We are out walking the dogs at sunset and I am telling my seven-year-old daughter Reese about Ellie, our first baby.
Ellie was the dog we had before Rosie, our big black and white hairy sweetheart and Logan, our slightly dimwitted, altogether loving Westie. It was right after Chris and I got married almost nine years ago that I fell in love with Ellie -- a small terrier resembling a well-used, ill-colored bath mat -- in the way that so many loves begin these days: Online.
I spied her big brown eyes and her character-revealing under bite on our local pound's website. Chris and I had just moved to our new hometown and Ellie became our first official baby. We adored her, even though she happened to despise anyone who wasn't us and eventually bit, not altogether unsharply, a neighbor child. Since we were already six weeks pregnant with Reese by then, Ellie had to make her way to another home, a childfree one. By the time Reese arrived in our world, it was Rosie who was waiting to greet her, watching over her while she slept.
When I finish my story, my four-year-old son Finn, who is walking up ahead with Chris and Rosie, overhears and asks where he was during all of this.
"You weren't even thought of yet, Finn," Reese says with just a touch of glee, holding tight onto Logan's leash.
"Well, I don't know about that, Reese," I say, touching her shoulder gently.
"It's true, Mama. Like my babies: I haven't even thought of them yet."
"Well, I guess you're right," I say. The night feels a lot like summer in the middle of winter, so maybe I'm a little bit drunk on the warmth of it when I say: "But I kind of wonder if maybe you do have your babies in your heart already and when you find your love one day, the babies that were meant to be when you found one another, become, well, your babies."
Right after the words are out of my mouth, I immediately wonder how much damage I've done, making my daughter actually less informed about conception, but then I see her smiling in the dark: She likes the idea and so do I.
Encouraged, I continue: "Like you and Finnie, I think maybe you guys were with Daddy and I before we met -- you were meant to be."
And I think that's true, really, that it often feels as though both of their spirits existed before somehow, that Chris and I were, as they say in Hebrew, beshert, intended, that we had to meet to summon them from wherever their two lovely souls were languishing. Perhaps Finn's energy was rocketing around Saturn and Reese's was curled up with a family of tiger cubs.
It all makes me think of the other day when I went in for an ultrasound to check on a pesky ovarian cyst that had thankfully moved on its way. The tech reported that my ovaries had "follicles," meaning those girls of mine are still busy prepping more of these possible people. Upon hearing the news, I suddenly felt younger and radiantly fertile. It was a surprisingly unfamiliar feeling, as though Chris' kindness in handling our family planning needs a few years ago actually had a biological effect on me as well.
Oh, so we can still have a baby? my ovaries screamed in black and white ultrasound film.
"With whom?" Chris asked on the phone a bit later when I informed him of my ovaries latest impressive endeavors, as though they were performing circus tricks, not simply basic biological functions.
"Well, I don't want to have one, a baby, I mean, I'm just saying we still could," I say, feeling irresponsible and about five years old, like I was asking for a pony, but a just a tiny bit more impractical.
"I thought we were done, baby," he says softly, and I can tell he is just a little wistful about it, too. It helps talk me down from the ledge, just knowing I'm not up there alone.
Truthfully and reasonably, we have the emotional, physical and financial resources for two children -- sometimes not even two. We have our fill. We have been supremely, over-the-top lucky and fortunate. Of course, as I sometimes dream about, if a child just magically appeared (aren't vasectomies only like 99.9% effective?) well, then, we'd just have to make do, right?
But for now, and likely for always, we are done with this part of our lives, which is just profoundly sad sometimes, I suppose. No, I will not miss the sleepless nights or the colic or the diaper blowouts, but I will miss, I do miss, the perfect fit of our newest lovechild sleeping on my chest. I do miss the first time we became "us" driving home with our new baby in the December drizzle. And I do miss that we will never, ever know who else might be waiting for us in the shadows, the next imperfect combination of Chris' patience and my iron will.
I will miss the babies that I'm most certainly thinking of right now, I will miss them - and I will wish them well.
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