The ‘firsts’ of motherhood are exciting, but the ‘lasts’ are so bittersweet

I remember when I saw my daughter smile for the first time. We were hanging out on the couch at home—her second week of life. She was sleeping, I was staring, and then it happened—she smiled this big, happy, sleepy smile. I got my phone out and held it in front of her face waiting for her to do it again. She magically did and I magically caught it on camera.

I’m sure she was only passing gas or dreaming about her next marathon nursing session, but still—I just remember that moment so vividly as her ‘first smile.’

I can recall many of my children’s firsts. They were exhilarating! Watching my baby take her first steps was beyond exciting. Hearing ‘Mama’ or ‘I love you’ those first few times never got old.

The ‘firsts’ are talked about and remembered and held on these high pedestals as congratulatory trophies we share with our children to celebrate a job well done in this journey together.

But what about the lasts? The lasts sort of sneak into our lives—not necessarily unwanted, not totally unexpected—but very unprepared for.

My friend recently told me about how her son wasn’t nursing as much anymore and with every time he did nurse, she wondered if it would be their last time.

I remember that exact feeling with both of my daughters who are no longer nursing. I have about 100 ‘mom and me’ breastfeeding selfies in my iCloud to prove it. Every time we nursed, toward the end, I wondered if it would be the last. I wanted to hold on to that moment forever—to sear it into my memory so it would never leave me.

Maybe that’s why we don’t talk about the ‘lasts’ as much. Maybe because they are so bittersweet it hurts. Maybe it’s because we can’t actually imagine a world where we are not needed and wanted in the way only our little ones can need and want us.

Maybe it’s because the ‘lasts’ actually break our hearts a little.

And now I’m getting choked up just even thinking about some of the lasts I still will go through.

When will my last baby nurse for the last time? I know the sadness and flood of mixed emotions that comes with closing the chapter of breastfeeding your baby. I’ve gone through it twice. So now, with my final baby, will I cherish those last few months even more? Will I be more prepared knowing the emotional pain it will inevitably bring me? (I think I already know that answer.)

When will I get the final ‘please pick me up’ request from my preschooler? She still occasionally asks me to carry her when she’s super tired or sad or hurt. I almost always oblige because, well, she is still my baby no matter how tall she gets.

When will I hear my 2-year-old mutter ‘Mommy, will you lay with me?’ for the last time? I secretly love when she does so I can take a break with her and lay beside her crib to keep her company while she falls asleep.

When will the last time be when we hear little toddler feet pitter-patter into our room and climb into our bed? Some nights, after a bad dream or an accident, one of our girls will come snuggle with us. But one day they’ll decide they won’t need mom or dad to help them calm down anymore, they’ll be able to do that on their own.

When will their enthusiasm for breakfast-for-dinner wane? When will I hear their final squeals of joy over the chocolate chip pancakes we’re making together at 5 pm on a Wednesday? I hope never. Can we pretend like that will never happen?

When will they choose to hang out with me over their friends for the last time? They love being home with me baking cookies or reading stories. They laugh at my corny jokes and look at me like I’m Wonder Woman. One day they’ll say, “Sorry, Mom. I’m going to the movies with friends.” And truth be told—I’m not sure how I’ll take it.

I guess what it comes down to is—I never know when the last time will be that they need me and not someone else. Right now, I’m their go-to. But one day that will change. That’s supposed to change, and I get that. But it doesn’t makes these ‘lasts’ any easier.

Because these ‘lasts’ are hard. But they’re mine. They’re pieces of my motherhood journey that I will carry with me until my end of days. The hard parts may not always be pleasant or perfect, but they’re part of my story and I’m grateful for them. I own them as much as all the magical moments, and I don’t want to be cheated of either.

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Colleen is a wife and mom to three awesome girls. She is the Motherly Stories Editor at Motherly. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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