My husband and I are lying in bed late at night, enjoying the relative quiet of our top floor room in our beach condo. After a long day of sun, sand and “Mommy, come play in the water with me,” I’m half-asleep before my head hits the pillow. But my husband is not. He is wide awake, deep in thought, and is determined that I ride the thought-train right along with him.
“What do you think of our new niece?” he asks in the dark.
Our new niece is nine months old and a veritable prodigy, already cruising around the furniture and pulling everything she can reach down onto the floor.
“Does being around her make you want to have another baby? Don’t you wish you could go back and do it all again?” I can hear the hopefulness in his voice, so I take a moment to make sure I gather up the right words for my response. I breathe in, out, and in again, finally expelling the answer in a giant rush.
“Hell no. Hell to all the no’s in all the world. No. I mean, holy shit, that kid is so much work. Just looking at her makes me tired. I debated using dental floss to tie my tubes off. We are N.O.T. having another baby.”
As he huffs and rolls away from me in anger, I realize the fundamental difference between the two of us. He is still mourning the loss of the baby years and all their firsts, still grieving over every single “last”.
And I am not.
For me, the pain of the pathway to those firsts is still too fresh. The nights I trekked back and forth between my bedroom and theirs, praying that they’d finally figure out how to shove the pacifier into their own damn mouth. All of those hours I spent doing the same monotonous tasks, encouraging my children, cheering them on, helping them find the pathway to doing things for themselves. Every single accomplishment equaled some small freedom for me – sleeping through the night, eating my dinner with two hands, being able to finally understand what they wanted – but they didn’t come without a price. While I don’t regret any of the time and effort I put into my children, any of the sacrifices I made, I also don’t want to go back and do it all over again.
I send my kids off to school now. I close the door and breathe. For my husband and so many others like him, the house feels empty. He hears only the absence of giggles and cries. I too hear the stillness, but I also hear the peace. They are my rewards for a job well done. The gaping silence is my proof that the firsts have turned into lasts, that my children have grown and accomplished, have moved out from my shadow into a light of their own.
The next morning my husband glares at me as we watch our niece crawl around the room. “How could you say that?” his disappointment in me clear. “Why aren’t you sad that we won’t have any more babies?”
I have to confess that I don’t understand why I should be sad. Why would I mourn the bygone days when my whole life revolved around the care and feeding of others? Why should I be upset that I’ve done a good job?
Yet so often I feel that society wants me to do just that. As a woman still in her childbearing years, I’m supposed to look at cute little babies and scream that my uterus is contracting, then beg my husband to throw me up against the wall and take me, right there in front of everyone. I’m supposed to forever maintain a desire to put myself last, and a baby first.
But I don’t.