My youngest child turned two this month. It was a bittersweet occasion, partly because she spent most of it shivering and sniffling, glassy-eyed with fever. Still, the Calpol perked her up enough to pack some birthday cake into her sugar-loving little mouth. The cake was supposed to be Olaf, but bore only a loose resemblance to a generic snowman, not that the birthday girl seemed to mind.
It wasn't the childhood ailments, or my shoddy cake making skills, that made the celebrations bittersweet. It was the wistful pang of realisation that my baby is no longer a baby and that those days are over.
Child number three is my last - unless of course something wildly unexpected occurs. Assuming it doesn't, my uterus is off the hook. Every month is now a countdown to the menopause and the final curtains of reproduction, removing any outside chance of a little surprise or cheeky encore.
I know the difference between a 23-month-old and a 24-month-old is almost imperceptible, especially in one that barely eats and therefore hardly grows. Yet despite what the labels on her poppered vests say, my fledging two-year-old is marching daily towards increased independence and self-reliance.
She swipes the Smarties from the cake before her siblings can beat her to it - it's survival of the quickest when you're number three. She doesn't want to hold my hand when we go for a walk. Nor does she want to sit in the buggy. She'll only be carried when it suits her. She's trying to tell me her baby days are over, and so are mine. (Incidentally, she balks at the sight of the potty and wails ''nappeee'' if I suggest she might need a wee.)
With the first two, I couldn't wait for them to ditch the nappies, learn to get themselves dressed and sleep mainly in their own beds. But with my third and last, much as these things would make life easier, they will also signify the end of an era - an era that has been as blissful and enchanting as it is ball-achingly exhausting and at times, purely frustrating.
It's not that I want another baby. There are so many reasons why a fourth child wouldn't be a good idea: sanity (already questionable), finances (lack of), sleep (lack of), age (ascending), pelvic floor (tell me you don't clench when you hear those words) plus pregnancy (yuk), labour (ouch) and the fact my partner would probably emigrate rather than put up with another newborn.
In short, I know I've reached my limit. I've been blessed with three healthy children and a fourth would probably put me in The Priory.
I didn't know I was a 'baby person' until I had my own. Until I felt the full weight and warmth of another human in my arms and fell in love in a way that was scary and crazy and incredible all at once. I remember the fear that it wouldn't be the same the second or the third time round, and the rushing relief that it was. But there won't be a fourth time. I'm done.
Yet even though they're big(ish) and I couldn't possibly love them any more than I do, there will always be a little part of me that can't help lingering over the new arrivals page in the local paper; gazing at those new mums with swept back hair and bloodshot eyes, who don't care that they're in the paper wearing pyjamas and no make-up. Because whatever pain and gore they've just survived, they are now holding the most precious thing in the universe and it was all worth it. Those pages are bad for my ovaries.
They make me wonder how long I'll have to wait for a grandchild and whether it will be even a fraction as amazing as the real thing, and whether I can wait that long, or could I possibly squeeze out just one more to tide me over. And then I remind myself that I haven't had a full night's sleep in eight years and that my partner says he would definitely, absolutely, categorically leave if I make him go through it again, at least until the child had a full set of milk teeth.
And then I look at my little trio and I'm just thankful they are all OK, and here. Another one would mean even less time to go round. I do love those poppered vests though.
Friends tell me it gets easier as they get older. They're probably right and I know there is so much more to look forward to in my children's lives, possibly even the first full night's sleep in memorable history. But I can't help wishing they wouldn't grow up quite so fast.
Better get a puppy, then.
Do you feel like this?
More on Parentdish: How do you know when your family is complete?
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