My first child was breech so all of our children have come into this world via physician-advised scheduled cesarean deliveries. It has been mostly uneventful with the exception of the third who was ready a few days early. A tentative call to a sleepy doctor at 4 AM, the measured panic with which we packed and parked. He was our only surprise, and while I had suspected him to be a him for most of the pregnancy it was still thrilling to hear the words, to meet him with all his peculiar parts, his funny little scrunched up face.
Our baby boy.
And there on the operating table as they were putting me back together again:
“This is your last right”?
“Your last baby. Are you done?”
“Okay good. Your uterus is looking pretty scarred.”
If you have any children at all chances are you’ve been asked this question (hopefully not 30 seconds after delivery). And the more children you have, the more you’ll be asked it until…I don’t know…you start looking really old and tired and like your uterus couldn’t handle it (unless you’re Frieda Birnbaum, of course).
It’s a funny question, especially for a mother I think, because you have a physical response to it. A palpitation, a pang. A soft ringing in your ears. And your answer feels more like an explanation than a simple yes or no. But maybe that’s just me.
This is not a question that I am trying to answer because I feel that anyone cares or is owed an answer or that there really even is an answer. It's the same with anyone thinking about children, about a first child, about another child, about fertility and age and clocks and maternal instincts. It is personal and private. A decision that is yours and yours alone.
Still it is curious to me how similarly divided we are by the question, and by how often (and how freely) the question is asked.
I have no short answer but if I did I suppose it would be no. And my even shorter (but slightly longer) answer would be yes. We are and we aren't. We are in a weird limbo place where we don't really want to be done. I smile and say yes and it bubbles out of my mouth like the half-truth that it is. We hold on to our towel aware that it is probably time to throw it to whomever we are supposed to throw it to and accept that we don't need or really even want a future in which we will be wearing a Bjorn and carrying that (expletive) (expletive) infant car seat. But the question gets asked again, and the farther time removes us from the memory of his first fretful year, the more plausible another child becomes, and I wonder if we have it in us to bear another life.
To bear life is perhaps the most self-injurious thing any of us could do. It changes your body. It wrecks your back and tires your arms. It scars your insides. It bites and shoves and pinches and pulls. It keeps you awake and abuses your mind. You cry about everything now. Because everything is emotional. Everything feels big and scary. But to say that you are done with it can feel equally frightening. An admission of what you cannot do, of limitations, acknowledgment of the great divide between how young we look and feel and how young we actually are.
Bearing life is an engineering term as well (I didn’t know that until just now when I googled it to make sure I was spelling it right). There is even an equation for it, so you can calculate how long something (in this case a bearing) can endure. Considering the question within this context, bearing life, it would seem, is not limited to the event of birth, but the sustaining experience, the lifetime given, the provision of time.
So: with the three that we have, with all the fears and complications, the big emotions and the small decisions; with the constancy of their presence; their breath on our necks and their hands in our hair. Through the years we live in the secret squares of their faces and the years they don't want us anywhere near them. So loud and then so quiet. Through praises and punishments and immeasurable joy, the honor of knowing them (as horrible as they sometimes can be) and the gentle, daily pains of letting them go: we bear life.
Today, the day after his second birthday, without a babe in my arms or on the way, without the hope or expectation of one to be on the way. Without any kind of maternal anticipation; I see the answer to our human equation: life endures as long as we are blessed with it, privileged to bear it, regardless of order or accident. We are never done.