Pssst… over here. Yep, here, on the couch, in the half-light of morning. I have something to show you. Someone to show you. Someone wonderful.
Here, take a peek. I’ll fold back the blanket so you can see him better. Isn’t he lovely?
This is my child. My second child. A boy. Not my first child, my beloved, my constant companion of three-plus years now, who I run and climb and play and laugh with, but my second child. My last child. Baby of my heart.
I fought for this child. I fought to conceive this child. When my first child was just over a year old, I was at home, on my way to 35, and desparate to conceive again right away. I wanted two kids very close in age. The first was walking, running, and eating well. The house was under control and I was at peace. I was ready. I had been ready for months already, actually, but nothing had happened. So I set about conception like I had so many other tasks before. I brushed up on the facts. I reviewed the best times to conceive and how I would know when the time was right for me. I talked to my doctor. I studied and I planned and I read the ttc boards for help and advice and support. I temp’d. I charted. I recorded. I read and I consulted and I stressed and I — we — took steps to make this happen. Three months went by. No baby. Six months went by. No baby. Seven?
I held tight to my dream of two boys so close in age that they could share a room. That they could share friends. That they could share everything. So close that they could go to the same school and be in the same scouting troop or soccer team if they wished. That I could be with them when they wanted me to, and not have to choose between the big one’s little league game and the baby’s playdate. That we would have a family that worked together as a team, and brothers as close as Moses and Aaron, who would pinch-hit for each other when needed.
But seven months had gone by, and the dream was slipping away.
Finally, I let go of breastfeeding. I got serious about my exercise routine. I took my toddler for brisk walks, and then runs, logging 5 miles each day. I lost weight and added muscle. My body was in excellent condition, ready to carry a baby effortlessly and with grace. I ate nutritiously and exceeded the recommended 5 fruits and vegetables each day. Every day. This baby was going to get the best that I could give.
Eight months went by.
In March, we thought it had happened. I felt awful. Tired, crabby, and nauseated, I started to take it easy. Just in case. An avid gardener, I was suddenly too weak, and I had to ask my husband to till the garden for me. Just this once. My temps were elevated for 17 days. We were over the moon. And then, I wasn’t pregnant after all. Just like that.
Nine months went by.
And the tenth month, when my first baby was growing up so fast, we found out that I was pregnant. Success! A baby! Hallelujah! Everything was wine (well, juice) and roses.
Six weeks later, I had terrible pain in my back and my groin, and I could barely stand.
A month after that, I could no longer stand without pain or bend at all.
And then I could no longer sit without pain, and I walked with the aid of a cane.
I spent 7.5 months searching for a source of my pain, certain that this child — this wanted child — was not causing it. I saw doctor after doctor, PT after PT, and finally became a patient in a pain management clinic, where I’d sit each week with my geriatric compatriots and compare canes and awkward gaits. They smiled at my belly. A bit. We talked about the weather and tried not to notice each other’s pains.
Those appointments were the only time I left the house, aside from playgroup, which was my saving grace. Twice a month, my husband would help me into the car, go back into the house, bundle up my toddler son, bring him, his snacks, and his toys out to the car, and take us to a friend’s house for playgroup. He’d sit outside and wait, just in case I had a bad bout of the pain and needed help right away. At the end of the playdate, he would come to the door and help me down the stairs and into the car, while our little son walked at his side.
And then this child was born.
Six weeks later, he is a source of amazing joy. Too young to laugh, too young to sit, too young to crawl or walk or play or delight us with his precocious witticisms, he still means more to me than life itself. He lies in my arms, feeding from my very body, and his warmth is somehow all I’ve ever wanted. His contented sighs and rhythmic suckle reassure me that he is well. A little gasp escapes his lips, and I bend to check the clearance between his nose and my breast. As if any part of me could harm any part of him.
We have been up all night. He has been in my arms all night, except for short breaks where I lay him gently, sleeping, down in his bassinet and I dash off to the bathroom or the kitchen or the toddler’s room, to check on an errant cry. Each time, the baby stirs, he shifts, and he wails in pain from the gas that is welling up in his little tummy. This child of mine is allergic (sensitive?) to milk. I gave up all dairy weeks ago, but dairy is pervasive in our diet, and it sneaks in whenever I glance away. Was this a reaction to the butter I spread so thinly on my bagel this morning? Proteins in the dry waffle I ate last night? It takes three weeks for milk proteins to pass through the system, so it could have been anything. Cheese on a taco, even, or something in the dip. Whatever it was, I regret it.
And so I hold him, and comfort him, and let him sleep on my chest.
Because I am his mother.
And he is my last child.