How do you know when your family is complete? I wasn’t sure until recently, but now I do. Well, I think I do. No, I know I do. Most of the time anyway.
I’m pretty sure the way you feel is that you’re glad you’ve got your body back. It may not look quite the same, but it has survived the rigours of multiple pregnancies and childbirths, and it is now back to being fit and strong. And it is my own, it’s not nourishing anybody except me and all the weight and whatever else I gained and lost is a thing of the past. And I’ll take a few battle-scars, they were worth it and, besides, I’m proud of myself for being tough enough to bring two new lives into the world.
I’m also pretty sure you feel glad you’ve got your brain back. Granted, sometimes life with two pre-schoolers robs me of the ability to think straight, but the true Baby Brain years are behind me now. And what with the extra time available to me with the girls at kinder three mornings a week, I am actually working – using my brain and earning money to boot.
I’m pretty sure you look around at your perfect family, more beautiful than you ever dreamed of, and think you’d better quit while you’re ahead. What more could I have wished for than two healthy, thriving, intelligent, happy, gorgeous children? I don’t underestimate the lucky star that has shone on me these last four years. And yet…it almost didn’t work out this way. I don’t mean the kids, the kids were always perfect. I mean me. I almost wasn’t here to see all this; I almost wasn’t here to be a mother at all. Bringing my girls into this world was rough on me, and I nearly didn’t make it through. And now I’m here and I love my life and I’m more important to other people than ever, I can’t risk anything going wrong that means I’m taken out of the equation. Not being here for my girls, missing out on anything that happens in their lives, is now my greatest fear. This is probably the best reason I can think of not to go down that road again.
But there are other reasons. You get older and wiser, and you start to think about how much money this whole show costs to run. They eat, they need clothes and shoes; there is an endless parade of birthdays and Christmases. And every time you thought it wasn’t possible, you love your children even more. So you find yourself wanting to give them the things they need, the things they want (not all of them, but the reasonable requests), and right now there’s no end in sight. Soon there’ll be hobbies, sporting pursuits, school trips and, before we know it, university and then (gulp) weddings. And we’ll want to be there to help, just as our parents were for us.
I was thinking about this recently, when my cleaning lady told me she was pregnant with her fourth child. The thing is I know that money is short for her, and I found myself thinking: FOUR? Are you nuts? Here’s me with a lot more money than her and I already feel like I’m not going to be able to give my girls everything I would like to. How does she plan to manage? What will she do if one of them asks her to support them through medical school? Of course I didn’t say any of these things to her, but it did get me thinking. Maybe it simply comes down to expectations; maybe it’s a case of feeling that we need to give back at least as much (preferably more) than we were given ourselves. Our parents set the bar pretty high. In general baby boomers have been able to give their children comfortable childhoods, generous allowances, support for study and maybe even a little leg-up on the property ladder. Realistically I’m not sure if as many of the current generation of parents with young children will be able to be as helpful. At least by limiting myself to two children, I can give myself a cat in hell’s chance of being able to be there for my girls in a tight spot the way my parents have been for me.
But when I reacted in horror to my cleaner’s announcement (I’m sure I wasn’t able to control my facial muscles) I was also thinking about her family situation. I know her husband would fall into the general category of ‘no good’. He doesn’t seem to have a job, and there are rumours that he isn’t faithful or kind. So while I stood there grimacing I was wondering what had possessed her to bring another child into that house. It’s bad enough that the existing children have to deal with it on a daily basis, let alone making it the reality for yet another young soul.
Look, I realise I’m not making myself look good here. I promise I am not trying to suggest that people with less money and dodgy home lives shouldn’t have children. Of course they should if they want to. I remember talking to someone a while ago about their decision not to have children, and their position, basically, was: What kind of world is this to bring children into? To which I could only respond honestly: But what kind of world would it be if they didn’t?
But it is thinking about this, about the kind of family situation you provide for your children, that occasionally makes me wobble on my resolve to stop at two. Sometimes I look around at my happy, blessed, fun-filled family and I think: this is too good to keep to ourselves. There’s enough joy and love here to spare, to share around a little more. Sometimes I remember that I always wanted three, that palm readers and fortune tellers always told me I would, that I used to love the feeling of sitting round the table with a large and noisy family and be sure I wanted that for myself.
The thing is somewhere along the line that changed. Back in the days I thought I wanted a big family I wasn’t yet a mother. I had no idea how much incredible joy and love it brings, but also what it costs you in so many ways, what it takes out of you physically to bring a baby into this world and on a daily basis over the course of the years. Probably a lot of people are stronger than me, better at it all, but I know my limits. I know when I should quit when I am more ahead than I ever dreamed I’d be.
So I do know I don’t want more kids – my two precious girls are going to create more than enough excitement (and noise!) for me, and I am going to invest everything I have into them. And what do I even have to invest? The change in my pocket, a little flat in Gateshead – not much at all. But there’s more than that; there’s me. There’s the fact that every fibre of me is totally and utterly devoted to them, there’s the fact that I will always do whatever I can to make them happy, there’s the fact that nothing, NOTHING, will ever stop me getting to them if they’re in trouble. And having two people in this world I feel that way about is more than enough for me; I don’t think I could take a third. So my two girls, my legacy, my project, have got my undivided attention and resources for life, and whatever they intend to do with them is none of my business. It just better be something that makes them happy, or there’ll be hell to pay.