When there's no baby

"When there's no baby" by Heather Renshaw (CatholicMom.com)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema (2017) via Unsplash, CC0 Public Domain

For so many years, I’ve been in the thick of things — up past my neck — submerged in the tiny army that God and my husband and I created and is slowly destroying me in the most painful and beautiful ways, one blow-out diaper and temper tantrum at a time.

I was so overwhelmed by the chaos and the noise and the sheer exhaustion that I couldn’t see this moment coming.

The moment when the eldest is jonesing to get her driver’s permit. When the second is a freshly-minted teenager in her own right. When the third is on the cusp of double-digits and the fourth doesn’t need much help keeping up with the eldest three.

And then there’s the fifth. Goodness, the fifth. The one child with whom I’ve been privileged and blessed to be at home. For whom I’ve been on hand to experience every milestone even if I was lousy at documenting it for posterity. Everything about this last child is etched within me; it resides in a place that is at once tender and raw and grateful and strong.

And this fifth child cannot wait to go off to the big school with the big kids. I don’t take it personally.

A part of me is elated and relieved and bursting with pride and giddy anticipation for what comes next. And another, deeper part of me is just plain … bursting. Unraveling. Overcome and undone by it all.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m still in the thick of this gloriously brutal becoming called motherhood — it has just taken on a different dimension in this season. The beat and the cadence of the music has shifted. Expanded. Changed.

There are so many things to enjoy about this current season with our children, even if “built-in babysitting” isn’t one of them. I see my children pushing against the walls of their individual chrysalises within the boundaries of our home, stretching somewhere between the being and the becoming we all endure.

But then, this afternoon, out of the clear blue sky, I look over at my fifth, watching a show with his eldest sister who’s home nursing a cold, and a wave of emotion pushes against me, knocking me down: There’s no baby. We don’t have a baby.

There are no involuntary baby expressions and noises to marvel over. No tiny baby toes and fingers to caress. No fresh baby head smells to breathe in. No coos or sighs or sleepy milk-drunk grins to relish.

To be sure, there’s also no diapers, no spit-up, no breast pump, no stroller, not as many shrieking fests or middle-of-the-night wake-up calls.

But there’s no baby. My hands are full and yet they’re empty as well.

And I weep.

Granted, this is not the grief of a woman begging God for a child to love and hold and raise where there is none. Nor is it the grief of a mother whose baby dies even as it should be growing within her, or a baby who goes to be with Jesus much too soon after birth for reasons known and unknown. In no way do I discount or detract or minimize the ache that these, my grieving sisters, experience. I have journeyed alongside friends walking these painful pathways, and the agony is devastating.

This wave of particular and pointed grief consumes me nonetheless. It is the longing for something where there is nothing, where there will be nothing. It is a lamentation for which reflection on the blessings of today cannot erase.

It’s an unfamiliar feeling, this longing. Whereas once I anxiously awaited signs indicating we were not pregnant and felt relief when they appeared, those same signs are now cause for resignation and sorrow.

Perhaps part of my sadness rests in the realization that as I enter into this, the 16th year of my motherhood, I think I am finally starting to get it. Now, I don’t think I have everything together by a long stretch. I rarely execute everything well or with grace. But I do believe I get it now — the meaning of motherhood, the meaning of it all. And this knowledge compels me to want to share the wonderment of life, the gift of loving, with another soul, one more time.

Because, honestly, all the grave and just and good reasons to avoid pregnancy have yet to fill the hole I’ve discovered in my heart.

Intellectually, I reason that the hole wouldn’t be filled by another little life, in fact, couldn’t be. Because this hole is likely that which has always been there, and always will be: the hole in a restless heart that is reserved for God alone. The hole only ever filled by and for divine Love. And maybe, maybe this hole will never ever be completely filled until I see Him face-to-face.

For now, then, on this side of the veil, I will continue the journey, the becoming of what God has for me. The trying and the failing and the seeking and the getting up. I will seek His face in each of my precious children, without whom I would be exponentially less loving, kind, patient, peaceful, and my true self.

I will do my best to fill these souls up with as much love as my broken, well-intentioned self can muster.

And above all, I will choose to love well in this season I’m in.

Copyright 2018 Heather Renshaw


About Author

Heather Anderson Renshaw is a wife, Mama (x5) and on-fire Catholic revert. She’s a national speaker, author/writer (Death By Minivan, Real Catholic MomAll Things Girl: Truth For Teens, Take Up And Read), nap-craver, kitchen dancer, minivan singer, coconut milk latte drinker, and laundry avoider. Heather prays all may experience the healing power of Divine Mercy so they can rejoice and be free.


  1. This was the best! I absolutely love what you wrote, which I read through flowing tears! With my youngest being three, and no baby in sight, it’s so hard saying goodbye to that time in my life. But of course it’s not that I’m not grateful for the precious blessings of my four children. It’s just different, and somewhat sad. It’s so uplifting, though, to know someone else feels the same! Thank you! 💗

  2. Heather, you nailed it with the nothing can fill that hole. I often thought, if I just had another kid (not that I had options lol) I wouldn’t have this longing; but honestly it would come eventually, I would have just postponed it. At some point, I would have to face that I am no longer a baby-mama. That the next ‘babies’ in my life may be of the grand kind lol. There is lots of beauty (and plenty of challenges) of this new phase of motherhood to keep me on my toes – and VERY FULFILLED. Thanks, as always, for your honesty and poignancy (I think that’s a word lol)!

  3. This is one of the best blogposts on motherhood that I’ve read in a long time. I’m one of those women your referenced, who struggled for years to conceive, lost babies, and waited a long time for a live baby (who we adopted as a newborn). Because I have only one child who I waited so long for, I think I feel the goodbyes of motherhood harder than the average mother, but your post confirms that I would experience grief over these endings even if I had a large family. Sometimes motherhood seems like a series of goodbyes. I mourned every time my son outgrew a clothing size, a piece of baby equipment, etc, and now I mourn things like getting rid of his toy kitchen, our glider rocker, no more handmade Mother’s Day cards, the list goes on. At the same time, I’m aware that each stage brings new joys with it, which I should enjoy in the moment because someday I’ll mourn their passing too. I constantly look at pictures from a few years ago, remembering that at the time I thought my son was so big and mourned his earlier years, yet now I mourn the passing of the years of those same pictures. I really know how to torture myself! On the one hand I think it’s good to be aware of this because it can serve as a reminder to enjoy the present moment, but sometimes it has the opposite effect on me. But you really nailed it when you said that this is a prime example of a hole in a restless heart that longs for God. I never made that connection before, but it is so true. I will try to remember this the next time I torture myself with this issue!

  4. Lovely. I’m entering a similar season with kids 5-15. And though I was never one to fawn over others’ babies, I find myself missing the baby smiles and drools and belly laughs. (Not so much the explosive diapers, teething, and stroller-pushing.)

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