I turn left onto Loudwater Lane. The road takes Little A and I down a hill. It's subtly steep - if I were to roll a palm full of marbles they would begin to bounce like hail stones half way down. My right trainer hovers cautiously over the brake pedal, 35 mph seems like a reasonable speed. It's one of those roads, where in the height of mid summer, the branches form a canopy - leaves stroking, tangling, shaking hands - like the tunnel of arms a just-married couple might walk under, confetti billowing around the limb-made arch. We drive slowly past a sign on a gate post that Little A insists on acknowledging every time we take this route. The colours seem quite out of place amongst the spring-fresh greens. It's a bright sign of Winnie the Pooh.
The car treads slowly around blind corners, on occasion just missing contact with larger vehicles travelling in the opposite direction. The road finally opens out, hugged by green fields, late cheery daffodils, the odd mansion-like house fit for a footballer's wallet.
It's 3 pm on a warm Thursday afternoon. We are on the final leg of the journey to our new home.
Little A has been in thought for a while, and then, in contrast to the burgeoning life around us, she makes three heart stopping statements...
"Mummy, if you die, it will just be me and Daddy."
"And then if Daddy dies, it will just be Mummy and me"
"And then if Mummy and Daddy die, I will be all on my own."
Inwardly, I weep and weep for her well thought logic. The penny dropping. #Thefactsoflife.
"Sweet heart. Don't worry. Mummy and Daddy are going to be around for a long time yet. We will still be here when you are all grown up. And there's granny and grandma and aunties and uncles and all your cousins and friends."
"When I'm all growed up? Oh good."
Oh God. When she turns 40, I will be 80. Deep, deep sighs.
In all likelihood, Little A isn't going to get that extra brother or that extra sister.
Oh I do get so, so broody when I see a bundle of pink or blue or yellow or green. I do have fantasies of breastfeeding on the sofa, of handing Little A the latest addition to our family - though this will probably be a puppy or kitten or gerbil or a ladybird in a matchbox.
I turn 43 the end of this year...
...This is my cut off point - mentally and emotionally - for conceiving another child.
But there's more to it than my physical age. I know, my cells know, that I can't risk a repeat of the last performance - a traumatic birth, post traumatic stress, anxiety, depression - a drama that still continues to play itself out. I am now pretty certain, just in need of medical validation, that I'm daily walking over the hot coals of general anxiety disorder, GAD for short. I panic like it's another cup of tea. I've had talking therapy, specific trauma focused therapy, I'm taking medication, even raised the dose of Citalopram during the house move. But still the invasive thoughts come - awful visions of Little A in a pick and mix of macabre deaths - crashing like waves at midnight. I think it's high time for anti-anxiety relief now. This has to stop. Did you know that I am a trained mental health professional? I like to think I know what I'm doing, that I understand myself. One thing I am fully sure of, is my brain chemistry is totally out of whack. Damn you progesterone. Damn you cortisol. Damn you adrenaline. I'm like an air traffic controller, on 24/7 vigilance, fight or flight every hour.
I've thought and felt about it all long and hard. I feel like one of those marbles rolling down the hill - I know the right course, I do, though I keep vacillating between "I want another one" to "Don't be a daft idiot, there's too much at stake". Little A and Younger Dad will be far, far better off with a mother and wife who is happy and functioning, not treading water, not balancing on nails, not stressing over every open window, every passing car. I never used to be like this....
And then there is the accompanying guilt and shame. I feel less than, under par as a woman and mother, that I am too weak, too ridiculous to have another one. I look at other mothers, those who have two or three or more - they are strong, they manage, are beacons of femininity, of mother hood. Yes, I harbour feelings of envy, of incompetence. Why did I get the faulty brain?
But I do know these self depreciating thoughts are nonsense, just can't quell them with a baby-soft blanket. The decision I am making, the one I am in grief over, is the right one for me and my family. And I know, I hope, that Little A is going to be okay - she is confident, social, so emotionally switched-on. I think the right thing to do is ask her whether she wants another sibling, or if she wants mummy and daddy all to herself. And to explain to her why mummy can't, that's it's not her, it's me, and that she is loved - always, always will be - by us, by her grand parents, by the rest of her extended family.
About six weeks ago or so, I shared a lovely evening with a very insightful friend over medium-rare steak and frites. I explained my dilemma, and she thoughtfully asked me the following questions...
"If I told you, you could never have another child how would you feel?"
I sighed. I shrugged. Nothing dramatic.
"If I told you, you could never ever write again, how would that make you feel?"
A shocked gasp. Mouth open. Goose bumps.
You see, my intuition knows what's best for me. I'm not selfless, wouldn't pretend to be. I'm selfish, have my needs, one's that I need to fulfill, now, before I kiss fifty. I will be a better mother this way.
Now, could you pass me a tissue? I need to wipe the tears off my keypad.
This post was inspired by a wonderful guest post by Grenglish on Dorkymum.
Amazingly, unbelievably, I have made the shortlist of the Britmums BIBS Awards under the category, Lifestyle. I am so ruddy grateful to everyone who voted for Older Mum in a Muddle. Now if you would like to see me in the Lifestyle final six, then please, please, please vote for me one final time. The champagne is on me if I make it this far...... (nominations close on 12th May)