Yesterday I ordered diapers online for the first time, so I didn’t have to get them at the store. I hate that part, those huge, bulky boxes taking up precious real estate in my already crowded red cart. So I walked past the diapers, but not before a little pack of newborn diapers registered in the corner of my eye, the sleepy, yawning infant on the cover, bald and tiny.
I had a quick list: baby sunscreen, a few fruit and veggie pouches, diaper pail liners. I looked at the new Dove Baby line in its cute little bottles, wished it was there 5 years ago when I was agonizing over what bath products to buy for my soon-to-arrive baby girl. I got annoyed in the baby food aisle, like I always do. Tossed in the liners and pointed my cart towards the back to school set-up I knew was waiting at the back of the store.
And suddenly I paused, and I still can’t quite tell you why. I didn’t need anything else, I could hightail it out of there, gaze longingly at the back-to-school supplies or browse the summer clearance section.
But I paused.
I walked slowly, as if I was looking for something.
But I wasn’t.
I was looking at something.
Looking at the soft, minky newborn blankets, the clunky yellow breast pumps, the bright colored little boxes of pacis, the pretty little rolls of muslin swaddlers that I will never, ever use again.
A wave washed over me so strong, I felt like the air left my lungs and for a few seconds I felt a deep, deep sense of something I can only describe as sorrow. When the wave left, it was replaced with a deep, deep relief, and then sorrow peaked its head above the surface again.
Last week I had a dream I was pregnant. In it I held a purple and white pregnancy test and watched with absolute horror as two purple lines crystalized, clear as day. I woke up gasping for air, heart racing, as if my very life was threatened. There was a realness to the dream that chilled me, I felt a terror so vivid it stayed with me for days.
As you can guess from my reaction to my dream and using words like “horror” and “terror” to describe a pregnancy, I know with complete and total certainty that I never want another baby. Few things in life have I been so certain about. I understand the confusion and the feeling of being torn many mothers experience when making the decision to stop having children, but I have never felt it myself. I’ve never wondered, should there be one more? Or are we done? I’ve known. Without a shadow of a doubt.
And yet, there in the baby aisle at Target on a quiet Wednesday night, I felt the reality creep in. I was coming out of the jungle of newborn, infant, and baby and moving through toddler. Baby days as I know them, are disappearing.
I could see myself there in those same aisles, my head pounding with decisions as a brand new mom-to-be. How do you even know where to start as a new mom? I remember pacing the aisles with my mom by my side, week after week, preparing for our first baby, looking to her like a baby bird, clinging to any morsel of knowledge or advice or experience she would give me. How many hours have I spent there with my mom, my husband, alone? Picking out first baby furniture, a crib, then sheets and towels, burp rags and boppy’s, blankets and onesies and pacis and bathtubs and wipes. I had no idea. I walked those aisles as my belly grew and grew and walked them over and over throughout my daughter’s babyhood. And again with my son. For the past 5 years I have walked those aisles more than I could possibly count.
But the visits are fewer and farther in between, and that night I felt it, a door rapidly shutting on a stage of life. A door I always knew would close eventually, but never thought it would feel so sudden and final.
What do I want to say about this feeling? This feeling so overwhelming I had to spill it onto the screen? I can’t believe its almost over. The longest, fastest 5 years of my life. I can’t believe I am almost on the other side. I am ecstatic. I am proud. I am filled to the brim with sadness.
All of these feelings utterly conflicting, and all just as true. I never, ever want to do this again, but I am heartbroken I will never do it again.
I often wondered if my struggle in the baby years was because I wasn’t ready to be a mom yet. Our first pregnancy was a giant surprise, the birth was traumatic, and my whole Type A life was turned upside down, I went from life as a professional single woman to a stay-at-home, work-from-home, full-time mom. And this wasn’t something I dreamed of, like I heard many friends sigh about, gazing wistfully into their baby futures. Because although I knew with certainty I wanted children, I never spent more than a passing moment at best a couple times a year actually thinking or imagining what that life might be like with a baby.
But my son was planned, the birth was perfect, my life changed very little, and except for the increase in demands on me from another baby, day-to-day life was very similar. And while it was generally easier with him, and I did learn to enjoy a little more, I did not become a different person. I did not become the person I thought I was supposed to be when I first became a mom. I got closer, but I didn’t get to be totally her.
I guess I write all this to say that I am not hard on myself anymore for not enjoying the baby years as much as everyone else seems to – that this sadness I felt in Target wasn’t a sadness from wishing I had done anything differently, because I am proud of my choices and my struggles and my triumphs as a mama of babies. I tried my very hardest to live in the moment, to soak it up, to enjoy it all. I tried so hard. And even as my memory gets significantly more rosy with time, I know that I definitely enjoyed moments, but certainly not anywhere close to all of them. Its ok to be sad about not feeling like how we are sold certain stages of motherhood should feel like. I love my children desperately, I cannot imagine my life without them, don’t want to imagine it. I also feel like I’m growing into it. I feel like I’m getting better at it, enjoying it more, feeling more alive and less just a survivor.
I feel like my feelings at Target startled me because – how long does it take before you realize something is gone?
And when you realize it is, do you celebrate or mourn?
Do you have time to do either, when another stage is passing before your eyes?
If I’m lucky, in another 20-30 years I will get to walk these aisles again, shopping for my grandbabies.
I hope I resist the urge to tell my children how fast it goes, but I probably won’t.