It used to hurt just to say those words--the last baby. I loved being pregnant at forty-three with my fourth child.

My husband and I had gone back and forth for a long time, trying to decide about another child. We both had come from a family of four children, and we wanted to usher in another life to complete our family. This was more a decision that came from the head than the heart. Our other children were clamoring for another sibling. And yet my body wasn't aching and yearning to hold a little infant. I did not have baby hunger, which seemed to indicate that I wasn't ready or very interested. So we stalled for years. Our heads said, "Yes, another baby," but our bodies--my body--said no to varicose veins, no to snoring, no to back labor, no to syncopated sleep so insane I'd be denied REM states. And as long as we're at it, no to baby paraphernalia cluttering the house, no to interference with promoting my first novel, which was due the coming year, no to camping and hiking-not that we ever did that stuff, but we'd been planning on it, right?

Decision-making is enormously complex for me. In the word "decision" lies the word "incision." Any choice you make involves a cutting-off of other possibilities. In the end, what pushed me over the edge into actions? The zeal for youth, that desire to be associated with vigor and life, in my mind's eye and in the eyes of others.

After one miscarriage, I got pregnant fairly easily. It was a hard ten months followed by a hard labor, which I entered into with all my being. And then Alexandra was here. What a shock. I never dreamed I'd turn into a mush ball over my last child. Those rolling fat thighs and the crazy way she rubs the sides of her head in a fury when she's tired. Cynical and analytical, I've never been a gusher. And I never knew I had so much gush inside me. I project many adult qualities onto her: patience, forgiveness (for our flaky parenting), sensitivity, social awareness. She sighs in her sleep so sweetly my husband and I give each other shocked, amazed looks: Was it this sweet with the others?- Could it have been and we just hadn't noticed? I still don't know the truth-whether it's because she's the last baby or she just happens to be extraordinary.

I relish this time with her, knowing she's the last. Being a little more financially secure allows me to get the extra help I need and be less anxious. My kids treat her like candy, constantly fighting over her, wanting to hold, play with, and poke her. They bring me wipes and diapers and sing her songs and dangle silly contraptions in front of her eyes. My husband is so grateful for this awesome work of art we've produced, with God's help, he thanks me weekly for having carried and delivered this child. And then with a slight nudge he says, "Aren't you glad we pushed for this?"

Not only am I glad we pushed, but I am grateful for my shallow, ulterior motives. If not for them, I'd probably be wallowing in the hinterlands of not-pregnant-but-vaguely-wanting-to-be for years. My desire to seem young to myself and others-well, it pushed me over to the valley of decision. But you know what surprises me? How a decision reached with such ambivalence and less than noble (crass?) motives can yield pure joy. This knowledge actually comforts me in all areas of my life. It used to hurt to say those words "the last baby, the last pregnancy." Just a few weeks ago, when she was five months old, my baby learned to sit up and how happy and proud I was. Yet a part of me mourned the loss of her infancy, her total helplessness, life-filled lump that she'd been. There was no going back. Next thing she'll be eating food, and pulling herself up by the crib bars. She's going forward, filling out the dimensions of her life. I'd be fearful and miserable if she didn't progress, and yet my sadness is real.

She makes me realize I can't rely on anything to stay the same. I can't even rely on my old formulas for happiness. I must change along with her. Now I'm adjusting to the change of no more birthing. I'm going forward in my life, in a different way. If I were to be a birther forever, how awful and imprisoning that would be. I have reached a milestone, the post-birthing one, and I feel as though I'm sailing to my core, getting closer and closer to the Me I always aspired to be. But that's another story. There's a word in French that I've never encountered in English: chantpleur--when someone cries and sings at the same time. To hold joy and pain at the same time is an exquisite art. It reminds me of the Jewish custom of breaking a glass under the wedding canopy. Don't deny one state for the sake of the other. Experience both, and you have a shot at ecstasy.

I think I'm going to invite over all my friends who have just reached this post-birthing state. I'll call it a chantpleur party. We'll give away those boxes of baby clothes. We'll burn our maternity bras, and open a high-end catalogue and buy new flimsy ones. We'll toast our stretch marks, battle scars where our children are medals of honor. We'll drink wine and not worry about embryo malformation. We'll cry. After all, our lives felt so justified and complete when we were making life. We'll plan for the new life percolating inside us, crying--no, singing for creative expression. We'll mourn and we'll celebrate. We'll cry. And we'll sing.

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