The first tooth. First steps. First time sleeping through the night. First solids. First day of school. These are the kinds of milestones we record in our children’s baby books.
The “ending” milestones are not always so direct, abrupt or worthy of recording; last diaper changed (who puts that in a baby book?), last time we wipe a child’s bum for them, the last baby tooth that falls out, the final night we sit by their bed while they fall asleep.
The last baby.
For me it was not so clear with baby number eight. I was not entirely sure she would be the last. There was that sense that it was likely. I was 43, after all. But then, my maternal grandmother had been over 45 when her last was born. So, it was not with certainty I looked at my 8th and thought This is the last baby. A good friend of mine who was also a mother of many, had told me that she’d always felt someone missing at the dinner table until her last son was born and then she’d just known he’d been the one missing. Her family was complete. I waited for that feeling to come over me, and it didn’t. I’d look around at my children when they were all together, and think “This is a nice size of family” But I’d always try to keep a little part of my heart open, just in case. In case God wasn’t done with me yet. In case he had more children for us.
This blog posting is a week late; the one where I am supposed to wax nostalgic about my “baby” growing up. Abby’s 7th birthday was a week ago.
I have looked forward to each and every milestone with Abby, just as I did with the previous seven babies, but this time I looked as forward to the “lasts” as I did the “firsts.” Her first tooth and first step was still amazing and exciting, despite the fact that we’d been through it seven times before.
But those “lasts” have been just as exciting. I rejoiced after the last diaper and the last time I lugged an infant car seat out to my vehicle.
And breastfeeding advocate that I am? I still felt a huge sense of relief at that long-overdue last breastfeeding episode, which would have naturally occurred when Abby was pushing 3, but was delayed by my husband’s cancer diagnosis when, under duress, she back-tracked in both weaning and potty-training.
In an initial appointment David’s medical oncologist stated that the chemotherapy would likely render him sterile.
But you are beyond all that anyway, she continued casually, looking at us as if seeing us for the first time. Or maybe she’d looked at David’s chart and saw his age. She never did seem to remember that he had a 3-year-old at home, and she didn’t bother to ask me how old I was, or how we felt about that possible side effect of the treatment.
Our last child, the baby born with the brown eyes of her Daddy and the cleft chin of her Mommy, turned out to be Daddy’s comforting companion during those long summer and fall days as he sat rocking in a rocking chair in our bedroom, fatigued and ill from the treatment. Who would have thought a 3-year-old would sense what an adult needed and be able to sit quietly on the bedroom floor for hours, turning pages of the books that adult used to be able to read but couldn’t anymore? Abby certainly showed no signs of being able to sit quietly before David’s cancer, and definitely isn’t quiet now. She is the most verbal of all our children. Yet during that period, she managed to sit quietly, we both remember with a great deal of awe. It was Abby who encouraged David to walk down to see the cows when he felt up to it. Abby who held his hand and patiently waited while he made his labored way down the path he had once strode confidently and quickly. Abby who ate lunch on the floor by his chair while the tube that fed him slowly dripped liquid into his stomach.
If I am truthful, after I got over the initial irritation at her presumptions, I was more than okay with the doctor’s pronouncement that we would likely not have more children. There were many days I was physically and emotionally exhausted. But it turns out that eight children is more than just fine for us. Eight is great. And even if I hadn’t planned on being pregnant at age 43, someone planned it, knowing just what we needed, right when we needed it.
Abby. We needed Abby.