I’ve been thinking back to December 2003 a lot lately. To one day in particular.
I was on my friend’s backyard deck. We had just been playing with her son, and TJ came out to talk to me.
“I want to have a baby,” I said. He looked at me a little startled. We had always known we wanted children – as many of them as we could handle – but we had never talked about it imminently. But I had just taken my Masters comprehensive exams, and I was just waiting for the date to graduate. I was biding my time at a job I didn’t enjoy (hated actually) and life just seemed like it would be so much more full with a child.
That date was a long time ago, but I don’t think it’s a date I’ll ever really forget. It was the day I decided to give my body over to babies. Sure, it would take us almost four years to get pregnant, but we didn’t know that at the time. At the time we thought it could be any day. And we looked forward to that day. And I treated my body like it would one day soon be home to our first child.
Now I flash forward to slightly over 14 years later, and today is the first full day that Tessie didn’t nurse. We have been slowly drifting away from that relationship for the last two months or so. She didn’t really seem much interested. I didn’t really seem to be producing much milk any more. She would never ask. I would just nurse her for a minute or two before bed. Not because it was necessary or because either of us wanted to, but because, honestly, I was a bit afraid not to. Because once that is over… well then, what is next?
I don’t know if we will ever have another baby. If we did, we would be overjoyed and so blessed and so happy. But I’ll be turning 40 on Thursday, and my body just doesn’t respond to conception or gestation very well. Stupid hormones. If I had to place a bet, I would with very little hesitation bet that we will not have any more children. Four feels right to us. Four feels like home. Four little daughters to grow up into little women feels like my idea of Eden.
But it’s weird.
That day in 2003 marked the day I first gave my body over to the idea of children. And tonight, as I type, is the first moment since that one 14 years ago that I am not either preparing for pregnancy, trying to get pregnant, am pregnant, or am breastfeeding.
In short, today is my first day in 14 years that my body is completely my own.
And I honestly don’t know how to feel about that.
I would like to come to some sort of neat and honest conclusion. Some epilogue of sorts to put on those many years. But perhaps I’m too close to it. Perhaps I can’t see it in its entirety. Or perhaps a part of me knows that even though my body may no longer be physically producing the hormones to sustain another life, my body is still very much in the service of growing and nurturing little lives.
But really, I’m just sitting here staring at the page and thinking, “huh. So those years are over.”
And all I really keep thinking about is how from the moment we know we have a baby growing within us, we want to do everything we can to protect it. We know from the instant that we first lay eyes on that little baby that we would give our lives in a heartbeat for her. No hesitation.
But motherhood asks more of us than just our lives. Life or death decisions are the easier ones. The harder ones are the more mundane, everyday ones. Sure we would give our lives for our children, but would we give our last hour of sleep? Would we give our laps while we are battling stomach flu? Would we give our quiet or our tranquility or our peace or our standards?
The greatest gift we can give to another is to lay down our lives for him or her. But the laying down isn’t always dramatic. Often it is small and others don’t even notice.
And that’s the laying down that most of us, as mothers, are called to do. We are called to sacrifice and to give. Some times we do that physically through our bodies, but we also do it through our wills.
And so maybe that’s why this night doesn’t feel as momentous as I feel it should. Perhaps I know that while my body might not be producing nutritional sustenance for my children anymore, I am still every bit as much in the business of growing them as I ever was. The bonds created through those first very physical months isn’t gone. It’s just morphed. I am no longer surrounding their entire bodies as I did while pregnant, but the cords are still there. They aren’t visible. They aren’t physical. But they move through space always keeping us together, tethered, in unison.
Today, more than likely, marks the return of my body to myself. It doesn’t feel glorious, but it also doesn’t feel sad either. Life moves forward, and now I get to see where these past fourteen years of growth will take us.