Several years have passed, and the mother is finally on an even keel again. She has lost her baby weight, is working full-time, has some savings and even goes to the pub and drinks beer sometimes. Sorry, make those beers, Christ it’s lovely being able to have more than one pint.
The baby sling has gone, along with the cot and the Phil&Teds pushchair. Even the punk rock lullabies CD has been well, packed away, she couldn’t bear to part with that. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever laid in the bath, drinking while wine listening to London Calling played on the Glockenspiel? Life doesn’t get much more relaxing than that. There’s no way that was going to the charity shop.
Some mornings she actually woke up with joy in her soul, or at least something vaguely resembling it. For the hardest part was over, or at least so she naively thought. It was around that time that she first started to hear, ‘The Rumour,’ a whisper at first, but gradually that whisper got louder. The whisper wasn’t an accusation, a threat or even an insult. It was just a question, and yet it felt worse than all three of these things.
The first time she heard it clearly was in the park. She happened ti There was rustling in the trees, children’s laughter, parents chattering and the sound of the Peckham overland train in the distance. But yet above all that, she distinctly heard it. She heard it and her knees went weak.
It was almost a year later before someone actually asked her the question directly. She happened to be at a children’s party with her son at the time. The host wasn’t a parent she particularly like, the mum was a bit stuck up if she was being honest. But there was plenty of food and wine so instead of just dropping her son off, she stayed. But then came the question. “Is it just the one you have?” said a suspiciously fit and sprightly mother of three. “Yes, I have a son” “Hum” Hum, what did that mean, what kind of response was hum?
The mother didn’t like where this was heading. She particularly didn’t like the ‘just’ either. Didn’t she have her work cut out already? She and her partner were busy trying to bring up a healthy well-balanced child. They were both working. They’d made several trips to Lego Land with their child and let me tell you that doesn’t come cheap. They’d sent nauseating ‘family photo’ Christmas cards to relatives every year Christ, they’d even adopted a cat, wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t one child ample? According to this bunch of know-it-all mothers, no, it wasn’t.
And it wasn’t just them either. Her private life seemed to be up for discussion by every Tom Dick and Harriet. Work colleagues, friends, even her own relatives got on board. At family gatherings, she’d be asked, “When are you planning to have your next one?” or sometimes less formally, “You’ll have to get a move on, you know, you’re not getting any younger.” To this, she was always tempted to say something along the lines of, “I’m not planning on anymore; I don’t want my child to have a sibling. I want my son to be like Elvis, but from Peckham.” But instead, she usually just told overbearing aunties and pissed grandparents to piss off and mind their own business.
One uncle, in particular, approached the mother at a wedding and said, “You need to get on with it, and make that young man a little brother or sister?” “Do I though?” asked the mother. Since when were you in charge of my ovaries. “Yes, you do, haven’t you noticed that only children grow up a bit, you know……odd.” Hum, someone’s been on the Sherry. Well, that’s rich coming from you thought the mother, you’ve got three siblings uncle fucking Bulgaria and you’re still a freak and a social outcast. Should I say that thought the mother, at a wedding? Maybe not, maybe later, after I’ve had a few more drinks.
The phrase, just the one was banded about in her direction so often, that she was made to feel like she had some kind of illness or condition. What was disconcerting was that she always felt compelled to respond to these remarks. Like, she had to defend herself and her decision to have one child, even to people she barely knew. Over time she began to work on a series of appropriate responses.
“Oh, yes, I just have the one. After my son was born, I gave all my eggs away to charity,” the mother would tell people. Or: “Well, I did want another one, but they are so bloody expensive, don’t you find? I mean children today; they want the moon on a fucking stick, don’t they? I want to be able to spend some money on myself for a change. There are things that I need like my bank account to not be constantly in the red. I also wouldn’t mind a night out once in a while, perhaps with a stunningly handsome yet politically active, male escort. Of course, I’m joking I don’t mean that. A male or female escort will do, I’m not fussed these days.
To top it all, who were the worst offenders, the most vocal of all the ‘You can’t just have one’ brigade? People with no fucking kids at all, that’s who. Eventually, of course, the mother made the fatal mistake of asking, “Why, why, why can’t you just have one?” Boy, would she regret that. What follows is a compilation of the answers she received. A medially if you will. “Only children grow up lonely. They become selfish, rude and arrogant. Throughout their childhood, they have no one to argue with.” Huh, like that’s a bad thing. “If you don’t have any more kids, who is there to look up to your firstborn, you know make them feel like a trailblazer. Then there’s the guilt, knowing one day your child will be all alone in the world. And what if they don’t have kids of their own? Then you will never get to be a grandma.” A grandma, Christ I’m struggling just being a mother at the moment!
People would often make some half-arsed comment. Then follow it up with some anecdotal evidence about the danger involved in having one child. “You know who was an only child, don’t you?” But she’d learnt to always get in first, “Ah yeah, hang on I know this one, was it Hitler no, not Hitler, I think it was Atilla the Hun, maybe oh and Jesus, he was definitely an only child.” They sensed her sarcasm and it usually shut them up.
The mother often wondered what she would have done if she’d heard the ‘you can’t just have one’ rule before getting pregnant in the first place. Perhaps she would never have had kids at all. Yes, and perhaps that was why she’d never been told. Just like the long-lasting effects of childbirth such as wetting yourself when you sneeze, laugh or jump. This was something you only discovered after you’d had a kid. Yep, it did seem like this rule was like Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe, the best-kept secret in the world!
Anyway, the mother was perfectly happy with one, she wasn’t planning on having any more. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans, and if you don’t, just ask a mother but not while she’s breastfeeding a baby on the upstairs deck whilst also trying to get her four-year-old into their ballet clothes.
One Saturday morning in May, the mother woke up feeling queasy and immediately ran to the toilet to be sick. Now, this wasn’t an unusual occurrence for the mother, it just happened to be unexpected for this particular Saturday. Christ, it was at least a week since she’d been anywhere near a pint of Kronenberg, well it was almost a week. Her partner looked at her puffy face as she emerged from the bathroom and asked, “Christ, what were you drinking last night?” “Tea,” she said in mock indignation, “and I had some homemade carrot cake, I went round Larissa’s, didn’t I?” “Maybe it was something she put in the cake,” suggested Jason, shrugging. Yep, or maybe it was something you put in my vagina a couple of months ago,” thought the mother.
For a staggering three months, she toyed with the idea of buying a pregnancy test but decided instead to bury her head in the sand. (Those things were only 99 % accurate anyway). It was lovely down in the sand, so warm and silent. She just kept pretending she was in a floatation tank. But when she came back up, she was carrying an extra half a stone, and that was just on her tits. She had no other option, a trip to Superdrug loomed large.
This time around, doing the test was a much nicer experience. Not because she was really excited and couldn’t wait to find out if she expecting. No, but because this time, at least she got to carry out this ‘urine experiment’ in the comfort of her own bathroom. Not that her son’s pregnancy test many years ago hadn’t been an unforgettable experience in its own unique way. Sitting on a broken toilet at Peterborough Station trying to push the door shut with one hand, and inadvertently pissing on the other hand. While desperately trying to get at least some of the wee on the test and not drop the whole bloody thing down the bog.
After just three minutes, the test revealed two distinct red lines. Fuck it, it was positive. Well, positive at least in one way. The stick had spoken — she was pregnant. Cautiously she waited a few more minutes just in case there was any change but after another five minutes, she was still pregnant. Now normally she wasn’t one for sticking to convention, but it did feel like the next thing to do was tell her partner. Not right away of course, for she had to consider her timing, not that he bloody had that is! She wanted to make sure he was in a good mood and sitting down when she told him. But this didn’t happen for another three weeks.
Coming home late from work one night she found him lying on the sofa wearing just his jeans. He was clearly a bit pissed. The parallel, of course, was not wasted on her, but given the gravity of the situation, it was too soon for jokes. He took the news surprisingly well, although she thought she heard him mutter, “Great, there goes all my bloody savings then.” Perhaps not, perhaps it was just the wind blowing. Yes, the wind blowing through the gaps in the window frames.
At least this time around, she knew what to expect. She knew a juggernaut was about to hit her, but at least this time, she knew it was coming.