After the loss of her second child, Jacqui Morton is having a difficult time watching her third child leave babyhood.
Our youngest son moved his berry lips from the dark of my nipple to the paler, smoother skin around the corner and blew a raspberry on my right breast. He did this intermittently between bits of what could best be described as hum-nursing, or sing-nursing. Sometimes, he would also launch his bum into the air as if in downward dog.
That’s not weird at all.
That was my husband, from across the room.
I know, you probably agree with him.
Our baby is no longer a baby. He’s a toddler. He is a walking, talking, running, laughing, throwing, and dancing toddler. He loves pasta and salami, fruit of any kind, and cucumbers. He no longer sleeps in our bed, and he carries his sneakers out from his room in the morning. He’s making it clear that he’d like to be treated like the big kids. He wants to do what his 4-year-old brother does. Last week, he took off his diaper in the bathroom and started to pee. I tried to stand him over the “potty,” but he wasn’t interested in that little baby potty. He wanted to be at the big toilet. You can imagine this scene unfolding, with him spinning like a renegade sprinkler.
His name is William. I like formal names, but you can call him Will. He’s my second son, and probably our last baby.
I’ve been packing away the clothes every few months, a routine many are familiar with: three months, six months, nine months, and so on, until they are into the 2T clothes and life starts to feel sane again. I’ve been folding things with more of a finality the second time around, placing them into the plastic storage bin to be passed on, sold at the consignment store, or donated. The “Little Monstah” onesie. Soft sweaters with teensy white buttons. A brown sweatshirt with little stiches of orange thread that spell “Home Grown.” Dozens of mismatched socks.
It’s been a little sad, but I’m ready for the next phase of motherhood. I made a plan to stop nursing, and I did, about a month ago. Right now, he’s out with his brother and dad, and I’m crying into a blue hat that says “Little Cutie.”
You are probably thinking one of a few things.
Maybe it’s: You should have kept going! The World Health Organization says to breastfeed up to 2 years or beyond. Who cares if people think it’s weird!?
Or maybe you’re thinking: Enough already. Of course you should be done breastfeeding! What’s the big deal? Move on!
Or maybe: Eeww. This whole thing is gross.
But it’s a big deal, and it’s complicated.
As I sat on the shiny white paper one grey Tuesday just over two years ago, I watched the ultrasound technician as she watched the screen, examining our creation—this ball of DNA, this egg and that sperm, which wouldn’t have met if things that happened hadn’t happened. Only my husband and my mother knew why I didn’t have a glass of wine on Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. They were the only people that knew I was pregnant with both joy and grief.
I clenched my fists as my tears began to crawl, then stream, as I told the technician what had happened before—that within a week of the last time I had an ultrasound of this kind, I learned the baby I was carrying had Trisomy 18; that she would likely not make it to term, or would possibly die within days of her birth. I told the technician how I had to terminate the pregnancy; how it was the best decision for my family; how I couldn’t introduce my toddler to a sister he would never be able to truly know.
I didn’t tell her how scary it was to be pregnant again.
She went to get the doctor, a fetal medicine specialist who wore glasses and had dark hair just longer than her chin. It was the way the doctor shook my hand that made me nervous. I knew the technician must have told her more than our history of loss. She must have seen something. The shiny paper now had holes where my fingernails dug into my palms. The doctor moved slowly to her spot behind the machine.
The fetus’s spleen was on the outside of its body. This could be something that resolves itself as the pregnancy moves forward or can otherwise be corrected with surgery. It could also be a marker of a chromosomal abnormality. As the doctor noted this in my now permanent record, she added that the back of the neck was thicker than normal. She suggested we have the blood test to complete the first trimester screening.
The midwife called with the screening results on a Friday and she was so sorry. The numbers were concerning. She helped me schedule the appointment for Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)—diagnostic genetic testing. As we drove the familiar roads to Newton Wellesley Hospital, I wondered if I was reliving a nightmare. I prayed the results would be different.
We walked into the cold room on the sixth floor, the same room where we had this test before. For the second time, precise, gloved hands inserted a large needle through my abdomen into the space meant only for mother and child, extracting a vial’s worth of amniotic fluid. I closed my eyes and prayed again.
It was Martin Luther King Day and I was in the car when the genetic counselor called. The chromosomes had been counted. It was a healthy he. Over the next six months, I talked to my belly a lot. I couldn’t wait to meet him.
That summer, my third pregnancy gave birth to my second baby.
Now, William is no longer a baby. He’s cut his teeth and he’s ready to burst into the rest of his life with a cup in his hands. I weaned us both, easing the discomfort as much as possible. I had already started working more, and began to create more space between us. “Night-night” no longer meant Mommy, and Daddy helped create a new routine. Will’s little hum-nurse number was fun, but he also loves popsicles.
I prepared myself and though neither of us truly had the words, I explained that he no longer needed me to give him milk. And then I went away. Alone. I spent five days on the other side of the country at a conference. I fed my brain and stayed out after dark. I had conversations with adults. I enjoyed having my body back.
It was a little tough for William when I first came home, but to be honest, he’s doing better with it than I am. He lets me rub his back while he falls asleep, bum up in the air. He’s no longer clinging to my shirt until I take him out of his crib. He’s no longer grabbing at my nipples, or playing with one while drinking from the other. (“Tweaking,” is the formal name for this, I think.)
Like I said, it’s been good having my body back.
But if the milk is gone, why do I feel so heavy?
How long does the DNA of our children remain in our bodies?
Why are you sad, mama?
That was my 4-year-old, the other day. Like a surprising number of his questions, it’s hard to answer.
I know, you’re probably saying: Move on. Move on.
I can’t give you a simile for loss. I can’t say loss is like this or that. I can tell you it creeps up in strange ways, when you are walking through the mall with your boys in late summer and the windows are full of back-to-school clothes.
After William was born, when he nursed for the first time with the same determination with which he had come into our lives, I was able to release a heaviness that I had carried for months. Now, as I look down at the tiny blue hat in my hands, I release again.
I hate clichés, but it seems what they say is true: The hardest part of motherhood is knowing when to let go—even when it’s what your children need you to do. Even when it’s what you know is best for both of you.
Folding these clothes, saying goodbye to the baby stuff, I’m letting go, again. And I realize now that I will need to do this again. And I will. I will do this as many times as he needs me to, to make room for his life.
Jacqui Morton’s writing has appeared in places such as The Mom Egg, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Salon. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is the author of a chapbook of poems, Turning Cozy Dark (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and the owner of a grumpy cat. Please visit Jacqui here or on Twitter.