Eventually, of course, the Mother made the fatal mistake and asked, “Why, why, why can’t you just have one?” Of course, she’d wish she’d never asked.
“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.
“There’ll be no one to look up to him. Only children are just a bit different. 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 be a grandma.”
“A grandma?” Jesus I’d never even thought about that. Even just saying the word made her feel old.
People would often make a comment and then follow it up with an anecdotal tale about a mad man or dictator who happened to be an only child.
“You know who was an only child, don’t you?” they would say. 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.” That 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 with her son. Perhaps she would never have had kids at all. Yes, and perhaps that was why she’d never been told. Like the side effects of childbirth, wetting yourself when you sneeze, or laugh, or jump it was something you only discovered after you’d had a child.
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 with young children, but not when she’s breastfeeding.
One Saturday morning in May, the Mother woke up feeling queasy. She immediately ran to the toilet to be sick. None of this was an unusual occurrence for a Saturday morning. Her partner looked at her puffy face as she emerged from the bathroom and said, “Christ, what were you drinking last night?”
“Tea,” said the Mother in indignation, “and I had some home-made carrot cake, I went around Larissa’s, didn’t I?”
“Maybe it was something she put into 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, warm and silent, like a floatation tank. Down there, she could barely hear the noise of her mind whirring and worrying.
But when she came back up, she was carrying an extra half a stone, and that was just on her tits. She had no choice – a trip to Boots was in order.
This time around, it was a much nicer experience, not because she was really excited and couldn’t wait to find out if she was expecting again. No, but because this time, at least she got to do it in the comfort of her own bathroom rather than a public toilet. Sitting comfortably on a soft pile M&S bath rug was definitely preferable to sitting in a vandalised public toilet with one foot wedged against the door.
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. She cautiously waited a few more minutes just in case there was any change but after another five minutes, she was still pregnant.
The time had come to tell Jason. She wanted to make sure he was sitting down and in a good mood when she told him. That night, she got lucky, again! When she came home late from work, he was lying on the sofa, drunk, wearing only his jeans. The parallel, of course, was not wasted on her, but given the gravity of the situation, it felt too soon for jokes.
He took the news surprisingly well, although she thought she might have heard him mutter, “Christ not again, please not again?!” But maybe it was her imagination.
At least this time around, she knew what to expect. It still felt like a juggernaut was about to hit her, but at least she knew it was coming.
Knowing what lay ahead, the Mother began to do everything she could to make life easier after the baby was born. She happened to be working as a supply teacher, and therefor would be entitled to zero pounds maternity pay. This meant she needed to save every penny and was going to have to work for as long as she possibly could.
Being heavily pregnant and working presents its own set of problems wherever you work. When you work in a school, these difficulties include stress, standing for a large part of the day, and a lack of opportunities to go to the loo. But there is a far greater issue facing pregnant teachers and teaching assistants across the land – stairs. Bloody great flights of them. The Mother knew there must be schools in London without stairs, she’d just never actually worked in one.
Generally speaking, the older the school, the more stairs it had. Victorian architects had clearly given little thought to the needs of working women in their third trimester. They were far too preoccupied with creating elaborate interiors, bay windows and ridiculously high ceilings.
The Mother happened to be working at Oliver Goldsmith Primary in Peckham at the time. The school was built in 1899 – huh, you do the math. The place had more stairways, corridors, and turrets than Hogwarts. Her class, of course, was on the top floor. One day when returning from morning break, she had to stop and sit down on the stairs. A black knitted shawl partially concealed her massive bump.
A concerned and caring teacher stopped and looked at her. She recognised him from the staffroom. At five foot five, he stood as tall as her, or maybe I should say as short as her. Also, like her, he was part of a generation of children who had been taught using blackboards and the threat of violence. In those distant days, chalk had two purposes – firstly to write on the blackboard and secondly for the teacher to throw at your face if you weren’t listening.
The Mother liked this man, he was old school. He often made her a tea in the morning and called her ma’am or miss when he couldn’t remember her name. But never did he refer to her as “the supply”.
“Are you OK?” he asked in a strong Scouse accent, which had not softened for all his years in London.
“I’m fine,” replied the Mother. Then he said, “If you don’t mind me asking, exactly how pregnant are you?” Ah, now that was the six-million-dollar question.
“About five months,” she offered.
He did not look convinced, and nor was she.
She never did make it back to her class that day, and baby number two was born before her timesheet had even been processed. This time after the birth, when she said, “I’m never doing that again,” she truly meant it.