Some old burp cloths almost made me cry today. I spotted them, tucked away in a basket in the living room, and realized I don’t need them there anymore, ready to grab at the first sign of spit-up. No one has frantically yelled, “Toss me a burp cloth!” in our house in months. Have you had to pack away the baby chapter?

Seeing them brought me back to those days of constant spit-up, when I used to wipe off my shoulder and then, having forgotten to change my shirt, recoil hours later when I caught a whiff of the sour smell. I used to sigh and wonder if I’d ever wear clean clothes again.

I stood paralyzed for a moment holding the burp cloths, unsure of how to proceed. Throwing them away seemed wasteful. I couldn’t bear to turn them into rags. I didn’t think I could donate something that had touched so much spit-up.

All I knew, as I held an armful of soft pink and blue fabric, fabric that had wiped my babies’ mouths countless times, was that I wanted to go back. Back to the baby chapter.

Back to the constant spit-up. Back to patting my babies’ backs to get them to burp. Even back to the stinky shirts.

This longing to go back has become a familiar feeling to me, as every week I find something else that we’ve outgrown. Something else that reminds me that the baby chapter is coming to a close.

The cheap pregnancy tests I bought in bulk because I used so many of them when we were trying for our first baby. While at times they brought me crushing disappointment, they also brought two of the most joyful moments of my life.

The postpartum supplies that I stowed away after my first baby, hopeful that I would need them again. I never thought that a peri bottle and some enormous pads would make me weepy, but here we are.

The Pack ‘n Play that was an eyesore in front of the fireplace. I used to long for the day when we could get rid of it and free up the space in our living room. Now I wish my 1-year-old was still tiny enough to sleep in the cozy napper.

All the swaddles—so many different kinds, each with different configurations of velcro and zippers—that neither of my kids seemed soothed by.

The nursing pads I wore at all times or else milk would leak through my shirt. I’m still nursing my daughter, but I miss the days when I could give her all the nourishment she needed. Now she’s graduated to peanut butter puffs and applesauce, so eager to snack like her big brother.

The clothes. So many clothes. The faded favorites my babies wore again and again, and the ones they only wore once before outgrowing them. The hand-me-downs my daughter wore that won’t be handed down to another sibling.

The bright green tummy time mat that looked almost garish against our dull beige rug. My son seemed to use that thing forever, but with my daughter we barely got it set up before she started crawling out from under it, no longer content to lay in one spot and kick at the jingling birds.

The swing, the bassinet, the bouncer. So many contraptions to get my babies to sleep on their own and give me a little break. Now I would do anything to have them sleep on my chest again.

I thought that I, the aspiring minimalist, would be happy to get rid of all this “stuff.” But the small amount of satisfaction I get from creating a little more room in the storage closet is overshadowed by an intense ache that’s closer to sadness than nostalgia.

I don’t know if the ache ever goes away completely, no matter how many babies you have.

After my son was born all the maternity and baby gear was carefully packed away in cautious anticipation of another baby. Now things are donated, handed down to friends, thrown away. And each time an item leaves the house, it’s another reminder that I’ll never again feel the heady anticipation that comes with waiting to meet your baby. Another reminder that the baby chapter is coming to an end.

If you had asked me months ago if I would miss the baby chapter phase—when my newborn wouldn’t sleep for one second in her bassinet, and my 3-year-old was smearing poop around his crib to get my attention—I would have said “no” without hesitation.

I did my best to live in the moment, but there were times when I wished to speed through those hard, messy parts and get to the place where I slept a bit more and life felt slightly less chaotic.

Now that that particular hard, messy part is over (there will be others, of course), I can appreciate the simplicity in the all-consuming chaos of that phase. The outside world faded away and my babies were my only focus. Some days, I wish I could go back. But babies don’t go back. They don’t keep, as the saying goes.

Maybe once all the baby stuff has left our house the ache will fade a little bit. I hope it does, as I know there are so many moments and milestones to look forward to.

But if I ever want to feel that ache swell up in my heart again, I can go to the drawer where I’ve kept a few special things. I can pull out a onesie, a blanket, or even a burp cloth and remember what a hard, messy, simple, chaotic, and beautiful chapter this was.

Photo Credit :: Lindsay Herkert Photography

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