Jennifer O’Connell: Third-baby broodiness is a slippery beast
It waits in the wings and creeps up on you, just when you thought you were done with nappies
“I found myself binge-watching episodes of One Born Every Minute and furtively looking up baby name chat forums.” Photograph: Mike Harrington/Getty Images
A tiny yellow hat. That’s what did it in the end.
I was only ever having two children. I had them in a rush, at the beginning of my 30s. There was hardly time to draw breath between them.
The first birth was easy, the kind that makes you feel you could do this again. “I could do this again,” I told my husband in the delivery suite.
“We don’t normally hear that round here,” the midwife said, in a tone that warned of the pride that inevitably comes before a fall.
The fall came 18 months later, when I was giving birth to my second. The phrase “giving birth” was, in this case, criminally misleading. This birth was no gift to either of us. “Birthed him,” is closer – rawer, a bit more suggestive of the brutality of the experience. He was lovely and ferocious and frighteningly small, and I dressed him in a miniature yellow hat.
After that, I was not having any more children. I told everyone who would listen. I announced it on national radio, when Dave Fanning asked during a discussion about babies. “Oh no. I’m done, Dave,” I told him.
A friend, who’d had two babies at the same time as me, called me afterwards. “You’re not really done, are you?”
“I’m done,” I said. “Done-done. DONE.”
Feeding the ducksThe years went by in a blur of nappies and reflux and giggles and bouts of pneumonia and feeding the ducks and double buggies and babyish drawings and first days at playschool and Mother’s Day cards and trenchant opposition to carrots and sleepless nights and small hands in mine.
The friend who had called me went on to have two more babies. My resolve held.
As my mid-30s waned, I found myself binge-watching episodes of One Born Every Minute. My husband wanted to know what I was doing. “I’m reminding myself why we’re not having any more,” I said, snivelling into a tissue, as he backed slowly towards the door.
Still my resolve held. Sometimes, I would take my phone into the bathroom, and furtively look up baby name chat forums. In the back of my Filofax, I kept a list of names and middle names for the baby we were definitely not having.
People agonise about whether to have their first child. You never hear anyone agonising about their third. But for me, that’s when it got tricky.
You have the first child because, once you’ve decided in principle to have children and you’re lucky enough to be able to do so, you have to start somewhere. You have the second child if you want the first to have a sibling, and if luck is again on your side. But third-baby broodiness is a slippery beast. It waits in the wings and then it creeps up on you, just when you thought you were finished with nappies and potties and Peppa Pig for good.
AmbushI didn’t recognise it as broodiness. I thought I was just being nosy when I would meet people with more than two children, and ambush them with questions. How did they decide how many to have? How did they know? You just know when your family isn’t complete, they would say. But that was the problem. I had no idea.
I turned 38. Thirty-eight, I had decided somewhat arbitrarily years before, when the likelihood of me even reaching such an advanced age seemed remote, was my cut-off. My resolve held.
We prepared to move to Australia. When I was packing up my son’s room, I found the tiny yellow hat, folded away in tissue paper in a drawer. And in that moment, my resolve shattered.
I said nothing, and waited for the feeling – this madness I knew must be temporary – to pass. Months later, over dinner, we discussed again all the reasons why having another baby, at this stage in our lives, would not be prudent – economically, environmentally, because of our travel plans, because of the age gap, because my previous baby was premature, because of the size of our car.
“So that’s it, then?” I said. “We’re agreed. We’re done.”
“Done-done,” he said.
Gnawing hungerTwo or three weeks later, I felt a familiar, uneasy feeling, a gnawing hunger that wouldn’t go away. I went to the chemist. There they were. Two blue lines.
Her head, when she finally arrived, was in the 98th centile. The tiny yellow hat, the hat that had cleaved me in two, was much too small. She was lovely, even without it. I looked at her, all dark eyelashes and dimples, and wondered why something so right had ever seemed complicated.
At my last appointment with my obstetrician in Australia – a man so dedicated to the art of populating the planet, he once climbed out of the boot of a hijacked, burning car and opted to go the labour ward instead of the emergency department – told me I was in perfect shape.
“For what?” I asked.
“For number four,” he said.
“Oh no, I’m done, Dr Tan, ” I told him. And I finally, miraculously, meant it.