My family is complete.
We made the decision to officially close our chapter of growing new life.
To commemorate, I created a “Closing Womb” ceremony.
We honor so many important passages throughout our lifetime, but our culture leaves women to sit in that void of ‘no longer bearing children’ with little room for closure. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to honor the power of my body and the beauty and connection of my family of four.
But the decision to "be done" did not come easy for me. It was something that Michael and I wrestled with for 3 years. He was certain he was done having more children when I was pregnant with Adelaide, and he encouraged me to treat that pregnancy like it was my last. I took his words to heart (just in case) and enjoyed every moment of growing my last baby. But I resisted the idea that she would actually be our last.
It wasn’t until Adelaide was closer to 2 years old (the age Genevieve was when we had Adelaide), that the feelings really hit me hard. If we were going to have a third baby, now would be the time. And yet, my husband had zero desire to have another baby. Truthfully, I was completely content with our family of four. I was struggling with depression and anxiety and I didn’t really want to raise another human. But the thought of never feeling movement in my belly or connecting with the life growing inside made me so sad. I loved every moment of pregnancy. It is also my profession – working alongside pregnant women. The idea of ending that season made me feel so empty. Instead of feeling confident with our decision, I found myself comparing my mothering abilities to the many women I looked up to who had 4+ children. I felt less adequate and not quite a "true mother" because I was choosing to have a smaller family, which was never how I envisioned my life growing up. I always thought I would have 4-5 kids. I also wrestled with the fact that a lot of our decision to stop at two was for convenience's sake. I resisted the fact that rationality was part of making such a heart-felt decision. It led to many hard conversations between my husband and me.
During this time, I was in therapy processing the question, “Who is Merrill?” My therapist pointed out that I may resist never being pregnant again because it was during pregnancy and childbirth that I felt most at home with myself, most alive. It was an experience that was uniquely mine, I felt special and beautiful, it was an opportunity to bond so deeply with my baby, a time before depression and the hardships of parenting, and it forced me to be fully present in my body. Through the therapy process, I realized that I was so disconnected with who I truly was, my authentic self.
My therapy lasted exactly 9 months – the length of time to grow a baby. At the end of my sessions, I arrived at a place of health and peace with myself. I now know that embodiment is something I can experience at any time, with a little bit of intentionality. I started meditation, breath-work, and yoga to continue to feel at home in body. I have also come to recognize that my sacred femininity does not fade or diminish when I decide to no longer bear children. It transforms and grows and takes on different roles. As I became more confident in myself, I realized that it didn't matter what others thought about me deciding to take "be fruitful and multiple" to mean two children and not six. I felt so much lighter and happier.
But the void that is left when the decision has been made to call my family complete was and is still very real. I kept hearing more and more stories of women who experienced that deep ache. Some women know exactly when they are done having children, for others it is determined for them through infertility, medical issues, or life circumstances. I decided to sit with that void, and call it what it is - grief. My therapist defines grief as a loss of connection, which is exactly how this void feels. The loss of never being pregnant, the loss of any future child we might have, the loss of never holding and breastfeeding my own newborn. So I journaled, cried, and externally processed this emptiness. It is a necessary part of life. Regardless of how many or few children I had, I would have to face it and feel it. But with time, it no longer feels debilitating. There are still a few pangs of sadness, but I welcome those feelings when they come. And when people ask me, "Are you planning on any more children?", I no longer feel panicked as to what to say. Once I released the idea of future babies, I actually found myself enjoying my friends children. I no longer craved that fresh baby for myself, but rather, held a newborn and walked down my own memory lane with fondness.
But one of the biggest turning points for me was when my therapist asked me, “What will you grow now?” I finally understood that by closing the chapter of my life of making more babies, I could give myself to new chapters where I could pursue the passions that were growing deep inside of me. Now that I am starting nursing and midwifery school, I made the decision that this would be the next “baby” that I grow. And I love that imagery. Especially in a field where I will soon be 'catching' new life as a midwife.
I am the queen of ceremonies. If I can turn something into a sacred event, I will. My husband and I decided to have a “Closing Womb” ceremony. 'Being done having babies' is an interesting landmark in a family's life. It is such huge decision, painful in many ways, and yet we never really talk about it or commemorate it. So the weekend before Michael had a vasectomy, we decided to have a private family celebration.
- Before the ceremony, I spent a few hours going back through all my pregnancy updates and first year of life monthly blog posts. I looked back at pictures of myself when I was pregnant and how sweet my girls were at just a few weeks old. I sat with all my emotions while reliving those memories.
- After letting the range of feelings wash over me, I wrote letters to each of my girls to give to them in their teenage years.
- For the actual ceremony, we wanted it to just be the four of us (and a photographer to capture it for memory's sake).
- We went to a beautiful state park on the lake right at dusk, my favorite time of day.
- I like to complicate things, but we kept it simple because our children are 2 and 4. The simplicity, in some ways, made it feel more sacred.
- I made flower crowns for my girls, honoring them as our cherished daughters.
- I wore my bracelet made out of my last bag of frozen breastmilk. Which, by the way, my youngest officially weaned three weeks ago. Talk about lots of closure in one ceremony!
- Michael wrote letters to the girls sharing how mommy and daddy are not going to have any more babies, how much we love each of them, and how special our family of four is. He wrote one version that they would understand at their current age (that is what we read at the ceremony) and he wrote a letter for the girls to give to them when they are older. It is important to us that they know they are enough and everything to us.
- I wrote a family poem that I read out loud to Michael. It felt like reading our wedding vows (poem is below).
- And we spent the evening getting soaked throwing rocks in the lake, one of my daughters' favorite activities.
It also happened to be two weeks before our family was about to move from the only city we really knew, where all of our family lived, to a new home where we knew no one. It was the closing of so many chapters and a stepping into a new season of life.
(So grateful to Alurawayne Photography for capturing these beautiful pictures)
It started with two.
Our hearts were captivated as we vowed forever.
We committed to the mountains and the valleys.
It was three years of learning each other, intentional and slightly naïve.
We had adventures full of world travels.
And then, in early spring of year four, life began to grow inside.
Two souls in one body surrounded by the love of our unity.
We faced the unknown, unsure of how our bond would change as three.
After four days of painful waiting, transformation came physically and spiritually.
And new life entered this world.
We stepped into parenthood with new titles.
Relief and joy washed over us as we held our fresh, new daughter.
Life never looked the same.
Those two years were full of every first.
This baby quickly became a child and she filled us with pride.
It was magical witnessing each moment through the eyes of our Lark.
And then, in the spring of year six, another life began to grow inside.
Pregnancy reminded us that nothing in nature is rushed.
It was a grounding and present experience.
We surrendered every day, releasing control, and choosing abundant peace.
And then, in ways we never expected, new life entered this world.
The separation of body and baby brought a sense of grief.
But through that emptiness, we experienced a deeper level of wholeness.
We embraced those days as our family expanded once again,
Healing came by nourishing our bodies and souls.
Grace was mixed with exhaustion.
Some days left us feeling like we were underwater.
The stretching of our family left us depleted in many ways.
But glimpses of hope and promises of brighter days carried us through.
And through each moment, we watched our Lark and Sparrow become sisters.
Connection and presence became our mission.
Discovering the meaning of embodiment and mindfulness directed our actions.
Transitions and growth no longer brought fear.
Slowly, and with kindness to our family, we became whole again.
Now we look at our little birds with full hearts.
And we are prepared to embark on a new journey.
Four connected souls ready for what world brings.
Our family is not perfect, but it is our own.
Our family is love.
Our family is complete.
Our family is complete.