A few days ago as I cuddled into my sheets for a short nap time before Mya came bouncing through the door after school, I received a text from a dear friend about deciding when it was the right time to stop having children. Part of her text read: "I don't know if I can bear seeing friends have new babies and know I'll never have another newborn of my own. But I also wonder if I'm just afraid to not have a baby anymore because it means I'm moving on from this stage of life I've been in for so long. It's insanely busy, stressful, and exhausting, but also so rewarding. And I feel like my identity is completely wrapped up in being the mother to many tiny children. Who am I without that when my hands aren't 'full' in the same way? It scares me. It really does. I feel like my self worth rests on mothering babies. I know I'll still have plenty of mothering years left, but moving on from my years of having babies and toddlers seems like such a huge change."
Her thoughtful words and questions stung my mama heart because she, like me, has had multiple children in a short amount of time, and for the past 7+ years, our lives have been consumed with babies--housing them, feeding them, clothing them, changing them, and teaching them to sit, stand, walk, learn letters, etc. In so many ways, we have been their lifeline, but they have also been ours. So the question remains, how do we know if it is the right time to move on from this stage? (Extra emphasis on the how.)
Here is my response, knowing the answer to this question is extremely personal and will/should vary from person to person and family to family.
This baby will be our last. The reality of that stings, but it is what it is. I remember before Birdie was born--even up to the moment after I delivered--that I wavered back and forth on whether or not she would be our last. Moments after the delivery as I shivered with chills, I looked at Tim and whispered, "We are not done. She is not the last one." Of course, I was slightly delirious after losing so much water and blood in a quick delivery that neither of us really committed to the idea in that moment, but there it hung for months and months. I even remember feeling uneasy when I went to get the IUD placed, as if something were telling me not to go through with it, but neither Tim or I wanted another baby right away so I ignored the feeling and went ahead and had the IUD planted. We all know the outcome of that story. ;(
The idea of a fifth floated in my head for months until it materialized with two pink lines one hot August day. The idea was no longer an idea; it was reality. It is a reality I am still working through (see yesterday's post).
Aside from the fact that this pregnancy has humbled me and my body in ways I'm embarrassed to admit, for the past eight months, I have questioned, is this baby boy the last person I will ever create and deliver? Of course, Tim nodded his head emphatically each time; he really doesn't want six kids. I, however, needed my own confirmation. You see--the power of creation is an addicting thing (at least to me), and I don't take the honor lightly. In a sense, creating all these tiny lives has helped me appreciate art and artists so much more than I ever did in my youth. I now understand why artists continued to produce pieces, even when their hands began to ache and their minds began to wane. The power of creation is real, and it is magical.
And so I waited for my answer. I even signed papers for a tubal ligation without really knowing if I could commit, but the other night as Tim and I discussed the subject for what seemed like the hundredth time, I felt a connection to him and to the fact that--yes, this baby is the final piece to our family puzzle.
I expected to feel fear of the unknown, but what I felt instead was peace. I have no idea what I will do when I don't have a baby attached to my side, but I assume my role as a mother will gradually morph into something more (probably without me even knowing it), and in a lot of ways, it makes me excited. Both Tim and I relish our time reading chapter books and discussing deeper topics with the older girls, and I know time will only make those conversations more interesting and entertaining. I am not excited, however, to become an endless chauffeur. When I think of how much of my days will be spent taking one kid here and another kid there, I think--nope I'd rather create babies forever. But that will be part of my experience as a mother, and I will have to find joy in it somehow.
So as I approach my final delivery and meet my last creation, I do so with some trepidation because my mother heart will always be sad to see this phase end, but I also do so with a bit of wonder and excitement because I have always loved the idea of change, and I know that my role as a mother will change a lot over the next few years. I will probably ache inside with each passing milestone this baby boy makes, and I'm going to allow myself time to ache. But as the days and months pass, and I creep farther and farther away from babyhood and toddlerhood and closer and closer into tween and teenage years, I will not only enjoy watching the development of my children but of myself as well.
Who knows what I can become? One thing I know is that I have so much potential. I never knew how well I could teach little children, and now I do it in a semi-classroom setting every afternoon, and my kids are thriving. Just wait until I can introduce them to William Shakespeare and help them understand his words. Or when I can help them review their college essays or memorize their vocabulary lists. All these things make my heart beat a little faster because I know my kids will always need me and I them, and we will grow up together.
After rereading the post, I realized I didn't completely answer the question; I only shared the thoughts on my experience so I am adding a final section. Because the answer unique to each person, the best thing I can say is that there will be some women that will just know when to stop having children. I've met many women who say they just knew that their time of creation had come to an end; however, I've met far more women who are uncertain about being done bearing children. So for the women who don't know with certainty whether or not the time has come to move on from babies and toddlers, I would say talk to your spouse. Put it all on the table, and let him do the same. Tim's thoughts added so much clarity to my muddled mess of a mama brain. He helped me see what would be best for me and our family, and I am so grateful my heart was open to his thoughts. After you talk everything through, be hopeful for the future. Recognize your potential does not solely reside in motherhood. And lastly, pray--pray to know who you are to become as a woman, wife, and mother. I believe in the power of women.