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Empty Nest Syndrome Is A Thing. How Do We Cope?Marybeth Bock, MPH
Plain and simple. The dolls I played with as a little girl were not just toys to me, they were practice for the babies I knew I would someday have. My desire for children was one of the few things I was certain of.
Of course, there were other things I wanted to be as well: a writer, a journalist, perhaps an editor. I imagined myself working at a newspaper or in television and chose English as my college major because I loved all things literary (except perhaps the Old English course I took).
I would like to say my career aspirations equaled my desire to be a mother. I would like to say that because it sounds better and is probably more acceptable to say that. But if I am honest, although I assumed I could somehow do it all, I knew if I had to choose only one thing, motherhood would win hands down.
I remember going out with another couple we knew from college, after we were all newly married. When the discussion turned to having children, my girlfriend said that, although she wanted kids at some point, she was in no rush. I told her I was in a rush, that I couldn’t wait.
...because it took a while to have those children I always wanted. There were starts and stops along the way. In addition to losing an infant, my long journey to motherhood included infertility, adoption and, finally, joyful unexpected fertility, which resulted in my last son. In the end it took more than twelve years to complete our family. Had we started later we might have run out of time.
The death of my first baby, along with my husband’s crazy demanding career, added to the reasons I decided to become a stay-at-home mother. When I finally had a baby to bring home, I could not imagine entrusting him to anyone else. I could barely leave him for short amounts of time for fear something would happen.
And it was not only fear; I wanted to be with him. The obstetrician, who delivered my first two babies, warned me not to be too overprotective. He said this as he was performing my second C-section — I actually told him he could just leave the umbilical cord attached which made him laugh as he finished stitching me up.
Over the years I tried to heed his words, but it was always difficult. My naturally anxious nature was reinforced by that early loss. I worried about a lot of things, perhaps hoping that worrying would prevent bad things from happening. My grandmother used to tell me, “You don’t know what to worry about.” She was right. The things I worried about usually weren’t the things I should’ve been worried about — I was generally blindsided by calamity, as most of us are. But even though I knew that, I still kept worrying.
In fact, it was often far from it. The three boys I was blessed with were nothing like the dolls I played with as a little girl. My sons were boisterous and non-stop, their minds wired in ways I couldn’t always understand. I am still trying to figure them out, even as they have become young adults.
Sometimes, like when my boys were little and we were snuggled in bed reading together, motherhood felt like I had always imagined it would. But even on the worst days, and there were plenty of them, when they were so bad or sick and I couldn’t figure out how I would make it to bedtime, never mind get them grown up, I never regretted having them. Even when they morphed into moody teenagers I may have questioned my sanity, but never my choice to become a mother.
I will never forget Mother’s Day 1990, which fell about a month after my first baby died. My husband and I were away; I had booked a trip to a tropical destination foolishly thinking I could escape my sadness. However, not long after we arrived I discovered there was no getting away from the pervasive grief I felt. The joyous first Mother’s Day I had anticipated was sorrow-filled and we returned home from our trip earlier than planned.
The special breakfast, cards, flowers and gifts I get are all sweet and appreciated but just having my boys is enough (and if they are home it’s an added bonus).
I am simply grateful I have the job I always wanted.
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