A year ago, my husband and I had one of the most important conversations of our marriage. It went as follows:
Me: Do you think we should have another baby? [We already had three children at this stage.]
Husband: Hmm. In for a penny, in for a pound. That’s what I say.
Me: No one says that. And exactly which one of our children is only going to cost us a pound?
Husband: Four would be great. [Says he who does not have to bear or breastfeed them].
I’d like to say that this brief exchange was laden with deeper meanings, subtext that only we could understand, layers of consideration and contemplation. Sadly not. In retrospect it seems we made this very important decision in less than 5 minutes. My husband usually needs 6 months to research and meditate on most decisions, so I have no idea what got into him on this particular night. Perhaps the football was starting in 10 minutes.
And so, in retrospect I would like to question my own reasons for wanting a fourth child. Let me start by polling my girlfriends on “Why 4 art thou?”:
(i) The trendy baby – apparently four is the new three
My mother chose my clothes until I left home. This means that I was the only 18 year old in smocking dresses, skivvies and batik prints. Whilst my friends were in stonewash denim and ruffle skirts, I often went to birthday parties looking like something out of an Enid Blyton book.
I think this upbringing stunted the development of my own sense of fashion, and my ability to accurately identify, read and emulate social trends of any sort. Four may be the new three, and three the new two, but I only know this because self-confessed trendy people have told me so.
(ii) The competitive fertility baby
I blame Angelina Jolie for this. She floats around with the United Nations at her heels and then effortlessly brings forth her own genetically perfect offspring like Ceres herself. And never once does she look like she’s been chucked-up on. What are the odds of that with 6 children?
Point (ii) is probably related to point (i). The theory goes that any one can have three children, but it takes a true superwoman to have more than that; to out-do the pack; to dare, bear, deliver and rear a fourth. I admit I am a very competitive person (see my post For whom the bell (curve) tolls) and have on occasion lost perspective in my desire to win. For example, I can be mean to my team members whilst playing Articulate, especially if they’re stupid (no one wants to be on my team any more). However, even I don’t regard fertility as a competition but as a blessing, randomly bestowed on some and even more randomly denied to others.
(iii) The Back to Work? No way baby.
At some point our children grow up and spend more time at school than at home. It happens remarkably quickly and despite our stated desire for this and for more time for ourselves, time to “reclaim our lives”, when the time arrives, we don’t know what life it is we would reclaim. May be our old life (and career) is irretrievably buried under the never-ending laundry pile. May be our confidence is buried there with it. May be there are about three jobs in the entire world that allow and enable you to be the kind of mother and the kind of employee you want to be. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of Womenomics, would argue there are limitless jobs like this because it comes down to your confidence in your power to demand them. At least I think that’s what their book says, I’ve lost it somewhere in my laundry pile. But every woman reaches this terrifying juncture and sometimes the fear of the unknown (work) outweighs the fear of the known (baby).
(iv) The patriotic baby
In 2006, Peter Costello, the then Treasurer urged Australians to have more children; to “have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country.” It seems I am a patriot and never to be outdone (see Competitive Fertility above) I have had two for the country. Or perhaps it is one for each country (Britain and Australia) whose citizenship I hold. When my fourth baby was born, my uncle (an ardent believer in a free and separate Tamil nation) congratulated me on bringing more Tamils into the world. It seems my civic duty extends to replenishing the diaspora and our ancestral village in Sri Lanka.
Finally, in search of reasons and even a rationale, I polled myself:
(i) Sibling empathy and envy
I have only one brother whom I absolutely adore. My husband also has one brother who is one of his best friends. Throughout my life I always wished that I had more of my brother and I envied those with many siblings. My theory is that by having multiple children, I am giving each of them more of the other. More siblings to support each other, make each other laugh and accept each other. It is a flawed theory, I know. They may all hate each other but here’s hoping otherwise.
(ii) Baby lust
We enjoyed all of our children and we simply enjoyed our third child too much. We were older, more comfortable and more relaxed parents. We fell completely in love with him and he gave us a false sense of confidence that we could do it again. He released some wretched hormone within us that gave us selective amnesia. We forgot all about the sleepless nights and the late night runs to A&E. We were stupid and I blame him completely for it.
There are times when the 6 year old, the 5 year old and the 21 month old are playing together beautifully, running around with their toy instruments, circling the Newborn who is wearing their tambourine on his head. It is very Von Trapp.
And then there are times when it is very Lord of the Flies.
Who knows why we thought it was a good idea at the time. It has been about 12 months since that fateful conversation, and three months since we had our Newborn, and I can honestly say it is still a good idea. An outstanding idea in fact.