Today marks an anniversary of sorts for me: eight continuous years of pregnancy and or nursing. There hasn’t been a day that has gone by in the past eight years that I haven’t physically nourished a child (or children). I’ve always mentally celebrated this anniversary. This phase of my life, as a mother of young children, has been deeply, viscerally satisfying. Baby is now two years and three months old. Her siblings nursed until three years, one month and two years, three months old, respectively. While Baby still nurses to sleep for every nap, at every bedtime, every morning when she wakes, and for scrapes both mental and physical, it is clear that the sun is setting on our nursing relationship. I would bet that if you offered her a cookie or a Wiggles DVD when she asked to nurse, she would often choose the snack or the movie at this point. There is every likelihood that this will be my last of these anniversaries.
I’ve been pregnant or mothering a newborn for so much of the past eight years that sometimes I am surprised when I look in my full-length mirror to see my non-pregnant frame. None of my pre-motherhood clothes fit me; although I am roughly the same size, my hips are considerably wider than they were before. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest; those hips have safely birthed three babies and then carried them for countless hours so that they could be close to me and yet still look out upon the world. The stretch marks will never entirely disappear, but they rather faint now, a ghost of babies. I’m ten pounds heavier now than I was before children, but it’s nicely distributed and doesn’t look so much like “baby weight” anymore. I am going to have to buy new bras soon. My spectacular nursing boobs are gradually morphing into a more demure state. I look in the mirror and see a woman who looks like neither her childless self or like the young mother she had grown so fond of. I am turning into someone new and while she is pretty enough, I am not quite used to her physical form yet.
My mind has changed form as well. So many descriptions of motherhood talk about losing oneself in one’s children. In mothering young children I have found myself. The work being pregnant and nursing is much more physical than mental and all those long days of taking my babies for walks and all those long nights of countless nursing sessions left me a lot of time to think. I no longer care nearly as much about what I “should” do or what people think of me. I have given my children every opportunity to be themselves and in giving them that freedom, I found that I gave it to myself as well. My passions in life have resurfaced. I read more now than I have since high school. I write. I run like no one is watching. I feel joy. I get angry. I have a spark of spontaneity. I feel self-confident again. I only wish I had the energy or the time or the money of my pre-motherhood self.
I think about a fourth child every day and I suspect that if I had a fourth I would think about a fifth and so on. Each of my children was wanted and desired with a fever that could only be quenched by their arrival. Less than an hour after Older was born I turned to Husband, absolutely high on post-birth endorphins, and exclaimed “I am doing that again!” Through colic and food allergies and all of our money going to the baby I never wavered in my desire for a second child. After Middle was born I didn’t give away a single baby item; I was absolutely sure I wanted a third child to be a part of our future. I no longer feel a burning desire for another child. Our dinner table doesn’t seem to be missing anyone, yet I can’t quite convince myself that it is full either. I’ve heard it said that “you just know when you are done”. But I don’t know. I don’t think this longing for another pregnancy, another nursling, another amazing person to know and love will ever disappear. I imagine I will be an eighty year old woman who dreams of my thirty year old pregnant self or of sleeping curled up with a warm baby with the sweet irreplicable smell of breastmilk on their breath, or of a baby taking his first wobbly steps into my arms and when I wake I will be sad that time in my life is so far gone.
There is every reason not to have more children. The most fundamental among them, that while I would love another baby, most of the time, I really don’t long for another child. I have other ambitions now, both as a practitioner and as a policy maker; of helping other parents and children succeed. But meaningful and satisfying as that work is, I don’t really believe that fulfillment of those dreams will ever eclipse this phase of my life.
It’s a tired old cliche that “High school (or college) is the best time of your life!” That was so far from my experience that it is laughable. Before having children I wondered when the “time of my life” would be. I know now; these past eight years have been it.