We all know where to find advice when you’re expecting. The tried and true books, the best friends who’ve gone before you, the mother whose advice you’ll ask and never follow, etc etc. But as someone who was always the one expecting, the one who was pregnant for most of her adult life, there was a dearth of advice to be found for what happens Next. After the children stop coming. When you’re Done with a capital D.
Everyone seems to think that finishing with childbearing is a welcome relief, that when the door closes there are blasts of trumpets and wild applause and clicking of heels. Which there are, don’t get me wrong. But there are also unexpected tears and bursts of longing and horrible emotional meltdowns that no one warns you about.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I don’t think so, though. I suspect there are more women than myself who struggle with being Done. It’s not that we want more children, it’s just that we can’t seem to figure out who we are without a baby in the belly or at the breast. Our identity is all wrapped up in being the Fertile Myrtle, the goddess, the One With the Bump. I didn’t want it to be so, but it was in spite of myself.
I never enjoyed pregnancy, but I always have loved the end result, that squalling bit of wrinkled humanity that was laid upon my chest just moments after emerging from the dark netherworld of my guts. Everything about them was intoxicating, and I miss it. Sometimes terribly. So that’s my first point.
1. Expect to miss it. There is a definite period of mourning that goes on when one closes down the baby factory. Like all mourning periods, one person’s will be quite different from the next person’s. No one can tell you, or dictate to you, when you should be “over it”. The longing for various aspects of childbearing will almost certainly hit you with a wallop when you least expect it. Carry tissues at all times.
2. Expect people to be clueless and insensitive. This holds true for almost every situation in life. People are clueless and insensitive. Expect it.
3. Expect to have sudden desires for small fluffy things, like puppies and kittens. I’m still certain that I need a dachshund in my life. Something to coddle, and perhaps dress in small clothes. Yeah. That’s it.
4. Expect to hate your period. After not having more than a dozen periods for years, suddenly I am confronted with this hideous thing that happens to me once a month. Good God, what is that all about? Wait, now I remember. It’s a constant reminder that I am NOT pregnant; a monthly telegram telling me that it’s All Over, in more ways than one. All over. Get it? Yuck.
5. Expect your Significant Other to be confused by you. Wait? You’re crying? You want to be pregnant? No? You don’t? You just want a baby? No? A puppy? What?
6. Expect to baby your last baby to the nth degree. It’s okay. Let him/her have the damn pacifier and blankie. Forget about potty training (it will happen eventually, right? RIGHT??). Share your bed way longer than you did with any other; after all, there’s no newborn coming in to take their place. Breast feed til they’re five, what difference do they know?
7. Expect to confuse yourself. Like so many things, perspective is everything, and grief takes many forms. The waves of emotion will pass, and you can learn to ride them without being driven into the surf by them. But when you fail to maintain control and you are flat on your face with a mouth full of sand, be gentle with yourself. It’s hard. Really hard. Eat some ice cream, and cry. It helps. Borrow a baby from somebody. They’ll enjoy the reprieve, and you might satisfy some of the worst cravings. Just try not to look like a half-crazed baby maniac in the process or they might not hand them over.
So that’s my take on Ending Childbearing. I’m sure some of you have advice as well; feel free to share it in the comments!