Is it possible to be reminiscent of something that hasn’t yet ended? I ask myself this when I begin to feel misty about the pending completion of cohabitation. A sweet twinge of nostalgia accompanies every kick or stab to my abdomen. This is more than likely my last time as a vessel. At the day’s end, I feel drawn on like a crumpled piece of paper that was once more useful than its current iteration. Just when I begin to resent my fatigue, I recall its purpose and the ever-awe-inspiring feat of it all begins to eclipse the sun of my body’s defeat.
I thought I would remember more things from the last two times, but I don’t. I’m unsure when the memories slipped away or if they even lived with me to begin with. Did #1 bump and roll like this in the final months so that I felt like I had been suddenly dropped from a high height? Did #2 jitterbug around like he was trying to escape? That’s what he said when I pressed his busy 8-year-old palm to my stomach and implored him, “Be still and wait.” His face illuminated when he felt the frantic movements of his sibling from within. “It wants to come out!” he said with a stunned look. I had never thought of it that way, movements of flight. I always think of the baby as comforted and floating, unknowing, in its little cocoon. Content.
“Do you think it’s bored?” my children ask me. I don’t have a response. My daughter looks up details on foetal development every week; “The baby can hear us now and see changes in light.” This leads to suppositions that the baby is bored and its movements are it trying to get out so it can be with us. Somehow, thinking about that makes me sad. Like the baby is alone. I watch the news and it makes me want the baby to stay inside forever, where it’s safe and fed and warm and healthy and strong. Protected.
I’ll press my hand against the firm skin of my belly when I feel the baby strain against its confines. I can find the shape of it, solid and alive with possibility in the convex curves of body parts I try to blindly identify. I imagine the layers that separate us now and I can’t remember doing that before. This time, I promise I won’t forget.
It is a gift I’ve been given, this knowing that it’s the end. I can keep each moment safe and locked away in journals or status updates to visit later if my mind greys. No one talks about the rush that ensnares mothers like a hunter. No one talks about how it begins even now, when your child is tucked under your ribs. You rush each trimester, eager to overcome discomforts or move on to the next milestone. I am reminded of #2 during his first few Christmases when he tore through wrapping paper like a maniac, piling present after present so swiftly that I scarcely had time to record their existence. He was so eager to complete Christmas that he made it end too soon.
I think that may have been me during my previous pregnancies. I was so eager to finish them, to level up, to get the prize, that I didn’t take time to marvel at their presence. This time is different; this time is a swan song so I savour the stage. In a few weeks, I’ll enter the new rush, but I won’t let it take hold. I won’t prey over the infant waiting for them to learn to sit up so they can entertain themselves. I won’t hunt each push-up hoping maybe now the baby can crawl so it won’t be frustrated at immobility. I won’t stalk the staggering cruiser to see if perhaps today is the day they can walk. I’m not going to devour babyhood this time.
The experience has made me stop devouring motherhood, too. I realise that at some point between wishing my first baby could stop being colicky and now, she has transitioned into someone who could be my friend. I see memes online and I send them to her so we can laugh together. We snark about things or exchange secret glances when we are out. I grew my own best friend, but I had the audacity to forget. To forget when she was dependent and small, how her hand was always seeking mine. Her head had to be nestled into my arm to sleep. I had the audacity to forget the day she said her first word– ‘light’– with a chubby baby fist pointing confidently at the object, her face lit with the connection she must have spent months trying to make. She worked so hard and I forgot.
Motherhood is an amazing role because no one knows how the hell to even play it. That’s what’s so great. You can just adlib your way across each stage pretending you know your lines. I’m sure that’s what happened to the mother who invented “breakfast for dinner”. I can see how she probably forgot to go to the grocery store that day. I’ve done it; we have “snack for dinner” sometimes, which has conveniently become a trend. I can now make it even more legitimate by laying things artistically and assigning the whole platter a French name. I’ve been pretending, forgetting, reinventing, and making it up as I go along for fifteen years.
I want to apologise to my older children for not being proficient enough. For rushing. For being impatient. For not remembering that I shouldn’t forget. I want to apologise because my experience with them has written a blueprint for me to be a better mother now, after fifteen years of trial and error. It’s poetically unfair.
“Mom,” my daughter says to me, flipping her braids in the mirror trying to decide where she wants her part, “I think I want the baby to be a boy.”
“I thought you wanted it to be a girl,” I reply.
“I did. But now I’ve thought about it and I think it would be better if it were a boy.” She deftly sweeps her hair so it falls equally on both sides of her face. She looks so much like me now that it is arresting.
“Because I know how to have a brother already, but I don’t know how to have a sister.” Her eyes meet mine in the mirror and I’m caught in the maturity of her reflection. We are both quiet for a bit.
“Sometimes,” I say, finally, “We don’t have any choice but to learn as we go along.”