My baby boy turned one this week and underneath the celebrations, not even very far underneath, has been hovering a feeling of melancholy. Rather than getting a rush of happiness at having ‘made it through the first year’ or anticipating with excitement the increased freedom that comes with having slightly older babies, I have been feeling like I’m losing something.
Now, I should be clear from the outset that I am DONE having babies. Completely, utterly, definitely done. I knew that even before my little lad emerged into the world, a knowing that was then cemented by labouring with a posterior baby – not recommended if you can possibly avoid it. If someone had come up to me even five minutes after delivering my first two babies and told me that I couldn’t have any more, I would have been devastated but not so for the third.
More to the point, I feel like our family is just as it should be. Three feels like the perfect fit for us and we have plans to be moving forward with and lots of good things going on. Most of the time, (even with the day to day ups and downs, frustrations and downright tedium that sometimes comes with being home with three small children), I am happy.
For quite a period of this last year, I would have struggled to say that. I was in love with my baby and my two wee girls, content in my marriage and had some truly lovely friends, but at the same time was in a pretty dark place. There were many, many days where I just went through the motions and put on a good face, wishing away time until things would get better – when the kids were older, pretty much. I don’t want to be back in that place again. I never want to live with so little joy and without any real sense of self again. And I’m pretty sure that, given my track record, having another baby would put me right back into that place. Not because of the baby, it’s never been because of the baby, but because of my self imposed judgments and standards about motherhood, success, and achievement. Anyway, that’s probably a whole post in itself. And complicated. Wooah, is it complicated.
So, with all that being said, why do I feel so wistful and sad?
I’ve talked to some friends about it and I’m not alone. One breast-fed her twins until she knew very well it was for her own comfort and had to almost wrangle them into having a feed. One used to feel a bit sad whenever she woke up in the morning and realised her daughter had slept right through. I even had one friend who said that she had a wave of sadness pass over her when she thought about the fact that she was never going to give birth again.
For me, at least, I think the biggest reason is that there is nothing quite so delightful and astounding as a baby in its first year of life. From the moment they arrive, before that really, there is something miraculous about them. And as a mother, if you are lucky, you get a front row seat to the most spectacular show you’ll ever get to see as that little bundle develops into a real little person in front of your eyes. The learning and growing that a baby does in its first year is wondrous. And I have been lucky enough to have those front row, centre stage seats three times. It’s hard to know that I’m never going to get those tickets again.
Apart from how marvellous they are, and I must say that the wee lad is a particularly marvellous example of babyhood, there’s also an intensity in the relationship that I have had with all of my babies that is unmatched by any other. It’s an uncomplicated, unconditional love. For the first year or so, you are needed and wanted, and simply, completely loved. If there was no one else in your baby’s life, that would be OK with them, as long as they had you. You are their ‘be all and end all’ and while that tie can sometimes feel like a tether, and their need for you can feel overwhelming at times, it is certainly a privilege and a prize to be that person for them. And while I still love my girls with the same fierceness as I did when they were babes, the connectedness that we had has lessened, or at least changed form, as it inevitably must do as they find their own way of being in the world. Knowing that the same change is going to happen with my wee lad and that I’m not going to have that sort of relationship again is a wee bit heartbreaking.
Then there’s biology to contend with. I don’t know enough of the science but I do reckon that there is an underlying urge in many of us to just keep on having babies. I remember before we decided to try for our first baby that I’d gotten to the point that my need to have a baby was like a physical yearning. Nowadays the yearning isn’t strong but there is a little tug there. I don’t know, does that ever go away?
So anyway, what’s the upshot of all this? I think it’s another lesson in living in the moment. All three of my children are still marvellous and wondrous and are learning and changing and developing all the time. They are still connected to me, need me and want me. And I them. Rather than longing for a babyhood that could never last for ever (as pragmatic husband noted when I asked him if it made him sad having the boy turn one “Well, when he was born, I kind of assumed that he would, you know, grow up.’) I need to enjoy what he’s doing now and appreciate it all. You know, all of those old clichés.
Happy Birthday, sweet boy.