A hand touches my face. I’m asleep but I’m sure I can feel it. There it is again. “Is she stroking me or hitting me?” I think as I try to will myself awake. Then I feel a sharp kick somewhere you never want to be kicked and suddenly I’m wide awake. Ahh. Of course. It was in fact a tiny, direct punch to the cheekbone from the sleeping 3 year old next to me. She is desperately trying to free herself from my tight (and probably quite hot) embrace. The ensuing kick was just a guarantee that I moved over. You see, even when she’s asleep, and I mean DEEP, deep asleep, she is reminding me who’s boss.
As I sweep the hair from her face and she instinctively wraps her tiny arms around my neck, all is forgiven. The familiar scent of mango baby shampoo, fabric softener and the slightest hint of strawberry toothpaste waft over me and makes my heart ache with an actual physical pain. How is it that you can you love something so much that it causes you physical pain? As I lay her back into her own bed and kiss her tiny fingertips, even the lingering pain from the swift kick to the vagina she just gave me isn’t enough to stop me hovering that minute longer to watch her sleep.
Why? Because she’s my baby; My last baby.
I need to caveat almost every single sentence in this blog with the following: I KNOW I’M LUCKY TO HAVE CHILDREN. I have been beyond blessed to have two beautiful babies. Women across the world struggle every month to conceive. To lament not having more feels wrong sometimes and will upset many. For that I’m truly sorry. However, I do also know the pain of loss; I’ve miscarried, I’ve mourned, I know the pain of crying on the bathroom floor all too well. But now, this new pain, the pain of longing for a child you know you can’t have, is hard to bare too. It feels taboo to admit it but it’s a real, genuine pain. Never again feeling the sheer elation of meeting a brand new human you made from scratch, fills me with a deep sadness.
I remember vividly in the early days of having two children, feeling SO sure that I was done. I’d laugh if people floated the idea of more and think to myself “no way!” What changed? As time has gone on and the probability of more has become less likely, it feels as though my desire for one more has grown. Is it just that I want what I can’t have? I have to admit that my body won’t carry another baby and begrudgingly I must face the fact that I probably lack the mental strength to survive another year of sleep deprivation. How would I meet the needs of three little people adequately, when some days it feels impossible to meet the needs of two? Is it selfish to want more just because I want another baby in my life? Maybe. So, slowly I am letting go of the baby things, the baby clothes, the baby toys… and trying to resolve myself to Marley being my last. It’s hard to admit that you’re done when you just don’t feel done, but I’m trying.
Sometimes when I’m folding her clothes and I look around her room, I feel a huge swell of joy that it is starting to look like a proper little girl’s room. No more baby changer, no more baby gyms, no more annoying, singing light-up toys to trip me up. A space exists on her dresser where a baby camera once sat. Gone is the angel care mat that used to keep me awake at night. Goodbye to all the nappies and baby wipes that used to litter her floor. Yes!! I did it – I survived the crazy baby years!! And then comes the crash of sadness. No more baby gyms, no more stupid singing toys. No more nappies and baby wipes and soft murmurs over baby monitors. Sob. It hits me hard and my heart pangs for the smell of talc and nappy cream. And then I cry.
I’ve come to realise that upon deciding your baby making days are behind you, you have to grieve. The joy and sadness I feel about leaving the baby stage is usually followed by an inevitable wave of nostalgia; one of the hardest stages of the grief process. Remembering the smell of fluffy newborn hair, the first sight of her as she was placed in my arms, the sounds of a baby giggling as you tickle their toes…. The memory of them can reduce me to tears one day and yet make me smile and laugh the next. As each stage moves on to the next, the treasures of their past mount up and get stored away in baby boxes, ready to comfort me during the lonely, wistful days ahead.
It still astounds me how this bubbly little girl that fills a room with her joie de vivre, can be that same squashy, tiny baby she once was. To think that 4 years ago she didn’t exist and I didn’t know her, fills me with awe. Hasn’t she always been here with me? I already feel as though I know her better than I know myself. Any parent will be able to reel a list of their child’s little quirks and idiosyncrasies that make them so unique. Marley gets dressed and undressed into her costumes and ‘party dresses’ all day long. Her obsession with teddies, shoes and headbands drives me utterly wild. I like things to be neat, yet she scatters them around the house with wild abandon like little tokens of defiance. As our home fills with the laughter and music of her, it’s so hard to imagine life before her. Her spontaneity and generosity with affection often catches me off guard – appearing as if by magic next to me and throwing her arms around me. She always tries to say, ‘I love you’ first at bedtime, much to my amazement and she can’t ever leave me without a “mama cuddle.” Uncovering the sparkling gems of your child’s growing personality is one of life’s greatest hidden pleasures.
So for now, I will try not to resent these nights when I’m awake with a knee in my back. During those tiring moments when she is curled in my arms being carried back to bed I’ll remember that this won’t last forever and one day I will miss it. It feels like just yesterday that I was reaching into her cot and placing my hands under her arms to lift her up. I can still feel the weight of her in my arms as a baby as if she was actually here; Lifting her up onto my shoulder to cuddle her, to breathe her in. The feeling of holding your baby in your arms and feeling their warmth against your skin is like magic. If I could bottle this feeling and sell it, I’d be a billionaire.
I wonder what will life be like when this dancing, loving, cuddly toddler grows up and becomes a teenager? I must try to remember that lucky people get to watch their children grow up. There is such a curiosity at trying to imagine her. What will she be like? I feel such excitement at picturing us together at a spa or having lunch in the garden and talking about friends, girls, boys, life…. Oh my god, imagine the day we have a glass of wine together and she asks for advice about love? Imagine the day she asks about my life before her. What will that look like? I can’t even imagine it. I’m jumping ahead like I always do. I must try not to look too far into the future or pine for the past because then I’ll miss it all. Clever people live in the present, right? But looking at baby photos of her on my phone as I climb back into bed reminds me of that old cliché that I hate: it all goes by so quickly.
Savouring these precious moments with her as my last baby is so important to me. Thinking that soon these cuddly, toddler moments will be gone is hard. She won’t say, “I love you mama, best friend!” in her funny little broken baby English that makes me melt. She won’t cry for me in the night and want me to sing, “You are my sunshine” to help her sleep. Soon I wont need to move over to make space for her in my bed and I wont feel her warm hands on my face in the night, reminding me that I am loved, needed, her most important person. In just over a year she’ll be in school and she won’t ever be completely all mine in the same way. I know, as that’s how I felt with her brother. Saying goodbye to him at the school gates and seeing his sad little face still makes me cry some days even now. I’m not quite ready to do this again for the last time.
So yes, for tonight my little blue eyed baby, I’ll take the stinging cheekbone, I’ll take the broken sleep and the kicks. I’ll take the heartache and the longing and I’ll wrap it all up tightly where nobody else can find it. In years to come, my baby, you’ll know this feeling. This beautiful pain of loving something more than you could ever love yourself. Maybe then you’ll know just what you mean to me. The pride you fill me with every day, as I watch you grow overwhelms me and shakes the sadness out of me. Oh what an honour it is to be the woman that gets to be your mentor. What a privilege it is to have YOU as my daughter. As much as my heart pangs at losing the baby within you, it also fills with excitement at meeting the young woman you will become. You and your beautiful brother are everything I could ever wish for and I am so grateful to have made these memories with you. Reach for the stars, my baby and ignore mama when she cries as you learn to ride your bike and lose your first tooth ok?
You are me and so much more. Mama x