When my husband finally made his vasectomy appointment, a wave of panic washed over me. I knew we had come to the decision together and that it was the right one. However, now that it was actually happening, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure how to move forward in life without being carried along by the strong current of having more babies. I didn’t know how to be me outside of motherhood.
I had spent the last six years in a flurry of baby obsession — pregnant or deciding whether or not to have more kids or trekking through the wilderness of the newborn phase or even suffering through miscarriages. These were times when there wasn’t much self-reflection or focus on my wants and dreams beyond motherhood. The early years of parenting are all-consuming. Even now with my three children ranging from ages 1 to 5, I am constantly in their grip because they need me for everything. They need my constant touch, my constant attention, my constant care and devotion.
I do not mind caring for them in such an intense way (at least not most of the time). There are days when motherhood buries me, when it weighs me down physically and mentally and emotionally. I try my best to remind myself how precious and fleeting this time is, and I am aware of how deeply I will long for this closeness when it is no longer demanded or even offered.
The knowledge that this phase of parental loneliness would be coming for me in the near future scared me. I didn’t want all of my babies to be grown, and as long as I kept having more, I would never have to face that reality. It was a ludicrous thought, but allowing myself the possibility of having more babies was comforting in a strange, if slightly unhealthy, way.
However, when I saw my husband come out of his vasectomy appointment, I was shocked to find my panic turning to an overwhelming sense of relief. I looked in the back of our car where our three children were seated, and found an even deeper comfort in knowing that this was it. These were my people, and now I knew in no uncertain terms how my love and attention needed to be divided. I realized that for the first time, I was able to allow myself into that equation. With no hypothetical babies in my future, I was allowed to turn my focus inward for the first time and allow some space for myself.
Knowing with certainty that I was done having babies allowed me to shift my energy and attention away from the many “what ifs” of having babies and onto having my own life. I could see in the distance a future where my kids would no longer be the center of my life. Now that it was a reality, I was surprised by the freedom I felt.
I am still sad that all my babies will grow up and there will be no new sibling to take their place in my arms. Every last “first” is hard to stomach as I move further away from the baby stage. But each step forward means I am also allowed a clearer view of who I am and of who I want to be outside motherhood.
I get to be me and discover myself — to plan a future that doesn’t hinge on dirty diapers and the conundrum of child care. Being able to cultivate my sense of self is a gift I didn’t expect, and it’s the thing I love most about not having any more babies.