Nearly every night, sometime between 9 and 10 pm, my 2-year-old daughter cries out for me. It's usually a very brief reunion; she likes the reassurance that I'm home, the warmth of one more snuggle before she falls into a deeper sleep. But if I'm honest, I crave this time just as much as she does.

It wasn't like this with my older kids. They are loved just as fiercely, and when they needed me as babies and toddlers, I tried to be there without hesitation—even in my most exhausted moments. But I didn't savor the feeling of being needed; I didn't need to be needed the way I do with our youngest.

It's different this time because I know we're done having kids.

I could have been open to "just one more," but my husband felt our family of five was perfect as-is, and deep down I knew he was probably right. As he rightly noted, even our three-kid scenario presents its share of challenges when it comes to planes, trains, automobiles and just about any other form of transportation. And the daily likelihood of a public meltdown, bodily injury or very loud and embarrassing observation about a stranger's appearance rises exponentially with each additional child. (All solid points.)

Parenting the "last baby" is a journey filled with lots of joy and also, lots of tiny heartbreaks. The joy comes in part from appreciating how temporary the highs and lows of the early years are, and being able to relax into those rhythms in a way you didn't as a first-time mom. I laugh more, cry in frustration less and pay more attention to sweet little details than I did when it felt like a fire hose was aimed at my face 24-hours a day.

The heartbreak also comes from knowing how temporary it all is—how quickly my wobbly, babbling child will be confidently walking away from me and toward relationships and experiences I have no part in.

I love seeing my older kids discover themselves and start to establish their place in the world, but there is something so precious and so fleeting about the window of time when "the world" for a child is basically just his or her family unit. I notice that more now.

Deciding to be finished having kids is a privilege not all moms have. Some parents wish very badly to expand their family but are unable to because of fertility struggles or financial concerns or a whole gamut of reasons. I feel grateful my husband and I have been in a position to choose what we felt was right for our family.

And I do think we made the choice that's right for us. I think I've been a better mom to all three of my kids because I've finally learned to slow down and savor the day-to-day aspects of parenting that are somehow both unremarkable and miraculous. It's still flying by too quickly, of course, but I now have a little more experience and perspective since becoming a first-time mom, which has given me the generous gift of clarity. I no longer obsess anxiously about what would (or might) happen next. Instead, I find I am able to notice and appreciate what's right in front of me.

My 2-year-old isn't going to remember these late-night mother-daughter moments in her rocking chair, but I know I will. I'll remember them for the rest of my life, with a mix of gratitude that they happened and sorrow that they're gone.

I think, as a mom, that means I did this part right.