She climbs up into my bed, and curls up in my arms, fitting perfectly in the space between my chest and hips, her hand finding my belly and giving it a comforting squeeze before she turns over to sleep like spoons.
My last baby.
She still cuddles on my lap, her small, soft arms reaching around my neck, wanting to be lifted up, light for a moment, then heavy.
Her sing-song voice chatters, mixing up words, asking for cu-cun-cumbers and “Thomas the Tanken Engine” – talking about the programme that showed her how “spaghetti limbs” were made. She tells people that mummy has brown hair, and she has “beyond” hair. I store these words like treasures in my mind, more precious than diamonds. The words of my last baby.
Only she’s not a baby now.
I see photographs of her when she was a baby and it shocks me that she was once so small, her blue-grey eyes staring out at me. I didn’t know her then, didn’t know the sparky, wild little person bursting with full-throttled laughter who was waiting inside. I didn’t know then that she was my last baby.
There was the faint idea of another, for a while. Then the idea was filed away under “best not”. There wasn’t enough strength in my body for another pregnancy, or enough energy to face another three years of sleep deprivation, there wasn’t enough space in my brain to meet the needs of three small, busy, noisy people. As an older mum, I’d been so lucky to have two perfect, happy babies. It is more than I dreamed of. It is enough.
I’ve watched the paraphernalia of the baby years disappear; the snowsuits and babygros have been passed on, the baby toys given away, the pushchair which travelled on thousands of journeys with my babies safely clicked in place sold to another mum, with her first baby. With every one of those steps came a growing acceptance that the baby years were done, and this was my last baby.
I have the photographs and the memories, those jewels stashed away, but I wish I could bottle the feelings and open them on a lonely day in the future. The feeling of lap cuddles and pudgy arms, the soft touch of tiny lips kissing my cheek, the long days flashing with moments of purest joy. It can be too intense now, too much, but one day the days will be quieter, calmer, lonelier, and I’ll wish I could experience those feelings all over again.
Soon our days at home together will be done and my last baby will be at school. Her mispronunciations will be corrected, the soft arms will point high as she strives to answer a question. The colourful clothes of home, replaced with a grown-up uniform.
But some nights, she will climb up into my bed, and cuddle perfectly against my chest, then fall asleep like spoons. And I can hold my last baby for a little longer.
Image credit: Alison McGarragh-Murphy