Rituals For the End of Baby-Raising

Last week I felt horrible and didn’t know why: walking through mud, thinking like mud, seeing through a tunnel of mud. Detached from Ingrid, and reacting to her clingy reaction by pushing her away. Honking at everyone who didn’t use their turn signal.

I didn’t get why. It seemed like it came overnight and for no reason, and it scared me that it hit me out of nowhere, in the middle of summer—the opposite of Eliot’s midwinter spring.

Then my therapist, whom I hadn’t seen in months but who listened on Friday as I stumbled through various ideas about the sudden blues (clouds, sugar, sleep deprivation, maybe my period) proved herself worth many times my ten dollar copayment. I mentioned in passing that Iris had turned one on Monday, and she said, “She turned one on Monday?” in a way that totally sounded more like, “Why have you spent the last forty minutes blabbing about insignificant things when this is so clearly the thing that is getting you down?”

That’s it, of course, and you are most welcome to unsubscribe in disgust now if you want, because I know I’ve mainly spent the past year gnashing my teeth about not being a baby person, wanting to sleep more, wishing we could get on to the good part where they are both a year older, etc. etc.

It has been hard, and a baby’s first year is not my favorite part and not the thing I’m best at, and with three quarters of my heart I’m thanking my lucky stars that we don’t ever, ever have to do it again. But I’m still sad that it’s slipped by. There will be no more babies in this house. I won’t be pregnant again, won’t doze with a sleeping newborn on my chest, won’t thread anyone’s boneless little arms through itty-bitty onesies. It hasn’t been my best season, but it’s one that I looked forward to, and it was studded with fantastically sweet moments, and it’s over forever. Iris is one. She walks. We’re done with babies.

What’s made me feel the most foggy-headed and heavy-limbed is that the transition sneaks by without ritual. Iris takes her first steps; she turns one and we eat cake. She turns from baby to toddler, and we mark that, sort of, but what about going from mother of babies to mother of older children? From woman with the intense, close, physical work of baby care in her future to woman who’s done that, who’s done with it, who sees it now from the other side, in her past?

As with many important passages these days, the rituals our culture offers are either medical (insert the IUD or give the husband the snip) or consumeristic (get rid of the Bumbo seat and the nursing pillow; buy a little red wagon). I need something richer than that.

So I’m going to make something up.

Because I write, there will be lists: what I’m sad to leave behind, what I’m glad is over, what I’ve learned. What’s not required of me anymore, and what strengths I need in this new, ever more babyless time. And what else I can be—creatively, spiritually, physically—as I move slowly, slowly away from the time when tiny, tiny girls were my every waking thought.

I imagine I will need to burn some lists and enshrine others in a little bottle. I’ll probably have to take a dip in some body of water. And maybe there should also be wine. It has to be part funeral, part baptism, part graduation party.

What will you do (what would you do, what did you do) to mark the end of your time as a mother of babies?

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10 thoughts on “Rituals For the End of Baby-Raising

  1. I don’t know… I think I’d be partial to getting rid of all the baby crap and clearing the decks a little!

    One of the minor things that annoys me about not knowing whether or not my baby years are behind me is years of this stuff piling up “just in case.”

    That’s not nearly as poetic as your thoughts, though.

  2. Yeah, getting rid of the stuff, for me, too. The clothes would be the hardest.

    Iris is still a baby, though. She still needs her mommy to feed her and hold her when she’s sad!

  3. I am right there with you on this: deeply ambivalent about the baby stage and yet already missing the baby stage (even as I wonder whether my 14 month old is as far beyond the baby stage as she ought to be).

  4. I am right there with you on this: deeply ambivalent about the baby stage and yet already missing the baby stage (even as I wonder whether my 14 month old is as far beyond the baby stage as she ought to be).

  5. Um, pretend there’s a chance we’ll have another baby? I think we’re done but all our baby stuff is still crowding our house in case we need it.

    I am not a fan of the baby stage either, but there is so much about it that’s sweet and irreplaceable. We just finally weaned Boo off bottles and it feels so strange to be done with breastfeeding and bottlefeeding!

    You’re right, though–there should be more of a ritual.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this as Will hits six months, knowing that our LAST baby year is half over. Part if it is that while I could have one more if the stars were to align such, my husband is dead set against another baby. And his reasons are all ironclad and sensible and I know, intellectually, he’s right that we’re done at two, but a large part of me want just the one more.

    I don’t know what I’ll do to makr my transition — but I look forward to seeing what you choose! And I agree it should be marked in some way for us mothers as well.

    I did have kind of a hard time saying goodbye to pregnancy and all my maternity clothes — and ironically I HATE being pregnant and a big part of me is so glad I don’t have to do that again and that I was so lucky both times.

    It’s hard, isn’t it. These are the kinds of decisions that shape the rest of our lives and you can’t hit rewind, you know?

  7. I’ve been thinking about this as Will hits six months, knowing that our LAST baby year is half over. Part if it is that while I could have one more if the stars were to align such, my husband is dead set against another baby. And his reasons are all ironclad and sensible and I know, intellectually, he’s right that we’re done at two, but a large part of me want just the one more.

    I don’t know what I’ll do to makr my transition — but I look forward to seeing what you choose! And I agree it should be marked in some way for us mothers as well.

    I did have kind of a hard time saying goodbye to pregnancy and all my maternity clothes — and ironically I HATE being pregnant and a big part of me is so glad I don’t have to do that again and that I was so lucky both times.

    It’s hard, isn’t it. These are the kinds of decisions that shape the rest of our lives and you can’t hit rewind, you know?

  8. I’m going through quite a similar transition. Oddly, it’s the second time as I thought #2 was my last. I have always been a baby person though and cherished most of the madness. This surprise baby was the most challenging but also very precious – another chance when I thought it was over.

    Now two weeks ago I packed up the baby clothes and sent them on but it was much, much harder than I expected. I thought I was SO done I’d run cheering through the streets to see the baby gear go. Always bittersweet.

  9. I consider the first birthday party to be as much a celebration of my survival of that year as a mother, as a “birthday party”.

    It IS hard and not my best phase either, but it’s nice to take that time to raise a glass of your choice of beverage, tell some war stories about when you didn’t think you were going to make it, and be SO thankful that at least you’re not in labour like you were one year ago.

  10. This is beautiful. I’ve been feeling the same way. For me it started when I saw a blissed-out mother with a young baby asleep on her shoulder. I thought, “Those days are over for me.” And I didn’t even realize they were ending when they ended. And I didn’t savor them enough.

    To my surprise I started crying right there in the cafe…then wondering what the hell is wrong with me.

    Let me know when the party is, I’ll bring a bottle of wine.

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