My milk is slowly diminishing. My sweet baby boy is active, busy, too interested in the world around him to breastfeed non-stop like he used to. We still have our moments, daily, but they are slowly spreading out. He doesn't spend as much time in my arms as he used to.
In our big, wild family, he is the last one, and we know it. We made the decision before I was even pregnant. This was it.
They tell me there are waves of sadness surrounding this reality. That after years defined largely by growing babies, delivering babies, feeding babies, I should expect to feel sad - to ache, as it's said so often - as we venture out of this stage of life.
Only, I'm not aching.
Personally, I am not surprised over my lack of sadness as we bid goodbye to childbearing. I am by nature both an introvert and a worrier, qualities that can make pregnancy and motherhood quite taxing. The demands, both physical and emotional, of newborn life are painfully fresh in my mind, and I feel no longing to do it all over again. I'm giving away maternity clothes and browsing for non-nursing bras, without a shred of reluctance. No more babies? Bring it. Look at all those high neck sundresses I can start wearing soon.
So no, I'm not remotely surprised at my attitude. (High neck sundresses, people! Cute bras!) What has surprised me, though, is the conversation surrounding the absence of an ache. It has been suggested to me, by wonderful, well-meaning friends and family, that perhaps I'm not processing my feelings. That it just hasn't hit me yet, the fact that we're done. That I will ache soon enough.
As if the ache is a requirement now. As if real mothers, good mothers, MUST feel a sense of sadness when there will be no more babies.
I'm not suggesting, even for a fraction of a second, that there is anything wrong with aching or sadness when you know you're done. No, for many families - maybe even the majority - my layperson's guess is that a sense of sadness is normal and probably healthy. Ending the childbearing years, which for many of us have been a defining part of our lives, is a very big deal. It deserves acknowledgement and it's only reasonable to think there might be considerable emotional processing involved.
But in just the same way, I find the implication that there's something wrong with a lack of sadness very curious. As the conversation surrounding The Ache has become more common - often in the form of beautiful, heart-wrenching, insightful essays like this one - I think so many women have identified with the idea that we've come to believe it's universal. As if the decision itself should be expected to result in a hollow, longing feeling deep in every mother's heart.
There is nothing wrong with experiencing the ache. There is something wrong, however, with expecting everyone to have it, just as there is always something wrong with deciding how other people should feel about their life decisions.
Today, my heart is too full of four little people, and the man with whom I created them, to even allow room for an ache. In that tiny corner where an ache might form someday, I'm growing my own dreams, my someday-plans that have nothing to do with raising children, nurturing seeds of myself apart from my role as mother. Truthfully, I kind of love having that corner to myself. I'm not sure I want to share it with a sense of sadness over who or what won't be, because I'm pretty happy with who and what is as well as with what lies ahead.
It helps that my husband and I are in agreement. If only one of us felt done, I expect emotions would run much higher on this subject, so I don't take for granted our ability to reach the same conclusion. It's nice to feel done together.
I asked him recently if he feels a sense of sadness, and his seems to parallel mine: It's occasional, fleeting, and mixed with a powerful sense of both relief and closure. It couldn't be described as an ache.
We have had enough, I guess, in every sense of the phrase.
There will be moments, I am sure. No feeling in the world compares to the first glimpse of a positive pregnancy test, to that faint purple confirmation that whispers new life has indeed been created. Except, perhaps, the rush of taking your newborn into your arms for the first time. I will miss those experiences. Four times over the course of a whole life, sometimes it doesn't seem like quite enough. So yes, there will be moments. Of course there will.
But a deep, abiding, limitless ache? I'm not convinced it's a part of my experience, and I'm not so sure it needs to be. I'm willing to accept it if it comes, but I'm not willing to expect it as a natural progression to the next stage, and not entirely willing to let anyone else expect it of me, either. Some of us will live with the ache, maybe forever. But some of us, well, perhaps we won't.