I’m an Elementary School Empty Nester — and I’m Grieving

girl in red dress holding a first day of school sign

Silent. Suddenly, it was just silent. 

The first day of kindergarten jitters had consumed our house for weeks — until they didn’t. We had picked out a special outfit, took the obligatory first-day photos with a fancy little sign, put on our matching “thinking of you” bracelets, and dropped off our beautiful just-turned 6-year-old for her first day of school.

I smiled and gave her the biggest hug, trying to keep my composure above all else. We told her we knew she’d have a great day, and she walked into our local elementary school happy and confident. Just like we knew she would.

Then we got home, and the house was empty and silent. 

I never intended to only have six short, stay-at-home mom “baby years” — I always imagined I would have a house full of children. After all, for as long as I can remember, the only thing I ever wanted to be “when I grew up” was a mom. I wanted many, many baby years — and I still want them.

Life, though, had other plans. I have one beautiful, amazing child — and a hysterectomy. Obviously, without a uterus, I can’t have any more children. It doesn’t even qualify as a case of infertility at this point; it’s just… over.

We are a family of three, and with my husband’s frequent international travel, we are sometimes a family of two. Due to circumstances outside of our control, we will forever remain a family of three.

This is usually the point where many well-intentioned people will (unhelpfully) point out that I can “just” adopt, or, if I have eggs, can use a surrogate. Of course, they say it flippantly, as if those processes are accessible, affordable, and simple. There are also those “extra special” people who struggle to read the room and proceed to tell me how lucky I am that my child is away at school all day so I don’t have to deal with them. 

There are things that do help soften the blow a tiny bit. I have a beautiful, brand-new nephew whom I adore. Many friends and family members in my circle have children that I love, celebrate, and spend time with. And we will always open our home to any of my daughter’s friends for any reason at all.

But even though I am incredibly grateful to know I have so many kids in my circle to love, it’s not the same as having another child in my family to love permanently.

What my heart will always long for is more children that are MINE. I want to love MY child. Not just A child — MY child. A child who calls ME mama at the end of the day.

And so, here I am sitting in a heaping pile of grief (and laundry). Grief over only having the physical ability to birth one child and feeling the betrayal of my body. Grief over the official end of the “baby years.” Grief that’s accentuated by an empty, eerily quiet house from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. 

Most of all, though, the grief and emptiness of “only having one — while wanting more” is eating me alive, and I’m utterly unprepared for the pain of this new transition.

Utterly unprepared, and with a broken heart. 

They told me it goes by in the blink of an eye, and I believed them. What they didn’t mention is the sheer agony of “the lasts” — and how they sting a little extra when you only get to do them once.

Right now, I’m an elementary school empty nester, and all I can feel is deep, deep grief.  

girl standing next to paper giraffe on the first day of elementary school

Chelsey is a "central Mass" girl who married her 7th-grade sweetheart. She attended both undergraduate and graduate school in Boston, then taught high school on the North Shore for seven years. After living in Winchester and Melrose for several years (and moving too many times), she and her husband finally settled in Groveland in 2015. She loves the North Shore and everything it has to offer, and she enjoys raising her daughter there. Chelsey is the community engagement coordinator for Boston Moms and is mostly a stay-at-home mom. She spends lots of time advocating for children with disabilities, arguing with insurance companies, and looking for disabled influencers, inclusive companies, and materials that celebrate neurodiversity. She avidly listens to audiobooks, hates everything about coffee, and, most importantly, loves being a mom.