Why am I doing this?
The thought enters into my mind, at times. On the hard days, it is like a toddler at my feet, demanding why – why – why, desperate for an answer that I can’t seem to find.
Why am I coming here and writing these words, sending them out into the void? Shouldn’t I be sleeping? What am I working so tirelessly to build, here?
Why. Why. Why.
I’m sitting in the quiet of the night. Soon, a baby will be waking to be held and nursed and I will slip into my room with her, snuggling down into my bed that my three-year-old will also wander into at around 3 am — like clockwork. He will be sleeping on my feet and my baby will be tucked into the curve of safety that only my body provides. I will not sleep well, but I just don’t have the heart to change it.
I am cosleeping because this is it. This is the last time I will ever have a five-month- old. I’m going to wake up one day to discover that she is reading books to herself in bed at night and planning her seventh birthday, as my oldest has been doing every evening for the past month. And god, let me tell you, that thought just breaks my heart.
This is the last baby.
This is the last time I will ever get to do this.
My husband doesn’t seem to be as affected by her growth, by the overwhelming thought that soon she will be half of a year old. Maybe it is because he is the optimist. He sees the silver linings while I am busy opening my umbrella in anticipation of the storms.
Or maybe it is because he hasn’t been lost to fatherhood. He hasn’t weaved his whole identity and life around these three, as I have. His love for them is solid and impermeable as an oak tree, while mine is more like the delicate spider web entangled in the branches above, wrapped about and holding on tightly — something from which you cannot be freed.
Our daughter’s cosleeper crib is still positioned like a sidecar next to my side of the bed, though we moved her into her own room last week. Though she cannot safely sleep there anymore, I cannot bear to pack it away. “What am I to do with it?” I cried to my husband. “How is it possible that this is the last of the newborns that will sleep in the stillness beside me? That I will never feel another kick within my belly? Never again know the sacred space that makes room for a heartbeat to pulse so near to mine? I just can’t bear the thought of it.” The tears swell and spill into the darkness of the moonlight.
He reminds me that our family is beautiful, saying, with a hint of frustration, that we are blessed beyond belief. And he is right. We have friends who are aching in the despair of infertility; we have lost my sister to childhood cancer. We have seen and known pain. In this moment, the world is right.
But I cannot seem to shake the idea that with my third and final baby, every first that she experiences is also a last for me. Every first is a last.
With every first giggle, first roll over, first little tooth peeking through, there is also the last of the stoic newborn, immobile loveball, and gummy grin. There is nothing I can do to stop the bittersweet beauty of the first/lasts.
And so why am I doing this? Why I am spending my nights writing? Spending my days reading, brainstorming, and dreaming up ways to be more, all while grasping for the fleeting moments of the day, like when the afternoon sunlight is streaming in just perfectly upon us, to stare down into her changing face and wonder if I am wasting my time.
My precious, last time.
I don’t think that I am mourning the passing of time because I am the pessimist.
I think I am grieving the firsts because, with each one that my baby girl reaches, it is one step closer to the end of this season in my life. One step closer to the end of mothering. And yes, we will mother them forever, but not in this way. Not in this way that can consume our every moment, that can render us lost in the gravity of this love. I know, it will not be this way forever.
And then? Then what will I be?
The truth is I don’t know.
So I find myself here in the night, writing when my family is sleeping, to answer this question. Writing in the quiet before they will all wake and need me again. Sometimes I realize that Radiohead’s “Karma Police” is playing in my head, just that one part – over and over:
“For a minute there, I lost myself. I lost myself. Well for a minute there, I lost myself. I lost myseeeeelllllllllf.”
It is true. For the past few years I have lost myself in the mothering.
But as surely as I have been lost in it, I have also never been so delivered by something, so profoundly and beautifully found.