Photo courtesy of Katie Alicea

My Babies Aren’t Babies Anymore, & So I’m Crying In Target

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As I stood in the baby section of Target, staring at the baby bottles and nipples, tears overflowed from eyes already burning with exhaustion. This was my third trip in as many days, and my newborn son, who I had recently decided to stop breastfeeding, was unwilling to drink from any of the myriad bottles or nipples we already tried. I had been pumping my breast milk up until that day and was going home with my first container of formula for him. I was feeling so ashamed of purchasing that can of formula that I buried it at the bottom of my cart under diapers, wipes, bibs, and nipple pads — even under the extra-absorbent maxi pads I usually tried to conceal for no good reason other than habit, I suppose. With breasts leaking and aching from being denied any more pumps, I filled my cart with every bottle and nipple they had in hopes my sweet little guy would find one he would prefer besides my own cracked and bleeding nipples. In that moment, my mind flashed back to just a few years earlier standing in the same aisle in Target crying over these same bottles and nipples with my first son who I couldn’t breastfeed either. My first son who was no longer a baby, I realized.

There have been countless emotional moments for me within the baby section aisles of Target in the five years since my first son was born. Some of the emotions came because of why I was there: to find a diaper that wouldn’t give my baby a horrible rash and this was my eighth try. And some of it was because being there, and away from the stresses of home, I was finally able to feel and express the emotions that didn’t have the space before that moment. I felt a safety there amongst the familiar baby products that defined my days and nights for years on end. Endless diapers, wipes, and diaper creams. Dozens of pacifiers, adorable onesies, and shelves of our go-to baby shampoo. At the time it felt like my life revolved around the baby section.

Because it did.

Photo courtesy of Katie Alicea

A few days ago, I went to Target to buy some Christmas decorations. (Yes, I am one of those people who decorates for Christmas immediately after Halloween. If Christmas music in November is wrong, I don’t want to be right.) The store was packed, so I decided to take a shortcut through the baby section. Something caught my eye and I suddenly stopped. I found myself in the bottle aisle staring at the wall of nipples. It has been over three years since the day I cried and mourned in that aisle over my decision to stop breastfeeding my second son (at the time, I needed treatment for postpartum anxiety), but here I was with my eyes filling with tears once again.

In that moment I didn’t fully understand what I was feeling. The bottle aisle used to bring me such anxiety in years prior. So why was I feeling something akin to nostalgia standing there?

I picked up a small package of newborn diapers and sniffed them like a crazy person, remembering that same smell during their first diaper changes in the hospital after they were born.

I took a few minutes and walked down every single aisle of the baby section.

Memories of moments spent in each aisle flooded me with so many emotions. I remembered buying my oldest his first sippy cup and crying because he was too old for bottles. I looked at the changing table covers and laughed at how many times we had to wash ours when the boys were little because of all the wiggle-fighting during diaper changes. I picked up a small package of newborn diapers and sniffed them like a crazy person, remembering that same smell during their first diaper changes in the hospital after they were born. I realized how tiny the 3-month-old clothing was and held them up against my chest to remember just how little my big boys used to be. I ended my emotional trip down memory lane back in the bottle aisle. I closed my eyes as tears welled up remembering an earlier version of myself standing there and wishing, hoping, and praying that somehow a miracle would happen and I would be able to go home and feed my baby without being filled with guilt and fear as he rejected everything but the nipples I needed to deny him so I could get better.

Photo courtesy of Katie Alicea

The current version of myself wanted to hug that hurting version of myself and tell her that everything was going to be okay. That one of the bottles and nipples she was buying that day was going to do the trick and her sweet newborn was going to eat his new formula happily and her nipples would finally be free to heal and her body and mind would have what they needed to heal as well. I would show her pictures of a very healthy 3-and-a-half-year-old to prove to her how her decision to put her own health first was the right one and that she didn’t need to spend months worrying about feeding her boys formula instead of breastmilk.

As I opened my eyes, I realized what I was feeling on this trip down memory lane was not as much nostalgia for those earlier days of my boys lives when everything was so extremely exhausting and every decision we made felt like life or death, but was more of a feeling of mourning. Those baby days of my life are officially over (thank you vasectomy!).

I no longer need to venture into the baby section of Target on two hours of sleep wearing my baby-spit-up stained clothes trying to find a baby food my kids won’t throw against the wall, a spoon they could use to learn to eat that wasn’t too big or too small, but juuuuust right, or check to see what might be hanging out on the sale end cap because I refuse to pay full price for clothes that will be torn or stained within 2 minutes. Nope, those dazed baby days are over for me and now we are into the beginning of my boys' school years.

Being done with the baby section at Target happened without my even realizing it until now.

When I felt overwhelmed by mothering my babies, people would always say “the days are long, but the years are short,” and every time they said that I would slap on a fake smile and nod all the while thinking they were full of shit.

But, they were actually right.

Going from my first pregnancy to now, the years have flown by. I still remember holding the pregnancy test with the two blue lines and looking up at my husband with bewildered joy. Being done with the baby section at Target happened without my even realizing it until now. I hadn’t realized until this weekend that it had been over a year since I had been in the baby section.

Photo courtesy of Katie Alicea

My boys are 3 and 5, and the days are still long, but the years of their lives sure are flying by. Parenting has never come naturally to me, and even though I love my boys with all that I am, I really struggled with their baby years and how much they depended on me for everything. I experienced severe postpartum anxiety after my second son was born and I had to be hospitalized. The early days of their lives were very challenging for me, but I still mourn being done with the baby days. Not because I want to go back (I DO NOT!), but because of what I have learned, experienced, and overcome from those early motherhood days to become the person and mom I am today.

I honor that new-mom version of myself and can see now from where I am today just how strong I was when I felt so weak, just how capable I really was when I felt completely lost, and just how much all the hard days would teach me how to overcome hardship and learn from it. Allowing myself to mourn the passing of an era of motherhood and season of life that grew me and my family so much is a healthy way to move into the next season of life with the confidence that I am an overcomer and a pretty darn good mom.

Now the only kind of crying we will be having at Target is when I tell my boys we won’t be coming home with the $315 Power Wheels.

Photo courtesy of Katie Alicea

If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.