The first time I left the house after my daughter was born, she was six days old. Everything was scary. Putting her tiny weird bendy body into the car seat and then strapping said car seat into the car felt like the worst thing I could possibly be doing. Pre-baby, I’d never given much thought to cars, but now I saw them for what they really were: two-tonne metal death vessels.
We got to the supermarket and began the rigmarole of removing her from the car seat, folding her into the sling, my partner supporting me as I hobbled to the front doors (nothing says 'I just gave birth' like that John Wayne walk, amirite?). As I leant against the trolley, feeling a slug of blood pool in my maternity knickers, I heard a faint cawing from behind me. I glanced round and the squawking got louder until two old women descended upon me, pulling back the fabric of the carrier to get a good look at baby’s face.
"TINY!" they shouted. "VERY SMALL!"
"She is tiny, yes," I said. "Very small."
"6lb 9," I stuttered.
"LOVELY!" The first old lady slapped my husband on the arm. "BETTER GET STARTED ON BABY NUMBER TWO THEN!"
Five weeks later, I was in the doctor's surgery and my GP was poking my child’s scrawny legs. "Perfect," she said. "Now. Contraception. Pill? Patch? Have you thought about the implant?"
"Not really," I said weakly, wondering whether to remind her that she’d literally just examined my stitches. "I’m n-"
"You know I have four children," she told me confidentially, "and I always found the best way to get over a traumatic birth is to have another baby."
What is it with other people’s obsession with women who have procreated, procreating further? There’s an urgency to their encouragement; strangers, friends and family alike, they’re all at it, all certain that women who have had a baby need to have another baby, like, yesterday.
As someone who is one-baby-down-no-plans-for-another-one-just-yet-thank-you-very-much, please allow me to break down all the reasons why asking anyone when they’re going to have their next baby is pretty insensitive.
Firstly, there’s the fact that having a baby isn’t easy. Getting pregnant in the first place can be incredibly hard for lots of couples, and in some cases, if a woman has suffered a miscarriage or has endured multiple rounds of IVF to fall pregnant, her emotional strength may be severely depleted after one baby. I heard a fellow mum’s voice break at playgroup once when someone mentioned having another. "It took me quite a while to get him here," she said, looking at her son, "and I just want to enjoy him now."
In fact, pregnancy itself puts such an enormous physical and emotional demand on women’s bodies that the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends leaving a minimum of 24 months between pregnancies (not between children) in order to give new mothers sufficient time to recover.
Oh, and then there's the childbirth. It is estimated that in the UK, each year around 20,000 mothers are left with PTSD after giving birth. Secondary tokophobia – the fear of giving birth again due to a previous difficult childbirth – is a real thing. It isn’t an especially pleasant undertaking for anyone, so there’s a fairly high chance that the random woman you accost on the street about 'baby number two' isn’t much interested in repeating the experience any time soon. Even women who have straightforward pregnancies, births and postnatal experiences are owed some privacy and a bit of time to ease themselves into motherhood.
In spite of the nine months you get to prepare, becoming a mum forces you to take on an entirely new identity. For most people, it’s an incredibly difficult adjustment. Over 10% of mothers experience postnatal depression and with cuts to services, the number of visits new families receive from health visitors has been dramatically stripped back, leaving very few opportunities for diagnosis and help.
Though raising children can be a wonderful experience for lots of people, it isn’t for everyone, and for whatever reason, some parents may choose to stop at one. Contrary to myths perpetuated by Victorian pseudo-science, only children do just fine. Actually, studies show that only children can have higher levels of creativity – which will come as a relief to those of us for whom having another baby is simply not an option financially.
Money is another hugely sensitive issue when it comes to having more kids. "You’re meant to look after them for how long?? And it’s going to cost us HOW much?" were a couple of things that went through my mind when I read this report which reckons that the cost of raising a child over a 21-year period will top £200,000. No matter what your mum says about "babies just needing love and somewhere warm to sleep", never forget that babies turn into teenagers and Nikes aren’t cheap.
Then, of course, there are those people who are choosing not to have second or third children – and some who are choosing to opt out of childrearing altogether – on account of the serious implications for the planet of having multiple kids. Environmental experts are pleading with parents to think of the long-term impact of having a third or fourth child, given the carbon emissions that each person accrues in their life.
Basically, what I mean is, there's a huge number of reasons why someone isn't ready or doesn't want baby number two. And, depending on the circumstances, encouraging them to "get on with it" can be at best annoying, at worst, deeply upsetting.
In the meantime, the other day I accidentally stumbled across my perfect response to people whose lives are so boring that they care about my ovulation patterns. "She needs a brother or sister," an unnamed family member commented. "She obviously loves babies." My daughter does love babies, it’s true. Her first word was "baby" and she goes into absolute meltdown mode whenever she sees anyone under the age of 12, screaming "BABYBABYBABY" in their faces.
But in one of those beautiful moments that I spend most of my life dreaming of, the clapback just fell out of my mouth. "She does love babies," I agreed, "but… she loves attention more." I held my hands out in an imaginary scale. "Sibling... Attention... Sibling... Attention. I think she’d pick attention." And unlike a sibling, you can’t argue with that.