentional about that choice to be done with 4 kids at home, it isn’t without grief. My postpartum belly left me in shock after my first. I remember the big soft jiggly belly that came home from the hospital with me and thinking, “hmmm, now I don’t remember anyone telling me about THIS! What the heck? When does THIS go away?” By the 5th, I was extremely sad to see it going.
My kids are all here now, or there in heaven, and we are all done. Well, we think. But we’ve decided and are so far on the track of preventing any more. A friend recently sought advice for her 40th birthday and after a few brainstormed trips and triumphs for a good celebration, one said “I had a baby my 40th year. That’s one way to celebrate.” And it’s the one idea that made my heart skip a beat, “Now that sounds fun!” I thought. Truly.
But I am done. All done. Four was the hope and four is our limit and we are stretched to capacity all the time. (Oh, but it’s not so bad really – what’s one more? we say.) Friends who began when we did and ended earlier are out on family adventures together – ski trips and un-baby-friendly hikes and such. That looks fun too, I think. Our oldest are nearing pre-teendom, are they getting what they need from us? Can we really be there for them when there are still diapers to change and choking hazards to constantly, constantly scan for? Will they ever get all they ever need from us? Of course not, and I know better to think they should. But still, my big huge aching love for each of them is vast and immeasurable and I just wish sometimes I has a clone of them for each day they’ve lived. I cannot fathom I will never again see my first born’s first dance hip hopping back and forth to mother goose songs on her little CD player (which of course she was so brilliant to figure out on her own at age 2). Never again will my first little guy snuggle in my arms, head-to-feet between my elbows. Not any more will my spunky 3rd child say “hold you me?” with arms spread wide now that she knows to say it “correctly.” And not ever again will I nourish my baby from my body, giving life and sustenance, comfort, bonding, immunity, health, closeness and connection in the very closest way, ever, again. This feels hard. But this feels right. And in some moments feels good.
Time marches forward and I dream of the day I can pursue a Ph.D. or publish a book, take ALL of my kids skiing, or walking, and know all will be safe without a hand from me. But I pray they will always reach back to hold this hand far beyond when they will need it to stand. I pray we will have woven our hearts together similar to the miraculous ways God knit them together in my womb. This will take work on our part to see and know them as they need to be seen and known. I will do my best at that commission and consider it my greatest work.
I strive for meaning and purpose in my life and faith, ask God regularly what He has for me to do in this world and who He wants me to be. I know I am meant to be a mother, above all else. I work at my career with a full sense of calling, but the work of my womb has been my magnum opus. The work my body did nearly without need for the mind and will I so intentionally put to every other task of my life, has been the most beautiful work I can behold. To have created and carried these eternal souls. What a gift.