The author with her last baby. Photo: Courtesy of Alicia Lue
There will never be anything that warms my soul like the milky smell of a new baby against my breast. Or the feeling of his tender weight and warmth as he coos quietly on my chest. So as we made the trip home from the hospital with our third baby fast asleep in his car seat, I found myself quietly mourning the fact that this would be the last time we would bring home a newborn. My partner and I had agreed that we didn’t want more children.
To be honest, we were never quite sold on the idea of a third baby. We had always dreamed of having a daughter, but the scientific odds were against us, and the thought of being outnumbered by our children was a sobering one. As were the financial implications of another child.
But nature decided for us, and having barely emerged from the diapering stage, we were right back in the thick of the sweet delirium that is newborn parenthood. Bleary eyed 3 a.m. breastfeeding sessions. Jumping out of sleep like a cat on fire to make sure he was still breathing. Long bouts of staring at his sweet, sleeping face.
I’ve been through this twice before, and yet something feels so different this time. My heart is bursting with love and excitement that our family is now officially complete and our boys have one more playmate in their fold, but it also aches as each milestone passes for the last time. Do all moms experience this when they are able to decide that they're caring for their last baby? I didn’t expect to feel so many different things so feverishly every day. Knowing that this baby will be our last has also made it feel like we’re experiencing every milestone at warp speed, hyper-conscious of his progression away from infancy, and my snuggling arms.
As I packed away all the newborn clothes that he’d already outgrown, seemingly much too soon, I placed his miniature pajamas over my shoulder to mark how tiny he had been. He was about the same size as our second when we brought him home, but for some reason it felt like he’d grown out of his first clothes more swiftly. It’s easy to forget how small newborns are, and as those early days of his life drift farther and farther into the rear view, each reminder makes me keenly aware of tender moments I can never get back.
I was in utter disbelief when I saw tiny white buds poking through his gums at three months. This, despite the fact that our first had also been an early teether. He now has eight teeth at seven months, and though I love to see his toothy little grin, I find myself missing that special charm of a toothless baby.
When his paediatrician recommended I start feeding him cereal at his 6-month checkup, I tried to recall if I had introduced solids to my older boys that soon. Turns out I had. But unlike his brothers, he hasn’t quite taken to food and I spend most of his feeding sessions making him laugh so he’ll open his mouth. Secretly, I’m relishing the fact that he still prefers to be breastfed—still prefers me.
I know time flies when you’re raising kids but could six months really have gone by already? Sure enough, our last little baby is sitting up unassisted and army crawling. He laughs uncontrollably when tickled and watches in excited agitation when his brothers play. He wants to join them—and much to my amazement, and maybe a tinge of sadness, it won’t be long before he does.
It feels like we just brought him home, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that half of my baby’s infancy is already behind us. And while I marvel at his every first, I mourn my every last. The last newborn nuzzle. The last toothless grin. The last breastfeeding session. The last first steps. And it is that bittersweet realization that pushes me to savour these fleeting days all the more.
And it's not just precious moments with my baby that I'm savouring. Moving through all these milestones for the last time has made me want to soak up my time with all three of my children—even if it’s made that time breeze by so much faster. These days I often find myself squeezing my eyes shut and committing sacred moments to memory, like being able to fit all three boys onto my lap, if only barely.
Beyond that, I look forward to the benefits that come with leaving the baby stage behind for good. His increasing independence will certainly mean the rediscovery of my own. It will also mean my reacquaintance with, and perhaps redefinition of, my own womanhood. Mothering an infant, as rewarding as I’ve found it to be, is so demanding–physically, emotionally, mentally–that it's curtailed much of my own sense of self. The space I make for my partner. And my ability to show up for other people in my life. Saying goodbye to babyhood means a chance to nurture all the other aspects of myself that bring me fulfillment outside of motherhood.
Ultimately, our son’s departure from infancy and my departure from childbearing will not only mark the end of a chapter in our lives, but will signal a new phase in the evolution of our family. I’m sure the best is yet to come. But until then, I’ll treasure the sweet joys of being a mother to a baby. One last time.