After a few weeks of working on it, I decided that our 19-month-old was toilet-trained enough to be sure we weren't turning back.
So I pulled all his clothes off the changing table shelves in the laundry room, carried them downstairs, and hung them in the first-floor closet.
I asked Mark and my 15-year-old to carry the changing table downstairs to store it in the basement, and when that was done they carried up an old kitchen cabinet and put it in the place of the changing table. It took some cleaning up and a cloth to hide the wood-glue stains on the laminate, but now it's another clothes-folding surface, and a place to stow the trash receptacle and some baskets for sorting outgrown clothes and lone socks.
Today I gathered up all the cloth-diaper covers and put them in a tub and snapped on the lid, and carried it to the basement, where I left it on the changing-table shelf. In another tub, I packed up all the infant cloth diapers, and in yet another, threw some more baby items (bibs, the bag of jumbled pieces of the manual breastpump, receiving blankets). Down they went.
While I was at it, I carried down the infant car seat and stowed it next to the changing table. Then I boxed up some infant clothes in good condition, clothes that had been lying around waiting for me to do something with them.
I hesitated with the box. Take it out to the car, to deliver it to charity? Or set it aside to be stowed in the deep recesses of the attic?
+ + +
It's a matter of probability, I tell myself, not so much a matter of plans.
Very soon I will be forty-one years old. I have three to seven years left, perhaps, in which Mark and I might decide to try for another baby, or in which we might find ourselves surprised by one. I've not had a surprise yet, not in seventeen years of NFP, so I count that probability low; and I don't expect that we will try for another baby, certainly not the way I expected it when we had one, two, three children. I didn't exactly expect it when we had four; I hoped, though.
I'm not sure if I hope or not now. Five is lovely, and my most recent pregnancy was hard.
And we talk about the future differently these days. "Three years from now," we say, "four years from now, perhaps we can do such-and such," and we've mostly stopped adding "if we don't have another baby."
+ + +
"We can get rid of these things," Mark pointed out, "because if it turns out that we need them again, we can afford to buy new ones."
Yes. I've already gotten rid of a number of things. And on the other hand, I saved all the maternity clothes that I really liked, on the grounds that if I needed them again it would be sad not to have the good ones. Those clothes take up just a box or two. And it's really only for a few years. When I'm forty-eight I will have no reason not to toss the sealed box in the car and tote it down to the crisis pregnancy center or the charity thrift store. It's not like I risk keeping it around for the next twenty years because I won't know if I need it or not.
And the same for the changing table, right? And the diaper covers? And the last box of baby clothes? It's just a few more years that they might come in handy. And then I can get rid of them.
+ + +
"By age 40, a woman's chance is less than 5% per cycle, so fewer than 5 out of every 100 women are expected to be successful each month. Women do not remain fertile until menopause. The average age for menopause is 51, but most women become unable to have a successful pregnancy sometime in their mid-40s."
It's nothing you would want to count on if you were intent on avoiding pregnancy for some terribly serious reason. And I have plenty of friends who had babies in their early-to-mid-forties.
Still, I also have plenty who didn't.
+ + +
Then there's this: If I lived as long as my own mother lived, I would not see my youngest, now a toddler, finish high school. If I had another baby, and lived as long as my own mother lived, I wouldn't see that new one start high school.
I can't help but be troubled by this one.
+ + +
Packing all the baby stuff up felt awfully final, and not in a good way, even though I'm not actually getting rid of it yet. Somehow I'm reluctant to say, "Probably we won't have another," even if that is, literally, true. Which leaves me reluctant to do the things that one does when probably one (two, really) won't have another, like give away the favorite baby clothes and the good maternity jeans.
I'm not sure whether the reluctance is based on a desire to mother a baby again; or on the very practical consideration that (probably) to do so would never be regretted while to choose not to do so might well be regretted, or being slow to accept this first limitation brought on by age and age alone; or simply the bitterness that always accompanies the closing of a door to the past.
I remember feeling something like this when I was finishing college, getting ready to move on to new things, and some small part of me wanting to stay, knowing to do so wasn't possible.
In other words, I don't know what I'm trying to hold onto here. Is it a gift of life I desire to give? Or is it clinging to a notion of myself as a life-giver?
+ + +
It's a frightening freedom we enjoy. I am healthy, Mark is healthy; we could go for it again, play the fearful and wonderful game. We are completely aware that we could. If we were sure we desired it, or sure we were called to it, we could rise to the challenge.
At the same time, not being called in particular, without a particular desire (only this empty feeling at the boxing up), we are also aware that we can go on as we are, shouldering our bags and hiking off into the sunset with these five.
Love is not a zero-sum game, but energy can be; and I sense a need to direct greater energy to my older children than I have had since the youngest first fluttered to life. My last pregnancy was hard: not dangerous to my life and health, just hard, as pregnancy often is. Mothering this youngest one from babyhood into toddlerhood was beautiful, and I feel at the top of my powers; but all along I felt a pull towards those older children that went unsatisfied, and heard my voice saying "no" what felt like far too much. "No, we can't do that because of the baby." "No, I need you to do this instead because of the baby."
I had to push them all away, just a bit. My arms were full, my energy went to produce milk, the hours of the day slipped by. I'm not saying it was the wrong thing to do; they learned to sweep the floor and cook dinner and clean their rooms, they learned to take the bus. They learned that I wouldn't always be there for them. Which is true. I won't.
But I'm not saying I liked that part of it. And looking at my five beautiful children, one of whom I have to look up to now, I wonder if there really is enough of me to go around. I think there is, barely, now. But I know what it would take to push that over the edge. Not that I'd do a bad job. I would keep it together. I always do.
But I do want my kids to remember a mother who had time for each of them. And -- looking back on the last two years -- I have not.
It was for a good cause. A great cause! The youngest will be there for them far longer than I will. I'm not sorry.
But ... which to choose in the future? Let's just say it is not obvious.
+ + +
"Three years from now," we say. "Four years from now." We think of places we'll go, things to show each other, things to experience with the growing children. We have a vision of a new phase of our lives, the phase with no little children in it, the phase where even our youngest walks on his own two feet.
None of it is a guarantee. None of it is ever a guarantee.
I've never put the changing table away before. I guess that is different. I guess this is the first bifurcation between what might be and what else might be. It feels important.
And at the same time it's just housecleaning.