Seen through the lens of transitions, life is a series of doors. The door of childhood closes as the door of adolescence opens. The door of being single shuts to reveal the open door of married life. The door of winter falls asleep as spring’s door awakens.
A client who I had counseled through the wedding and motherhood transitions wrote to me about a year ago after having her third child to ask, “How do I know when I’m done having kids? I love having babies and I imagine it’s a transition of its own with real grief when I decide not to have any more kids.” Faced with this transition myself, her words have reverberated several times in my mind over the last several months.
Like the decision to marry and the decision to become a mother, there’s an internal place that knows I’m done having kids. But even as I write that, I feel the pangs of loss and grief rise up in me. I look over at my nearly one year old baby (almost not a baby anymore) playing with his infant car seat on the floor and smiling up at me with that pure, radiant, baby grin, and my heart melts, my mommy hormones kick in, and I think, “How can I shut the door on bringing in another miracle?” But that’s just hormones and a temporary emotional state. My mind and my deepest self know I’m done. And that brings grief.
One of the biggest misconceptions I encounter in my work with clients is the belief that if they’re feeling sad that means they shouldn’t be getting married or changing jobs or whatever the transition may be. We live in a trust-your-gut culture that uses happiness as the guidepost which causes us to jump to the erroneous conclusion that if you’re sad, you shouldn’t be doing it. The simple truth is that sadness is present with any loss; the misconception is that we usually don’t associate life transitions like wedding and having a baby with loss. Even when we’re leaving a job we loathe or a city we can’t stand, there’s still loss in that we’re leaving something familiar.
Sometimes when a decision is this big the acceptance of the final choice comes in stages, like a series of windows closing before arriving at the last door. I see families of three and I wonder. I see three grown sons, tall and handsome, sitting at a dinner table with their elderly parents, and I wonder. I see little girls and I breathe into the acceptance that I will never mother a girl. Each window is a possibility – could I walk through it?
In my core, I know my time for mothering new babies is over. I feel blessed to have experienced two healthy pregnancies and births, I cherish the kids I have, and I know that new doors are waiting to open, doors that can only open when I have the space and time to devote to the next stage of my life.
But oh, the love…