I was a holdout on babies. My own, that is. I found other people’s babies and kids downright delightful.
At some point, without my knowledge or consent, my heretofore silent digital clock was replaced with one of those infernal mid-century flip clocks that began incessantly tick-tocking, counting down the perceived time I had left. When I woke on my 30th birthday, I had been formed into a likeness of Frankenstein’s monster, arms stiffly out, brain intoning, “Baby … baby … baby.” It was, frankly, very annoying to me how stereotypical it was.
Two years passed. On a Thursday afternoon, I was suddenly face-to-face with my hard-won, seven-pound prize. Bang-zoom-heart-eyes: I was in love.
There is such an immense amount of privilege I acknowledge in all of that. It makes me use cringey words like precious and sacred — because those are the words that should be reserved for such a responsibility. Two more babies followed my first, and there is a not-accidental reason
I call them my three-ring circus.
There are a million reasons why not to have another. For example:
The unceasing nausea, the bedrest, the hip pain, the food aversions, the exhaustion, the headaches, the labor scares, the labor!, the recovery, the nap schedules, the worrying, the sibling rivalry, the turning of my body into baby furniture, the time, the money, the heartaches, the what-ifs, the graying hair and wrinkles, the weight gain, the lack of sleep (truly horrifying), the news headlines.
I kept leaving the door propped just ever-so-slightly open, a shaft of light casting onto the floor underneath. Well, I’m not 40 yet. I haven’t gotten rid of all the gear yet. I have room in my heart yet. There’s yet an empty chair at the dinner table.
Just when you think you have something of a handle on this parenting gig, your children rudely move on to another stage. Changing diapers one-handed in the trunk of a car? No sweat. Tying a wrap to wear a baby? Championship medal. Breastfeeding at the drop of a hat in a public space? Please. My kids don’t need much, if any of that anymore. Still, switching out all the clothing sizes for the next bigger size in the drawers hits hard. I still do it, and I really hate it — and if I’m being totally honest, I cry every single time.
I watch the baby videos and flick through the photos on my phone. I remember that exhausted, exhilarated, wild wonder. And though my children continue to lead me toward the new horizons of who they can be and accomplish and I’m no less besotted, there’s something about that new baby smell, teensy baby clothes, that first real smile … OK, I’m stopping myself right here.
If I could go back and tell even my 28-year-old self all of this, she would grab me by the shoulders and pupil-to-pupil incredulously stare me down. But now that I’m here, I’m grieving this whole phase coming to close — one I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I have, or expect to drag my feet to leave. I’m a little closer to those moments veteran moms promised me — that I’d be able to read a book in an afternoon again, or have a neater house — and yet somehow I’m fighting a feeling that I’m less useful, or young.
Still, for all the right reasons, it’s time to close the door.
Katie Dohman lives in West St. Paul with her three kids, two dogs, one cat and one husband. She loves them a lot, which is good, because she can’t remember the last time she slept a whole night through.