In a slushy crush of afternoon traffic on a dirty city street, it struck me: this is the longest I have gone without being pregnant since my wedding day. Caleb is a chubby, jabbering baby-toddler, crawling about, into everything, eating everything, content in new freedom. Some mornings I still feel dry and abandoned as he "nurses" on his bottle. I am blessed by little things - I can still feel the flutter of his suck "calling down the milk" as the cool glass of the bottle warms in my palm; his eyes still roll back in baby bliss with the first gulps of his afternoon bottle of breastmilk, guarded like liquid gold and rationed out once per day. The babyishness of his cowlicks, the chubby chin where it meets his neck, the folds behind his ears. I am surrounded by babies, toddlers, small children. But something inside feels empty.

I remember peering into the empty shell of a cottonwood tree deep in the woods when I was about eight. I tipped my head back to peer around into the top of the cavern in the center of the tree trunk. Shafts of light caught the rising dust of leaves that had crushed under my feet. I could see through the cracks in the bark, watch the trees arms, covered in leaves, dancing toward the sun at the top of the forest canopy. She was a happy woman, this tree...a hole in her middle, yet the tough sinews of her wood bit wetly into my palm as I leaned against her inside the hole, craning my neck to see better the view from this unexpected hiding place. What was once full of life was empty and hollowed out. But she wasn't finished living.

Babies won't grow inside me anymore. My poor health during pregnancy and a general sense of fulfillment with our four children meant we made that decision before cancer. I am thankful now that it happened that way - that God didn't allow me to blame cancer with yet another loss during my young motherhood. Another small blessing. My middle is empty, there is a dark tumor growing in my throat...but my sinews are tough and fecund, my arms are covered in leaves and dancing toward the sunlight.

She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. ~ Hannah's Song, I Samuel 2:5-6