A couple of weeks ago, my son Felix decided that he was no longer going to sleep in his crib. From an early age, his personality has been one of intense finality: he decides he will do something, and it is as good as done. In this instance, he decided that he would be sleeping in a twin bed that night, and, a few months shy of three years old, he did just that. As much as I have been continuously impressed with his decision-making capacity and resolve, I was not quite ready for such an abrupt transition. Later that evening, I sobbed, teary-eyed, to my husband that I was unprepared for such a big jump from toddler into boy-hood.
The intensity of my sudden grief was directed less at the transition, and more at the crib itself. I so vividly remember the excitement and nervousness when we brought the crib home, polished and clean and ready to house a tiny new life. I remember how tiny Felix looked when we placed him in it for the first time, and how he would curl up into a little ball of warm, sweet-smelling baby, his knees pulled cozily underneath him and his butt in the air as he would drift off to sleep. A year ago, when we were planning the move from our apartment into our new house, and I daydreamed with anticipation of expanding our family. My mind wandered over what that crib had seen in our old apartment, and the things it would witness in the future, the joys and struggles and growth. It was never just a crib, but a monument to new life and all of the dreams, hopes, excitement, trepidation, and opportunity.
But now it is an empty relic, sitting in the corner of Felix’s bedroom, unused but for storage of excess stuffed animals and too-small clothes. Hopefully, it will hold another baby someday soon, but that baby will not be ours. Our lives are full of babies, and we have no shortage of love for them: babies of friends and family members, new lives who are growing and learning and doing all of the cute, sweet things babies do. I would be lying if I said that each little baby I see doesn’t press on the still-fresh wounds of loss and infertility, secondary labels of cancer-related grief. In just over a week, I will have my entire reproductive system surgically removed. There is so much finality in that, knowing that I will wake up from the procedure having lost the organ that grew my son.
So often, I think this sadness is less cancer-related and more life-related. For who other than parents mourn the remnants of babyhood outgrown, while simultaneously finding so much joy in the milestones, the hallmarks of growth, which are conjectures of a healthy childhood? As life with cancer continues, and becomes as much of a new normal for our family as possible, I realize that I never really experienced motherhood apart from the symptoms of breast cancer. From the early days of Felix’s life, my ability to parent was so intricately tied to the back pain that ultimately revealed itself as bone metastases. That too, is mournful for me, as I think of the loss of the innocence of that fresh, new season of life, and how I will never experience it again.
And so I prepare myself for yet another transition: to say goodbye to my uterus, my son’s first house, and also his crib: both vessels of his growth, now unnecessary in our family’s story, symbolic figures of my greatest joy and my deepest grief. Our family’s lives will continually construct new framework to meet our needs as we grow, and we will continually outgrow that framework as we build our stories, the stories of the tomorrows we hope for, as we simultaneously carry with us the sadness of the tomorrows that we had hoped for, that will never be.