“Is this your first baby” the nurse asked as I handed her my urine sample wrapped in a sodden tissue. I took a sip of water and allowed for a very pregnant pause.
“No” I cleared my throat “my third”
Holy Fuck! Only as I finally heard myself speak the words for the first time, did I believe them. I was having a third child. How did this happen I thought to myself. (I was rolling up my sleeve for my blood sample, I’m still not comfortable at giving blood so I feigned intense interest in the poorly painted sea landscape image too far to my right; I had to strain my neck to focus on it)
Only then, 14 weeks pregnant and having just ended an intimate 8 week relationship with the toilet bowl had I begun to raise my head beyond the level of the bottle of domestos to think about the reality of a third child.
We were certain everyone thought we were nuts. There was of course the usual sing song of “congratulations” and even the occasional “was it planned” (subtext – “oh dear, did your recreational bedroom antics accidentally result in your husband impregnating you?”)
My mother was shocked. But she was shocked each time I told her I was pregnant. As the middle (and misunderstood) child I’m sure she thought I was destined to become an intrepid explorer covering areas of the rainforest previously undiscovered, enduring bites from mammouth mosquitos and drinking my own urine. Although there has been moments of parenthood when it’s felt this desolate; when getting to the kitchen for a drink has felt like a penultimate scene in He-man as I drag my lifeless body through the house “Must…reach…sword…of…omen”
Motherhood was not something I was destined for in my mother’s eyes, I was the wild child, the one who went against the norm; I had never conformed to what society expected of me yet there I was, knocked up for the third time looking at the nurse surreptitiously wiping my wee off her hand.
“But Nina, you’ve just got Bodhi off to school” were my mums wise but wasted words when I broke the news of the third child to her (“We thought you were going to say you were moving abroad” was the response when we told the fam we were pregnant the first time. Our second pregnancy news was an extension of the word ‘what’ with far too many a’s and went on for 3 extra seconds too long)
It only feels like five minutes ago when we were living our lives for ourselves. Self-employed and living in the Richmond Upon Thames, work ended at 12pm for me and then I was free. Free to play badminton until my wrist burnt, free to swim endlessly with only the silent counting of my lengths to contend with, free to sit next to the river and contemplate my relatively uncomplicated life. And when those activities no longer captivated my carefree mind, it was home for a well earned siesta and tea in bed with the Weakest Link.
Children were always on the agenda. Like every couple we imagined our lives as parents to be much like an Aptimal commercial. Terry towled cladded infant being gently lulled to sleep by a calm and fully dressesed parent. The reality was alarmingly comparative: wailing infant flailing arms in every direction, my engorged breasts spurting milk into her cross colicely face as I grapple, dressed only in pants and nursing bra for something that resembles clothing.
To quote the line from that once red faced wailing infant’s now favourite film, Matilda, “Babies? You’re better off raising tomatoes”. It’s true that babies are a minefield. You’re constantly guessing and the level of patience required to calm a screaming infant was completely off our radar. Far from our Aptimal commercial image and more a post apocalyptic scene from a Mad Max movie.
So having experienced hell on earth twice already why would we possibly want to bring another baby into the world?
Because no one has a perfect life, because there is no perfect time to attempt any life changing project, you just have to take a deep breath and go for it. I am wise enough to know that behind every perfect profile picture and album of images on social is a true reality of life. Like that swan that glides gracefully across the river, underneath his legs are paddling like hell. We’re all just trying to stay afloat in our own desperate crazy way. It’s the same for every individual who doesn’t have an entourage of nannies, gardeners, housekeepers and chefs to keep their lives running smoothly. I mean who doesn’t enjoy that sinking feeling after rummaging through mount laundry for 15 minutes shushing a fractious infant in one arm to find something that vaguely resembles an outfit, only to realise the only pair of trousers that fit you are wedged down the side of laundry basket and in fact, never made it to the wash. I sometimes muse that I wouldn’t want it any other way. Why would I want a breakfast platter of fruit served and cleared away by a fresh faced nanny when I can only just get round to scraping the welded Weetabix off a high chair by 5pm. Then I slap myself around the face and buy thee more lines on the Lotto.
So how did we end up as parents of three? As a couple, the one thing that has bound us is our outlook on life: slightly out of focus and never quite arriving where we were heading. We’ve always been a slightly left of the middle, fly by the seat of our pants kinda couple. We’ve never been the types to plan things meticulously, make 5 year plans or talk about the ‘what ifs’.
Our Aptimal outlook on life predicted at least 3. In fact I have vague recollections of late night vodka fulled musings of four possibly 5 kids. We romantically imagined our Larkin Family life in A Darling Buds of May scenario wiping icing sugar off the noses of our pink cheeked brood. The stark reality was arguing in stage whispers at 3am over whether the first born was being rocked back to sleep too furiously and who had stepped on the creaky floorboard to wake her in the first place.
But two was never really an option. It was too blah, too ‘not really us’. We both silently looked on at the two kids and thought ‘There’s not many of them?’
As the woman, I knew I wasn’t done. I had heard women say “no, that’s it, i’m done, no more kids for me” and I could hear the certainty in their voice. But I needed to feel the weight of a new born in my arms again, to experience that slow contented first breastfeed of the night when baby is still dreaming.
We craved the cuteness again. We longed to hear more mispronounced words, we wanted to hear them say they couldn’t get in the bath because they weren’t ‘maked’ yet. We yearned for more little sticky hands cupped around our chin, breathless husky requests for ‘spaceboots that fly’ whispered in our ear.
Because for all the messy inconvenient crazy chaos children bring, they completely take your heart hostage with their unconditional love. They are forgiving of your downfalls and inabilities to hold your shit together. They make you realise that you can always be a better version of yourself. Because they remind us how to have fun and live in the moment. “Play with me mummy” as I tear my agitated gaze away from the decomposing courgette at the bottom of the salad tray and lay myself out on the floor with my four year old.
But beneath all of that, it was always going to be three. I am one of three as is Chris. Three feels like family. I collected 5 perfectly white smooth stones from the beach and laid them on the window sill years ago and I knew we were not yet complete as a family.
I also knew when we three siblings rallied around my mum the weeks after the sudden death of my dad, each playing out our roles, that there was something special about 3 children. There was always one of us there to help her make an awkward phone call, walk with her to the shop or make sure she ate something that day. I wanted that for us as we got older. I wanted to know that if one of them was off trekking the Andes and fulfilling my neglected role of intrepid explorer, that I had another two to cook a Sunday roast for.
Now he’s here, the final baby and once I look past the 3 hours sleep per night I get and the mounting stack of unread books and neglected piles of admin, I can see that through all our years of winging it, for once we got it right. We had a blurry vision of something and we made it happen. But I also know I am now that woman who can say with conviction, that I’m done. We are a family of 5, we have three kids and it feels right.