The End of an Era

It was February 2001 when I became pregnant for the first time.

That baby is now 17 years old, and probably leaving home in less than a year.

Since that day in February when I first conceived I have been either breastfeeding, or pregnant, without any pauses, for 18 years.

The last picture I ever took of me breastfeeding.

I was always pregnant with another by the time I weaned the child who was nursing.

It’s not like I planned it that way. It just sort of happened.

I was committed to extended breastfeeding, and I just kept getting pregnant before I’d had time to wean the previous child. So the new baby became the catalyst to wean the older sibling.

All that to say, I’m done!

A month ago my youngest, just before turning 3, stopped nursing to sleep, and I am no longer lactating.

My body is no longer nourishing an extra person, for the first time in 18 years! Yes, I’m repeating myself. I’m not sure you get the significance of it.

My breasts are my own again. They don’t have any milk in them. I will need to buy new bras that aren’t pulled to pieces to let them out for access for a hungry mouth. I will need to buy bras that aren’t stretched to pieces, because my breasts are smaller now. Like, maybe a whole cup size smaller. They are covered in stretch marks, and hang a lot lower than they originally did too, but I don’t even care. They’re so much less heavy!

My uterus is not playing host to any tiny humans. It’s just me and my uterus figuring out how to get along together again, now we’re empty nesters and don’t have the kids to worry about anymore.

I can wear dresses that don’t allow me to whip a boob out. And blouses. And jumpsuits and pant suits. (I don’t like either of those, but I could wear them if I really wanted to.)

It’s a whole brand new season of life opening up before me.

Pax only wears diapers to bed, and most of the time he doesn’t need them, they’re just precautionary.

The baby stage is coming to an end and I’m rejoicing.

I know some women mourn. I might have mourned if the last baby had been number 3, or number 4, and that could have been a sign that I was not really ready to close the door on that season of motherhood. As it was, I kept getting pregnant, not quite intentionally mind you, and have had time to really, really, know for sure that I am perfectly content to not have anymore children.

I love my children. They are fantastic people. Every one of them has been a gift; to me, to each other, to the world as a whole. I enjoyed breastfeeding, and co-sleeping. I was privileged to be able to do those things, to stay home with my children, or take my babies to work with me and continue that relationship in that way. I regret none of it.

I wrote several years ago about the one choice I truly regret. I regret not adopting my sister’s baby when she wasn’t ready to be a mother yet, because my experience afterward taught me how much richer we would have been to have him in our family.

That experience has colored many of my choices as a mother. Choosing to get pregnant way sooner than we originally planned was part of that journey. I came to love that other baby so much, that it opened my heart to the possibility of children, the gift of children, a lot sooner than it may otherwise have been opened.

When I miscarried my 4th child, it again shaped my heart in ways unforeseen, and I was so grateful for the surprise pregnancy that followed.

Aaron and I have been open to, and grateful for, the many children we have been blessed with for all of these many years. It’s impossible to consider how much we would have missed out on if they weren’t all here.

Look at these amazing people!

I know that same miracle could happen again, and even again. I’m only 42 after all.

But, I truly feel we are all here. That we are complete.

I also don’t ever want to be pregnant again. My body was utterly exhausted by the last pregnancy, and seemed to be saying, “That’s it, we’re closing up shop. Not doing this again.” I’ve learned to listen to my body. It was all the babies that taught me how.

I said yes to all 7 of my babies. I opened my body and allowed life to come through, over and over again. I learned to be at home in my body through that process. I learned to come out of my head, and inhabit my body, in ways I had forgotten, from far before my childhood had ended. Somewhere along the way I learned to be present, to not try to escape the sensations of childbirth, but allow myself to feel them, to move through them, and to let them, the contractions and hormones, carry me away and through to the other side of labor, where I held a tiny squirming perfect miniature person in my arms and against my skin for the first time. This became a metaphor for me for every other hard thing in my life, if I remembered it. “The only way out is through. Trust. I was made to do this, and do it well. Accept what is uncomfortable, the feelings, the circumstances. Only by facing them can you truly deal with them and pass through.” What’s true in childbirth is also true in life.

I learned to trust myself, trust my body, trust my instincts, and this in spite of and because of the things it endured. I have been cut 3 times, in three places. Cut to allow life in. Cut to allow life to exit. Maybe some of them were necessary, and maybe not. But I learned my body knew something wasn’t right before the medical instruments ever got a reading. It was telling me what to do, which was exactly what the nurses told me to after. I learned that there was strength inside of me, strength I’d never tapped, and never dreamed existed, and child birth, and mothering, it connected me to it and helped me learn to use it. It also helped me to lean not on my own strength, to not try to do everything alone, to connect to the source of all life in order to shoulder the never ending life sustaining work that is just keeping small children alive, day after day. You see, I also learned where I am weak, and that also is a blessing. I learned the good and bad about myself on a daily basis, and that was the beginning of becoming something more, and better than I was, of growing up, of being a person I wanted and chose to be.

I came home to myself as a mother. I learned to be good at it. (Babies, anyway. I’m a bit astounded still by how exhausting teenagers can be.) I know there is so much more for me to learn, so many seasons of motherhood still ahead of me, and I’m looking forward to them.

It’s been a beautiful season. Now that it’s ended I am unequivocally ready to move on to the next.

I close a door in order to open another one on another series of potentially beautiful possibilities.

For me, for many years, this life of having babies has been one of openness to a particular type of beautiful potential. But birthing babies is not the only potential beauty there is to choose. There are other forms of beauty I am now more free to pursue. The work of motherhood continues, and I will continue to do that work, for decades to come. But something different is also opening up.

I pause here in this moment of transition, both to thank my body for all it has done in the last 18 years to sustain life, and to celebrate and recognize this achievement, this milestone.

But I close the door on this season of my life with a grateful sigh, and turn with anticipation toward the next chapter, whatever it may be. I like that it’s probably going to include sleeping whole nights without any interruptions much more often.

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