My Four Children Are Proof
The first story of my “babyhood” expectations was written on thick lined paper when I was in the first grade. It tells of my dreams of becoming a “baby doctor” when I grew up, though it quickly becomes clear that 7-year-old me really just wanted to be a mama — specifically to a “cute, blue-eyed blonde baby.”
Years later, my hopes of babyhood would be fulfilled, though not quite in the way I’d planned.
While I had specifically requested a blonde haired, blue-eyed baby girl, I received three blonde and blue-eyed sons. My only daughter would come to have lovely chestnut hair, streaked light from the sun and eyes not the sea blue I imagined, but the lovely green of her father and grandmother.
Of course, that wasn’t the only way my plans went awry.
I smile now remembering my words as a teenager: that I would be married by 20 and have my three children by age 25. Wrong again; though for that, I wound up being thankful.
My husband and I married just a few months before I turned 30. Soon after, a tiny plus sign appeared on a stick and I was embracing my newfound season of motherhood. I began a journal that very day that still remains hidden in my closet, almost empty except for the seven pages where I documented my joy of expected babyhood. The ultrasound picture still sits tucked inside, showing two distinct amniotic sacs; pure white against the thin black sheet of photo paper, not yet showing a pair of beating hearts.
But then came my first sorrow embedded in motherhood: saying goodbye to the babies who never arrived; the flicker of two lives that ended just weeks after being revealed.
Before I knew it, I was expecting again, though my heart was a bit more guarded this time. Our son arrived just a few months after the due date of the twins who never arrived. His younger brother came 19 months later and then a sister almost two years after that.
My plate was full and I was happy. I was immersed in babyhood and it was wonderful. Until life, as it goes, happened again …
A terrible headache led to the discovery of optic neuritis when my daughter was not yet two weeks old, and her babyhood was blotted by a string of doctor’s appointments in far away states and a mother whose milk had to be dumped, thanks to the dye forced into her veins for testing and diagnosis-seeking. For the first time, I was not the one to wake up in the night and feed my baby. It was her daddy that came to her aid, and I was struck, even in the depths of hardship, by how wonderful it was that my children were learning I alone was not necessary for their survival.
Babyhood in our house had changed for the better in some ways; in others, for the worse. Put on high doses of prednisone and then chemotherapy, I was never the mother I longed to be — often sad, filled with anxiety, or rage, and terribly overweight and swollen. Even now, years later, I tend to block out those dark, somber days and only allow myself to ponder the bare surface.
But somehow, we made it over that mountain and my season of babyhood seemed to be ending. Or so I thought.
We had moved to a house in town and my oldest had started school and was in the first grade when we found out our fourth child was coming. Another chance at babyhood, I thought — I was thrilled. We all were really — especially our now 3-year-old daughter, who much like her mama, loved caring for the baby dolls that had once been my own. I too had once longed for a younger sibling, well-documented in my many childhood letters written to Santa and transcribed on birthday wish lists. I was not picky back then; a boy or a girl would do. But one never arrived. Instead, I lost the older brother I did have, and was left to navigate life on my own.
It was an end of my own babyhood in many ways; no longer was I the little sister.
Now, so many years later, here I was: welcoming my fourth. Our little Amos arrived and the throes of babyhood began once again. But I soon found myself concerned that he was not developing as he should. It was many things, really — the late smile, the eyes that could not focus, the loose limbs and flexible feet and hands that remained well past their expected life. Milestones not met and ignored. And though I’ve remained hopeful it would all come together, it still has not. An extended babyhood we’ve been granted with our Amos, and yet, I didn’t want it and have been left again with plans that are not coming to fruition. Instead, I am forced to embrace a long babyhood and struggle with my new reality as my “baby” gets close to turning three.
I admit, I still wish I had gotten to enjoy the last years of babyhood in our home the way I expected — with an independent 1-year-old; a 2-year-old full of spunk and verbal orders for his older siblings. “My baby” I could lament fondly to a crowd of women, old and young alike, at the playground or in the familiar churchyard. I would call him my baby, but be secretly proud of the durable little boy who was transforming before my eyes.
My journey of babyhood ends with Amos. He is my baby and may always be, for reasons I could never have anticipated. But I will embrace what I’ve been given and trust that my tapestry of babyhood, woven just for me, is far better than any I could have knit together on my own.