This photograph is nearly two years old now. This is my youngest daughter Stella at six or seven or nine months old, in a dress my mother wore when she was a baby, staring at me as I documented her awkward and determined attempts at learning to crawl. I sat on the hardwood floor of our rented townhome on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, I gazed at this beautiful creature as though I’d never seen a baby before – as though I was a tourist in Papua New Guinea drinking in a new and wonderful and rich and foreign land and its people – and soaked it in. I drank this little girl up, and swallowed hard with the full weight that came with the knowledge that this – that she – would be the last of my babies I would ever watch grow.
Today, on the precipice of nothing in particular,and everything all at once, I wonder if that’s really the truth.
If Stella really is the final fruits of my womb. If she is the last kidlet my uterus has to expel. The last first cuddle I’ll feel as a mother. The last first tooth. The last first day of school. The last poorly lit and improperly exposed baby photo I’ll take. The last stretch mark and vomit covered t-shirt and sleepless night. And I wonder if I’m ready for that ship to sail. If I’m ready to watch it slip quietly into the blanket of night, and not feel remorse or the crushing weight of regret as it drifts off into forever.
As I sit here typing this garbled mess of feeling and uncertainty that has absolutely-nothing-related-or-to-do-with-photography, I am convincing myself that I am okay with that. That my life is chaotic and wonderful and whole and perfect and imperfect and crazy and every little thing left in between….just as it is. That it’s time for the third baby ship to sail. That it’s time for me to let that go.
I just don’t know if I should. If I’m being honest, I don’t know that I can.
I don’t know if I want to have another baby, you guys. But the scary-as-hell truth is, that I don’t know that I don’t. I don’t know that I’m done nurturing or being puked on or kissing scraped knees or losing baby weight or hating myself pregnant. I like that I’m not doing any of those things right now – but that’s because my sister ship is still safe in its harbor.
It seems, however, the the tide is coming in, the winds are picking up, and it’s time to set out to sea.
Which means I have one hell of a decision to make.
So I find myself seeking out advice. From anyone who has any to give. Even though I know that the answer I seek comes only from within. From my heart, and my womb, and everything that my soul is telling me. But still, I go in search of clarity. I’m grateful for Cheryl Strayed, and her advice to a gentleman who was teetering on the edge of whether or not to have his first child – and I’m trying as hard as I can to heed her words. To remember that fear of regret is almost always the only reason we need to go out and do exactly that thing, and that “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
Proverbial night is falling, friends. The ship is setting sail. It’s time for me to get on, or let go.