That is the question.
I do not know whether I will post this, or keep it up for long. It feels a bit personal, and also a bit obnoxious. But whenever I can’t bring myself to write a lifeless piece for the sake of writing one, I ask myself: what are you thinking about most right now? Write about that.
What am I thinking about most right now? Whether we need any more children.
Or do I mean ‘want’? That’s the issue, isn’t it? Do we want more? Do we need more? The answers might not be the same. The fact that the answer to the question ‘Can we have more?’ is almost certainly ‘yes’ puts us in a position of impossible privilege from the start. Even having this conversation fills me with guilt. It is more trivial, heartbreakingly so, than lots of other conversations women are forced to have about family planning.
What this is really about is the fear of missed opportunity, of making a decision that I might regret and cannot be reversed. That’s not the case with many choices in life, I think. You can retrain in the field you always wanted, change jobs, move house, end toxic relationships and find new ones. The possibility is there, even if it takes time and emotional resources. But you can’t get much past forty-five and decide you wanted more children after all, because the ole uterus has already shut up shop. Is there a comparable point-of-no-return decision for men? I’m not sure there is.
What a needle-sharp pressure that is for women. Tick-tock, goes the clock. Do you want children? Are you in a position to have them? Would you rather not? Either way, judgement. Either way, the clock ticks.
I had always envisioned having a big family. I’m from a tight-knit foursome and Tim is one of five. As it turns out, imagining possible future children is not the same as growing and birthing them. That stuff is hard. Having two children close together, though it was a deliberate choice, is hard too. We are only juuuuust getting to a stage where the boys play together, and one of them can be trusted most of the time not to do things that endanger his life. Most of the time. If that doesn’t seem like much of a gain, trust me: it’s huge.
In lots of ways this is a lovely phase. They still think I’m the coolest, but I’m not running between them like a rabid monkey so often. They have personalities, tiny obsessions, speech. Watching them learn things and interact with each other is out-and-out delight. My very favourite part of the day is when we roll in from school, I make them a drink and a snack, and we sit at the table and talk. It’s the sort of enjoyment I could not have imagined back in the days of newborn+toddler, where they never left me for a moment and where I would cry from exhaustion that felt like it could never be fixed.
They’re still hard work (they are four and two, after all). But we’re climbing out of chaos for the first time in some years, and part of me is not over-anxious to leap back in there. Google ‘three kids are the most stressful’ and you’ll get pages of articles including sentences like ‘Some days I really wonder if I’ve lost my mind’, and ‘everything was turned upside down’ and ‘I do not feel like I have it all together’. A proper confidence boost.
Then there’s the fact that I have my body to myself now. No sickness, no womb occupation, no saggy sore postpartum body, no weeping over the pain and stress and failure of breastfeeding: I am only myself now, with kids. I am enjoying that too.
And yet. And yet. And yet times one million.
And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re a person down. And yet, the dynamics of a big family feel the most natural to me – I can’t fathom what my life would be like minus two brothers, for example. And yet, looking at babies is starting to make me hurt. And yet I imagine myself, one day, realising that I did want more, need more, could have had more, and I left it too late out of fear.
What I want, deep down, is for the good stuff never to change. I can’t bear to think of the small happinesses of today moving on when the boys do. But of course they will, whether or not I want them to. So I suppose the direction we go is up to us.