I have three babies. My wild journey of motherhood started five years ago when we decided to try and get pregnant for the first time. And since then? My whole world has spun on an axis of motherhood. From my first baby to the next baby to the next baby. 20 months between the first two, and 22 months between the second two. Still nursing one while another grew in my belly. Over and over. And now we’ve had three babies in 3 and a half years. And there is a sense of completion. Terrifying and heart wrenching. Like an identity crisis. Because the one thing I wanted the most for my life? Having babies. It’s done. What. Now.
I find myself packing up baby clothes to give away and listing for sale all the swings and rockers and cribs that take up too much room in the house now. Because they sit. Unused. No more tiny babies to fit in swings and rockers and cradles. No more teeny tiny bodies to dress. Our last baby is almost 5 months old and she’s outgrown all the newborn things that we needed for so very long. And I literally weep into her onsies and stare wistfully at the rock and play, kind of trying to will her to be little again.
I remember when Raines was a baby I would complain to my mom about all the baby stuff taking up my house. I would rearrange and organize endlessly, trying to bring some order to the chaos of a baby in our tiny apartment. And she would just say, “Don’t worry about it. One day it will all just be gone. And that will be it.” But it seemed impossible. Like I would never get to that day. Because we would definitely have more babies. I saw years stretching in front of me full of diapers and bouncers and cradles and swaddles. And we did have those years. I lived them. And now the baby stuff really is going. I made it. And I’m devastated.
It’s a grieving process. I’m grieving the end of this precious season of bringing new life into the world. The part of my life I looked forward to the most for as long as I can remember. And now, after 4 plus years of pregnancy and nursing and being a mom to new babies? I don’t know what to do. It’s a tangible sense of loss. I guess because I never really felt like I’d be here. Purging the baby things. Moving into a new season. You know...long days and all that. But here I am. Only a few months away from finishing nursing forever. From burp cloths and teething toys and stacking rings being just memories. How can it be?
You hear it all the time. “Enjoy them now. It goes so fast.” It does. But no one prepared me for this. This identity crisis. This feeling like the most precious and important work of my life is over. And even though I tried every day to soak it in like I was told, it’s already a blur. Now I’m part of the club telling a new class of exhausted and overwhelmed mamas to enjoy every minute.
This devastation hit me in a way I never expected. I thought I was prepared. These five years I’ve intentionally “kept doing just a little”. A little work. A few projects. Planning and considering my what my re-entry into society would be like. So that when this day came I’d have this slow trickle of accomplishments and stories accumulated. I’d have a plan. And yet here I sit. Crying over the pink hand me down baby tub I’m about to get rid of. Desperately clinging to this season and refusing to accept a changing tide. How did I get here?
I think I know. Part of it is nature. I think a mama’s heart will always treasure and yearn for these baby years. These first timid and terrifying and wonderful years of motherhood. How can we not? There is nothing in this life that can compare to rocking a new baby in a quiet house in the middle of the night. Cheek pressed to a sweet baby head, listening to that beautiful rise and fall of tiny breaths. It’s everything. And I think our hearts will always want a little piece of it back.
But here’s where I hope I can be different. Now, as a seasoned mother talking to new moms. Here’s the message that I didn’t get that I want new mamas to hear:
Yes, I miss the baby years. I know you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and it feels like you’ll never get your house or your body or your life back. But you will. And the baby years really are precious. And try your very hardest to soak it in because it will go faster than you can imagine. And then you’ll be crying over getting rid of the rock and play that’s been crowding your living room for years.
But, new mama. You will be ok. Not just ok. You will be amazing. Your life doesn’t end. Your work and purpose aren’t over when your babies stop being babies. And your next season might just be even better than this one. Not because you’ll sleep more or be less needed. That will actually hurt your heart a little. But because your kids will be amazing people. And you will get to move on to the beautiful work of tending their hearts. You are so deep in their physical needs now. But next, you get to do heart work. To learn them in new ways. And you get to watch them soar.
And, new mama, you can do something amazing for them. In the next season. You can show them how to live. How to chase down all that they want out of life. You teach them by how you live your own life. When your house and your body and your life are given back to you, you get to really show them how beautiful life can be. Teach them community by opening your home. Have friends over. Laugh and swap stories. Show them that the proverbial village really can exist - if they build it and nurture it. Teach them to take care of their bodies by taking care of yourself. Exercise and eat good food and let yourself rest. Show them that self care is necessary, not a luxury. Teach them that marriage is sacred by investing time into your own. Date your husband. Go away together. Be in love. Show them how to show up every day in their most important relationships. You’re not selfish. You’re not moving on and leaving them behind. You are showing your kids what they are allowed to have as adults by how you treat yourself today. Your next season, mama? You’ll feel weird and insecure about all you can have. But push past it. Allow yourself a beautiful life where you are rested and happy and surrounded by friends and in love with your husband. Because you deserve all those things, yes. And, mama, because you are showing your watching little ones what they are allowed. What life looks like as a woman, wife, mommy. So make it as beautiful as you want for your kids to have for themselves. This next season? It’s can be really really good.
So go ahead and cry. When it’s hard. When it’s messy. When it’s perfect. When it's just so beautiful you can't believe it's real. And then?When the baby years are over, take the time you need to process a new season. One without babies. And then, mama? Get up and get back to work. Get to know those beautiful people you gave life to. And show them with every breath you take that there is always good and important work to be done. In every season, always. Don’t let your value diminish because they don’t need you every minute. If your babies blew your heart wide open, then use that open heart to live into your fullest potential. Dream big and share your gifts. Pray and learn and do hard things. You might not rock them to sleep any more. But they are depending on you in different ways now. They are learning how to treat themselves and others. How to see the world and exist in it. They are learning what kind of life they have permission to live by how you live in front of them. So whatever it is you want for those precious babies? Show them in your own life.
And mamas of big kids? Let’s start telling our sisters who are new to motherhood how good it gets. Let’s encourage them through those precious baby years and then let’s celebrate their transition into the next beautiful season. Maybe we can stop saying things like “just wait until they turn 3, they’ll be awful”, or “at 15, she’ll really stress you out”, or my personal favorite as a mom to three girls, “I feel sorry for you! 3 weddings!”
What?! Why do we say these things. Why can’t we tell mamas how adorable our 3 year old’s dance recital was. Or how our hearts burst open when she learned to ride a bike. Why can’t we talk about all the beautiful gifts and triumphs of each season of motherhood? Tell each other that, yes, where you are is precious. But where you are going is also amazing. Let’s not rush or minimize where we each are now. But let’s encourage and uplift one another in this journey. It’s hard enough to pack up the baby gear forever without being socialized to think that it’s all downhill from here. That our sweetest years of parenting are behind us. That big kids are awful. We should share the beauties and joys of each season with new moms. Give them something to look forward to. Give them permission to take their dreams back when the time comes. Encourage them that the life they build for themselves is the model their kids will use for their own lives. And personally? I want my girls to be women who love deeply and laugh hard and pray fervently and treasure their hearts and protect their bodies and chase their dreams. And how will they know how to do that if I don’t show them. You have permission to live your life, mama. Because your kids are watching.
So now? For me? I’ll continue to grieve this season a little. As I pack and purge and move on. But I’m training myself to look ahead in hope and anticipation. My babies will always be my babies. But they will keep getting better as they grow. I know it. And I’m starting to see my new season in a new light. It’s not that I’m less important or not as needed now that I have my house and my body and my life back. Because having my own life? It’s teaching them how to build one for themselves. And I want to show them how good they can have it.