In September 2013, my second child and first son was born.* Roughly three weeks earlier than his rather moot ‘due date’ and after consuming a considerable portion of porridge whilst watching Saturday morning children’s television, I was stricken with portentous pains in my lower back and nether regions. Recognising these immediately as labour pains, I began to blub when the Doc, literally on his way out the door for work, asked: “Do you need me to stay?”
An hour and forty minutes, a throat-full of terrorised vocal chords, a cancelled cab, one confused aunt and toddler and four paramedics later, a squealing baby arrived on my duvet. I lay there overwhelmed as I clutched his tiny, sticky, little body, my mind already running a calculation of how many of my towels would have to be replaced after the carnage. A planned home birth this was not.
I have been extremely fortunate in that both my childbirths have been uncomplicated. While the second was markedly shorter than the first, after each I was able to slide off the birthing bed, into the shower and put on a couple of loads of washing. And so far (touch wood), neither of my children have presented me with any notable issues – minus the relentless constancy of inexplicable crying, irremediable whinging and unslakable hunger of course. This might suggest that I am well placed for a third. Might.
The Doc has always declared he would like three children. I had always envisaged three also. I like the asymmetry of three. And I like the fact that, though three is by no means abnormal as a number of children within a family, it is slightly less ubiquitous, less nuclear than two. However, after the first was born, I entertained the notion that actually, one was enough. But then I began to falter in my resolve; it didn’t seem fair on my daughter to have her grow up without any siblings to engage with. But on a less academic and perhaps more primal level, when she reached her second birthday and I realised she was far closer to being a ‘kid’ as opposed to a ‘baby’, with all the saccharin implications of maternal dependency that go with that, a pang of biological and emotional need surged through me. I promptly addressed this need with the Doc one night after consuming a bottle of champagne and several glasses of rioja.
During pregnancy with my second child, I was categorical about my belief that two was enough for us. I hated being pregnant, with all its constrictions and limitations. And childbirth, while as I said straightforward enough in my case, was not exactly pleasurable. But it’s the rearing of more than two which concerns me. How could we afford it in this climate? How could we raise three children in our pokey two-bedroom flat which we don’t even own? How would I get around London with them when I don’t drive? How could I afford to keep them all in nappies and food? What sort of standard of living would we have? We couldn’t afford to take holidays abroad and there wouldn’t be any more trips to Australia to see my family, that much is certain. And how would I carve out a career for myself when my domestic responses balloon and I only get older and more out of touch with the professional world? All of these questions undoubtedly have solutions, but not without considerable compromises along the way. I can’t help but wonder, would it be irresponsible to have a third? A whimsical desire attended to with no real respect for the pragmatics of the situation? My intrinsic mantra of “it’ll work out” no longer seems appropriate within such a context.
And yet, almost five months into the life of my son and I am already mourning his milestones. At the risk of sounding utterly clichéd, it all goes so fast. The somewhat premature conclusion of breastfeeding was hard for me to accept, partly because I felt it might be the last time I ever do it. Clearing out the first few stages of his clothing provoked an existential crisis – my immediate thought was to give it all to charity, but then part of me thought to keep it, just in case… When his BCG inoculation blistered, busted and oozed, I began to pine; would this be the last horrific boil I gained morbid satisfaction from?
The battle is set, it would seem. Over the next few months we will see which side – emotion or pragmatism – prevails. Early child-rearing seems fraught with paradoxes: one is impatient to attain each new stage of development and yet with each triumph comes a contradictory concoction of excitement and melancholy, not to mention rampant consumerism. There is a tingle of delight on the day I purchase the size three nappies in Sainsbury’s rather than the two, or reach for the pouches of food rather than simply tins of formula (although it has to be said that this small nugget of newness in my sad, uneventful little world is more about me than my baby). As I watch him learn to grab things or find his voice, I feel ecstatic – my overzealous remarks no doubt nauseating for onlookers – but at the same time, somewhere inside me there is a dull ache or sick feeling as I register that this may be the last time I get to experience this very specific moment of joy.
*Largely the cause for the hiatus in posts. Although a visiting mother, five week trip to Oz and just generally mental furriness helped.
+Artwork by Laura Titchener. All rights reserved.