Why Is It So Hard to Accept My 'Baby' Is Now a Toddler?

sleeping toddler

I came to pregnancy in my own way. Quietly. Very quietly. I wasn't sure having a child was for me, but the question kept returning. What if I do want a child? What if I do?


In the end, I answered the question with a swollen belly. Somewhere deep within me, I knew it was the thing I wanted to do.

You will be so happy, everyone told me. Your heart will grow so much. A baby is a beautiful thing to have. Hold on to every moment.

It took months before I was comfortable with my own child. I was worried that he didn't love me, and that I didn't know how to love him. The first year of his life was spent acclimating myself to his presence.

And then. 

After I settled into the rhythm of him, and grew happy and fulfilled -- precisely when I wasn't looking -- time sped up and took my baby with it. His second birthday approached without our giving it much thought. "Should we have a party or not?" I asked my husband. "It's not like he'll remember. He's only turning 2." I had no foresight into what I was about to feel.

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The day came and we celebrated with just a few friends at home. We let the children tear through the house. We let our baby eat pizza and cupcakes. We watched him open presents for the first time with an understanding that the process was really quite fun. 

That night, we put him and then ourselves to bed. I leaned over to turn out the light, then suddenly felt like I had been hit by a brick. A 2-year-old is not a baby. A 2-year-old is a toddler -- a tiny replica of a full-grown human being -- one who eats independently and speaks independently and pushes your face away when you bring it in close. A 2-year-old breaks your heart and mends it in the space of a minute.

I love you I need you I hate you I don't need you. Again. Again. And again.

The baby I brought home is gone. The baby who cooed and smiled, who never stopped my hands from touching him, who let me mold myself around him like a spring coil. We were one. We were two, but we were one.

Now I was sobbing.

They were the same tears that found me on the day of his first ultrasound. Shock -- at the wonder of it. Fear -- for all the changes to come. Sadness -- at the loss of a past life. And joy -- at being privy to a thing of this magnitude. A comet streaking, hurtling past through space and time.

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I was embarrassed to find myself in this state. Tears for a child thriving. But I was sad. Genuinely sad. Because I will never again rock him without his arms draping over the sides of the chair. I will never again breathe him in without his slapping at me to stop. I will never hold him in the crook of my elbow as I feed him and stroke his hair.

What we had, in those early days and years, was beautiful. A mother and her baby.

What we have now is different. A captive and commander. A student and a teacher. A toddler and his mother. 

I can allow myself to grieve the loss of my baby, for it is a time that will never come again. His legs will grow until he walks up the sidewalk to school, runs across the finish line in track, and walks out of our house into one of his own. But I must push my grief aside and revel instead in what is to come. His heart will grow with his hands. He will learn sympathy and empathy. If I am lucky, one day he will become a friend.

To raise a baby is an immense joy and privilege, but raising a baby means raising a toddler, a tween, a teen, and so on. To lament the loss of one is to lament the rising of another, and that would be a crime against him -- my beautiful baby, the baby of my past, the child of my present -- my son.

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