As parents, we all ask each other similar questions about parenthood: “How is your baby sleeping? How do you handle tantrums? Are you getting your kid a cell phone?” But the question I get most often these days, as a mother of three children who are growing up at the speed of (constant) sound, is “Are you done?” This question fills me with anxiety and grief each time I hear it.
I am not one of those women who feels the certainty of a complete family. Yes, my husband and I have made the decision to not have more children. We want to travel more, to have the money and the time to provide the three we have with unique and meaningful experiences. We love the dynamic of our two daughters and their little brother, all with such unique relationships to each other and to us.
We want to give each child the attention and focus she/he deserves without feeling stretched too thin. It is overwhelming to suddenly have a tween entering the real world of peer pressure and the Internet. It is a relief that our middle child has become capable of keeping herself alive after years of terrifying us with her impulsivity. And now that our youngest is old enough to be in school half the day, it is exciting for me to be working part-time. Not to mention that I will be 40 this year, that I have already experienced a devastating stillbirth after five months of sharing a body, and that I have increased hyperemesis gravidarum with each pregnancy (severe all-the-time sickness, requiring multiple hospital stays). All of those are good solid reasons not to expand our family any further.
But. I am most definitely…not done.
I am not done feeling the first flutter kicks and then deep rolls of a new life saying hello from the inside. I am not done discussing name after name, imagining each one repeated day after future day, like the beat of my heart. I am not done reaching my arms out to hold the waxy baby I just created and grew and then delivered against my cheek to breathe in the earthy scent of our bodies, of birth and new life and purpose. I am not done feeling the let down of milk and watching my baby’s face relax into the nourishment and comfort of my breast. I am not done with baby toes and first smiles and coos, tiny socks and swaddle wraps and shopping for sweet clothes. I am not done with kissing the soft head bobbing just below my chin in a wrap tight against my chest, or with feeling irreplaceable in all the world every time my voice or skin or face is all it takes to soothe a tiny cry. I am not done with chubby pointing fingers, with mispronounced first words that only I can translate, with gummy mouths and then two little bottom teeth. I am not done with carseats and strollers and diaper bags in my car, with burp cloths and boppy pillows and automatic swings around my house. And most of all, I am not done with the pure uncomplicated motherbabylove that I experienced instantaneously with each of my children: the only relationship in life unearned and unconditional, unmarred by hurt feelings or conflict, unbroken through nights of exhaustion and hours of wailing. I recognize that all of these longings center around a baby, as opposed to an older child.
But that is probably because I currently have older children, and can’t yet miss what I still have. In 15 years, I will undoubtedly yearn for family movie night, toy-strewn floors, and being yelled at across the house to come wipe (Ok, maybe I won’t miss that last one too terribly). I will probably wish we had had just one more child. I will justify all the expense and all the energy we would have spent enlarging our family until I convince myself that we should have.
But even if we did have one more, the inevitable day would come where someone would look at our four kids and say, “Are you done?” and I would again feel the pull, the deep intrinsic desire from the core of my own femaleness; the longing of life for itself, as Kahlil Gibran says.
So we have made the decision to stop here, to live the rest of our lives as a family of five, to exist on this side of “what if.” And it feels like the right decision based on who and where we all are today.
But am I done? Never.