There comes a time in every mum's life when she contemplates life after the child birthing phase. Time to recycle the maternity bras and pregnancy manuals, give away the cot, and accept the fact that the next newborn you will be involved with will likely be your grandchild - if you are lucky.
I think it is also fair to say that each woman has a limit of children she can reasonably handle - and all of us have a different threshold. For me, three was the number I yearned for and now I have them, I know that I am at my limit of coping. The thought of four brings me out in cold sweats. I no longer look at pregnant women with envy; these days I think about sleepless nights and mastitis and newborn mewling and am so thankful and grateful that those days are slowly coming to an end (although they are not quite over yet!)
Of course the end of child-rearing means the end of fertility, which can be a bit more of a wrench to let go of. It's one thing to decide not to have any more children, but quite another to enter a phase where you can not have any more children; it's almost like the demarcation between youth and middle age. And yet, as I write this, I have three small scars across my abdomen as a result of a tubal ligation. I will never bear another child. My husband may well rejoice at the news, and it is the right thing for our family, but naturally, even though I couldn't be paid to go through pregnancy and childbirth again, making the decision to end your fertility leads to consider not only your life in general but also, inevitably, your mortality.
This is the ponderous backdrop to it all, but in the lead up to the procedure, I was gleeful. Once I could convince my husband that I wouldn't grow a beard as a result (yes, I was baffled by that one too), and once we had decided that I would be the one to go under the scalpel (after my doctor pointed out to me that Ali, who is younger than me, "may remarry and have more children if anything happens to you"), I put my name down and waited for the call-up.
I almost avoided the surgeon altogether. There is a new procedure for sterilising women called Essure, which is essentially two little nickel and titanium coils inserted into your fallopian tubes during a ten minute, outpatient appointment. Scar tissue forms around the rods, rendering the woman infertile after three months. It sounded fantastic to me, and so easy, but in my case not to be. If you are allergic to nickel, you have to revert to the old-fashioned method of an operation under general anaesthetic.
I sense a lot of surprise when I tell female friends about having had this operation - perhaps for them it seems a little too final, too extreme when there are various methods to prevent pregnancy that can be used in perpetuity. Some of them hold onto the idea that they could, if they ever wanted to, have a second, third or fourth if they had the misfortune of losing a child, for example. But for me, I find it easier to carry on with life have answered that question fully and finally. Now, once this last baby weans himself and passes his first birthday, I am into toddler hood and away from the firsthand rigours and delights of the infant forever.