The piece of paper sat on the kitchen counter for days before I even noticed. It was a permission slip. With three school-age children, our house sees many permission slips, but I didn’t happen to notice this one because it did not come out of one of the boys’ backpacks. This permission slip was not for a field trip to Sea World or the zoo. It came from a urologist’s office, and it asked for my permission to perform a procedure on my husband — a procedure that will mark a significant change in our lives.
My husband and I have decided that we will not be having any more children. Neither of us expected to have four children, but we did. We have been inordinately blessed over the past ten years with fertility and healthy, beautiful babies, but now we are both closing in on forty. We are worried about paying for braces, not to mention college. It’s time to call the game. (We won.) (I think.)
And yet… and yet. When I picked up the pen to sign my name and give my permission to my husband’s urologist for a vasectomy, I found myself pausing. I hesitated not because there was even a smidge of doubt in my mind that it was the right thing for our family, but because when standing at a fork in the road, it’s probably necessary and even smart to take a minute, look around, and breathe before proceeding further down one path.
In this moment, I feel myself standing in a sacred place. I’m caught between the age of fertility — of nausea, butterfly-wing kicks that can take my breath away, swollen breasts, and baby blankets — and the afterward, when I’ll no longer needs the OB part of my OB-GYN practice, and baby things are temporary, and my body will once again be mine alone. I have spent the past year counting up my lasts, filing away my memories: my last pregnancy, my last childbirth, my last newborn. I find myself slowly adjusting, turning my face and my mind fully forward toward my children, realizing that from now on, I will know exactly how big of a kitchen table we will need and exactly how many chairs will be around it. We have bought the last Christmas stocking we need to fill our crowded mantle. I’ll never need a bigger car than I have now. For the past ten years, an ellipsis has hovered over my head and my heart while I wondered if another face would come to our family. Now, the ellipsis has faded away. Our family is here, and it is complete.
I find myself mourning the end of this era in my life. These years have been full of possibility, wonder, and adventure. I have watched my body do amazing things. I have discovered the depths of my own strength and the potential of my determination. Never again will I dart furtively down an aisle in a drugstore toward the pregnancy tests, never again will I carry the thrilling secret that a new baby is coming, never again will I usher a new life into the world, hear my newborns’ strident cries, or rub their tiny backs. Now, I will watch my baby learn to walk, my five-year-old learn to read, my eight-year-old learn to perform long division. I will watch my oldest graduate from elementary school and enter adolescence. I will move forward with them, no longer a vessel for new life or the source of nourishment and security for babies, but instead a steward of little citizens of the world.
This new chapter will possess its own wonderful and fulfilling moments — I am already beginning to experience them — but they will not be the same. I will not be the same. I’m essentially retiring from the most important job I have ever had thus far: producing human beings. I know how to have babies; I am good at having babies. Now I have to work full-time on the second half of motherhood, the part where I produce adults. It’s a much scarier task and one I’m not sure I am as good at executing. But I am up to the challenge.
The decision that we are done bearing children has not been a hard one to reach, but I am a little wistful nonetheless. My husband is decidedly not sad. He gleefully made his appointment for the day after his birthday, and he has reminded me with almost a giddy excitement several times that he will need solitude for the entire weekend while he heals and watches some important football. Though I’m not clicking my heels with the enthusiasm he is yet, I’m ready to learn who I will be in this next phase of my life. In this moment before I do, though, I am looking back once more and honoring what we have been through and what we have done. I am remembering with love and awe all the little moments of each pregnancy, birth, and babyhood that led us here. It has been a wild ride… one that I will never stop missing, even as I willingly and with certainty give my permission for it to end.