Start at the very beginning.
Rory’s life was filled with beautiful “last firsts.”
We knew that Rory was our last, and we were so content with that decision. We referred to him as our “perfect little caboose,” and I happily used the ‘last baby blues’ hashtag on almost all of my posts. Nursing my last newborn. The last time one of my babies would roll over for the first time. Our last first tooth.
It was beautifully bittersweet – that feeling of being so sure that we were done, and our family was complete. We knew that we didn’t want to have any more babies, and we didn’t want any more births, and we were really, super-duper fertile. We talked about our options for a while, but Brock was willing to get a vasectomy and it seemed like the safest choice. We went ahead and made plans. I also finally scheduled myself to see a therapist. Life was beautiful, but I was finding myself going darker and darker with each passing day. I decided that the least I could do would be to talk to someone, and not long after, I was having twice weekly therapy appointments to help keep myself together.
Brock scheduled his vasectomy in December, when Rory was 6 months old. Every part of our life with our sweet new baby, even the hard parts, were still loved and cherished. For the first time in my parenting life, I was able to see and hold on to the beauty of the moments. This might be the last time I get to rock a sad baby to sleep. This may be the last time he keeps me up until 2 am. I may never get to be the only one to bring him comfort again.
The days passed infinitely quickly, as they seem to, and I found myself standing next to Brock in the kitchen the night before his scheduled vasectomy. We were talking about what was going to happen, how it would look and feel, and whether or not he was nervous. I asked him, “Are you sure you want to go through with this??”
“Yeah,” he replied. “We both think it’s the best idea.”
I was suddenly filled with doubt, overwhelmed and paralyzed with indecision. “But…” I started as my eyes filled with tears, “…but what if we change our minds? What if we decide we want another baby? What if one of our kids dies??”
I was nearly hysterical as Brock wrapped his hands around me and smoothed his hands over my hair. He cupped my cheeks and pulled my face up to meet his gaze, “It’s okay, Mandy. It’s okay. If we change our minds later, we can always get it reversed. That’s an option.”
We held each other tightly as he helped me to calm myself. I was reassured by his words… Yes. We can always get it reversed.
The next day, the kids and I loaded into the car and drove Brock to his appointment. We sat in the parking lot and watched a movie together while he went in, all by himself, and had the procedure done. He came out like a champ, smiling and walking tenderly, and we went home to care for him. Ronan was home on Christmas break, Brock was off work, and our whole family was together. It was perfectly (but really, chaotically) beautiful.
Rory started getting teeth, and we started a pretty intense brushing and cleaning regiment. Rory didn’t really nurse all night in the bed like Ryder did, but I had a toothbrush in bed with us to run over his teeth as he was sleeping if I needed to. I was bound and determined to avoid dealing with the same dental issues we had with Ryder. Ryder and I continued to butt heads while I was learning some intense self care, and how to respond in a way that didn’t escalate our interactions. There was LOTS of practice at this. Ruby continued to be her brilliant, beautiful, helpful little self. She loved Rory and she loved playing with Ryder and she was always so excited when Ronan got home from school. Ronan was doing brilliantly in his Montessori classroom with a teacher that adored him. She sent me text messages and emails often, singing his praises and talking about what a special kid he was. We also communicated often about the challenges he was having in the classroom – when he got frustrated or upset – and how to work through them. I felt incredibly lucky that he was being cared for by such a special human.
Time bled together as time seems to do in the absence of major life events. Every day was an enigmatic, amorphous blob of beauty and challenge and frustration and love. It was around this time that I started attending births as a photographer, and Brock and I discussed the merits of being a photographer full-time, leaving my ultrasound job behind me. I was absolutely sure, by my 3rd birth, that I wanted to pursue birth work as a forever career, and being available to attend births at any time just made sense. I contacted the assistant to my midwife and asked her if I could take her out for coffee – I wanted to pick her brains about becoming a midwife, and what it took to gain an apprenticeship locally. She was wonderful, and so incredibly kind. She was also honest with me. She sat with me and sipped coffee as I pushed Rory on the swings. “If it were anyone else, Mandy… I would tell you to just wait. Your babies are so young. You have lots of time. I would tell you to wait – but I know you. And I can see your drive. So I’m going to tell you to just wait a LITTLE longer. I’ve got something in the works.”
A handful of weeks later, I received notice of a new local program that was looking for interested participants. It was called, “Intentional Midwifery Training,” and it looked like exactly what I had been dreaming of. I signed up immediately, and started putting my thoughts, hopes, dreams and energy into becoming a midwife.
Then Ruby turned 5.
What a five year old looks like. She is sweetness and light. She is kind and forgiving. She is powerful and stands her ground. She is brave. “Can I help you, mom?” She loved princesses, because they have beautiful dresses. She loves to see people fall in love. She loves to talk about when she was a baby. She wants to be a police officer when she grows up, and also to stay up in the night time, and eat lots of candy. Her favorite color is pink, she loves to dance and to paint, and I’ve never known another girl quite like her. Happy birthday Ruby Kate. I can’t wait to see what kind of incredible things you do. #rubykateturns5
Then Ronan turned 7.
And nothing big or important or monumental happened, but every day contained just so much.
Rory continued to meet milestones and grow like a boss. Crawling, then standing, then cruising. Eating solid foods at the table with us for dinner, and nursing all day and often at night. Spreading his joy with everyone who had the luck to cross his path. We got really sick, and then we all got well again. I built our “family-bedroom”. Ronan learned to ride his bike. Rory’s teeth started showing signs of decay. We had a month of completely screen-free time, and I learned how capable my kids were of entertaining themselves, and also getting along. Ruby would dance with beautiful abandon whenever there was music on. Rory learned to clap, and then also started biting while he was nursing. Ryder continued to nurse twice a day, and occasionally fall asleep at 4 in the afternoon for what was deemed the dreaded “devil’s nap.”
Brock and I continued to work on our marriage, and saw things get better and better. We practiced honesty and vulnerability, and talking even when we didn’t want to talk. Our intimate life started to flourish when all of the kids were sleeping long stretches in the evenings, and I finally had the space to start to DESIRE spending time with my husband, rather than feeling like it was alway imposed upon me. It was so refreshing to pursue him because of my own needs, and feel that reciprocated.
And then it was summer, and Ronan was home, and the pool was open, and we spent every single day with friends. We started treating Rory’s teeth for decay, and I suffered another bout of depression due to the shame and blame of watching his teeth rot. My mama came to visit and she, Ruby, Rory and I drove 600 miles to reunite my mother with her long-lost Aunt Della.
It was, all of it, just so fucking beautiful.
To be continued.