My wife and I have 6 children. A 19-year-old, two 16 year old’s, a 12-year-old, a 7-year-old and an extremely boisterous toddler who’s almost 2.
After our 7-year-old Eva was born we decided to hang up our pro-creation boots and give ourselves a well-earned rest. We’d done our bit, it was time to enjoy the kids and maybe get some time back for ourselves.
Time went on. With the kids being a bit older we were able to go on holiday more often, even enjoying the odd city break when my wife’s Mother came to hold the fort for the weekend, and getting the chance to socialise more when it had been difficult in the past. Our careers began to progress and life seemed to be on an even keel. Sleepless nights and bottle-feeding couldn’t be further from our minds.
Whilst feasting on steaks and ski-balls at a most definitely child-unfriendly restaurant near the Arc Du Triomphe in Paris for our 14th anniversary, my wife asked me if we were done with having children. After perusing the wine list and ordering another bottle of Chateau De Childfree*, I looked up and asked her to repeat the question.
“The kids, do you think we should have any more?” she said.
“I don’t think so” I replied, between mouthfuls of haricot verts. “You?”
“Well, I don’t know. Eva is 5 now, wouldn’t it be nice if she had a little brother?” she offered.
I had to think for a minute. We already have one son but he’s all grown up, and as far as I know, not massively into Shopkins. I suppose it might be nice to have another one? But what about our freedom? Our nights out? Our social life? After the hellish rigmarole that is the school run is over each morning I return to an empty house where I can relax with a tea before starting work. I really don’t know if I want to give all that up. After all, if we have another one isn’t he or she just going to be another variant of the ones we’ve already got?
Having grown up teenage children means one thing: in-house babysitter. And yes, it really is as good as it sounds. No worrying about getting back for a sitter, we can pop to the pub after a meal or a trip to the cinema for a nightcap or two. Lovely stuff.
If you think about it, deciding to stop having children is the end of a chapter in your life isn’t it? You’re saying to yourselves, “That’s it, no more for us”. It also means that unless you’re planning on re-marrying in later life and becoming a ‘Grandad-Dad’ there’ll never be the pitter patter of tiny footsteps again (except for grandchildren of course, hopefully).
We kicked the ball about on the subject for a while before finally, no more than a few weeks after that marvellous weekend spent sightseeing and quaffing Vin Blanc in Paris, we decided to dust off the baby-makers and dive back in (figuratively, of course).
Luckily for us, my wife was pregnant in less than two months. We were overjoyed. Things had moved on quite a bit (medically speaking) since she was pregnant with Eva, and we were soon in for what seemed like daily scans at the clinic.
“Do you want to know the sex?” the Nurse asked, at around eighteen weeks (our 57th scan, or thereabouts surely). My wife looked nervous.
We’d found out early on in the past but this final time around felt more important somehow.
“Yes, we want to know”. My wife told her, oblivious to me. Squeezing my hand and craning to see the ultrasound screen.
“Well there’s balls and a little willy in there, congratulations!” said the Doctor.
For some reason, I took this as uncertain news. “So its a boy?” I asked, stupidly.
“Oh my god! I can’t believe it!” my wife shrieked. “A little boy Dan! What a surprise!”
“Well,” I said, unable to avoid the elephant in the room. “It was 50/50 really, wasn’t it?”
Full of the joys of a new pregnancy and a new addition to the family on the way, we headed to The GAP to buy some pricey but apparently absolutely necessary clobber for the little fella.
Our eldest is almost 19 but is my stepson, so for me, the excitement of buying clothes for a little boy was all new. I found myself actually paying attention to the minuscule outfits on offer. After 10 minutes or so I’d picked up a few pairs of trousers, some shirts, a couple of bow-ties and a flat cap. Our new son was to be a cross between a Victorian chimney sweep and a wartime matinee act.
We were all set.
The pregnancy was harder on my wife than either of us had expected, with her needing to inject herself with a blood-thinning drug called Heparin twice a day. This meant we were constantly needing more of the medicine to make sure her blood was thinning correctly, so trips to out-of-town pharmacy’s to ‘pick up’ were now commonplace. This was made harder when, 3 months into the pregnancy, we decided to relocate to Cyprus, only to find out that Heparin is basically illegal there.
After finding ourselves a dealer (a backstreet Pharmacy in Pafos) who was able to supply our demand, things settled down. Time raced on and in early May our son Sebastian was born, the first in our family to be born in Cyprus.
We were overjoyed.
The first few weeks were a wonderful, albeit extremely tiring re-Baptism of fire into baby-era parenthood. He fed a LOT. It seemed like he was constantly attached to my wife’s boobs, so this meant little sleep for her. Other than being on hand with the pregnancy pillow, a cold glass of water and snacks to rejuvenate (each time Sebastian feasted on Mum-milk he drained her of all energy), I felt fairly helpless. We’d done this three times before with the others, why did this seem so much harder?
We were knackered.
It’d been 7 years since we’d done the same thing with our youngest daughter, but we were both constantly tired (me from being woken up to provide the feeding equipment at whatever hour and my wife from being a human milk-machine). I put it down to being older and less fit that we were last time around.
The first six months were hard work. With the other kids and the new baby, we got virtually no time to ourselves. Any spare time we had was spent napping (a terrible habit to get into) and we had much less time to cook, grabbing takeaway food whenever possible. Both of us put on weight.
For Sebby’s (as he was now affectionately known) first birthday we had family and friends over for a little party. We’ve always been viewed with a mixture of amazement and horror by our friends for having so many children, but this had now developed into straight up pity.
“How the hell are you guys coping?” asked my genuinely concerned sister-in-law.
“Surely that’s enough kids now guys, right?” chirped another well-wishing mate via Facebook.
Up until we had our son I could handle anything. Cousins coming over? Sure. 12 year old wants to have a sleepover? Bring it on. But now it seemed different. Our parenting powers seemed to be diminishing, and I knew who to blame alright.
Traditionally, I’ve pretty much always managed to get 7-8 hours of sleep during my adult life, even when the other kids were babies. They seemed to settle into their routines almost straight away; bath, milk, storytime, bed. But here we were, with Sebastian a year old, and thanks to him still sleeping in our bed and my wifes’ staunch stance on not removing him, I was getting as little as 3 hours a night. Sebby is a violent sleeper, there’s no other way to describe it. He kicks, rolls and bangs his head against you in the night. He, a 1-year-old boy, can bang his head against a 39-year-old man’s head and not wake up. Meanwhile, I’m wide awake and in pain. His head is a breezeblock. His other favourite is to kick you directly in the throat; an attack anyone would find quite debilitating, especially at 3 am.
There’s only so long one can put up with this before one has to take action.
Our 3 bedroom house was now at capacity. We moved to a larger house with an extra room, so that this night terrorist could kick himself to sleep and we could finally get some long-earned rest. I was practically giddy with happiness as we unpacked and set up his new bedroom, hopeful of the hours of sleep that lay ahead.
Our first night in the new house and the first time Sebastian slept in his bed was not a success. He played Mummy up for hours, dropping his dummy, demanding more formula milk, crying for cuddles; he tried every trick in the book to avoid actually going to sleep. My wife fell for it each and every time, apparently unable to even consider the notion that our son might actually, you know, have to go to sleep on his own.
By the second night, he was back in our bed.
After two weeks in the new place and after spending a fortune moving house we were still no closer to the much-fabled ‘sleep’ (as it was now referred to). I decided it was time for me to step in. I couldn’t go on like this, and even though my wife wouldn’t like to admit it, neither could she.
I’d read about controlled crying in the past and had decided that it was for bastard parents or those cruel nuns who run orphanages in Disney films, but this was different. Since Sebastian was born a year ago we’d aged ten years. We had to change tactics.
I broke the news that I would be taking over bedtime to my wife whilst she was waking from her late afternoon nap.
“No way, no chance. We’re not doing it”. she stated.
“We have to, otherwise I think I’m going to have an aneurysm. I’ve read about it, there are sleep deprived parents all over the world having aneurysms from not getting enough sleep!” I lied. “Imagine if it works and we can sleep, you never know, we might get four hours!” I said, desperate.
My wife looked at me the way one passenger might turn to another fellow Titanic boat-dweller. “Ok, but if he gets too upset we’ve got to go and get him,” she said weakly.
I leapt up, grabbed the little firecracker and headed to the bathroom with him in my arms. We had a quick bath, then headed up to bed for a brief story. I got him dressed and made his formula before laying him down gently in his cot.
He immediately grabbed the railings and pulled himself to his feet, gleeful at his new opponent.
Sebby was now bobbing up and down in his cot like a heavyweight boxer sure of a victory, bottle of milk held aloft and firing dummies like sniper bullets from between the cot bars.
As the Google search results had instructed, I carefully laid him back down and placed his bottle and dummies into his hands. I gently stroked his face and he appeared to look up to me as if to say: “What’s going on here?”
He leapt back up. Like a soldier who’s just dropped a grenade, I crept out of his room and onto the staircase whilst I sat and waited for the results.
He got up and did the usual dummy firing and bottle throwing but began to make new noises I’d not heard before. He couldn’t talk yet but they were definitely ‘Mummy where are you’ noises. I thought sadistically to myself, ‘Mummy won’t save you now little one. It’s n’nights time and that’s all there is to it.’
Within 30 seconds he was crying his eyes out and each time he cried I’d go back in, set him back up with more dummies and a bottle before exiting in the same way I’d done before.
After the 5th time, my wife was crying her eyes out in our bedroom.
“How could you do this to him! He’s only one! Have you got no heart?” she howled.
“It’s the only way,” I told her. “If we don’t do something about it now he’s going to be sleeping in our bed in his fifties. Come on, we need to persevere.”
She buried her head in the pillow and mumbled something about divorce papers. I retreated to my post on the staircase just outside his bedroom. He was crying again so I went back in. His poor little face was awash with tears and bore a new, bewildered look. It was all I could do not to pick him up and take him back to our room for another midnight kicking, but somehow I managed to lay him back down, replenish the dummies and hand him back his bottle. Unbelievably this time, he rolled over and absent-mindedly drank from his bottle. He seemed to be calming down.
Just as this was happening, my wife was hurtling towards the baby’s room, surely about to enter and destroy the last hour of my work. I managed to beat her to the door, pushing it shut with my foot so I could whisper through the gap.
“Don’t come in, he’s giving in!” I gushed, excitedly.
“You bastard. He’ll never forgive you for this.” she wept.
“I’m telling you, there was a look of resignation on his face I’ve never seen before. He’s faltering!” I said.
He started to stir, so I carefully peeled the door open, crouched down and crawled out so he wouldn’t detect the change in light temperature caused by my exit.
Silence from the enemy.
“Oh my god, he’s quiet!” My wife said, her face awash with tears but now with a hopeful smile.
“Yes, he is.” I felt like I’d just solved the Middle Eastern crisis.
We sat together on the stairs like a pair of adults waiting for Santa and listened together in silence. And then, like the sound of the first ever radio broadcast on Christmas Eve 1906, he began to snore.
I gave it a few seconds then got up with such force that I banged my head on the ceiling and fell down the entire flight of stairs, steadying myself on the last one. “I’ll get the champagne!” I said, excitedly. “Don’t you bloody dare go in there, I mean it!”
She smiled and nodded as I headed off to pour ourselves a glass of something bubbly.
We managed two glasses each before falling asleep on the sofa. I woke around 2 am and nudged my wife. We’d been asleep for almost 6 hours. We tiptoed up the stairs and got into bed, unable to believe we’d had so much sleep and that he still wasn’t awake. We fell straight back to sleep and woke at 8:30 am to the most welcome sound of our baby boy crying from the next room.
A year later and our boy still sleeps through the night, but I can’t manage more than six hours straight sleep, which I’m convinced is Sebby’s way of getting his own back on me for forcing him to sleep on his own. Fair enough I suppose.
It’s extremely tiring but so worth it, I’m really glad we had one more child. If you’re thinking about doing it yourself don’t be fooled into thinking that because you’re an experienced parent it’ll be a breeze because it most likely won’t. Each child is different and brings his or her own challenges. But if you’ve got the support of your partner and you’re of reasonable physical and mental health you’re in with a chance of survival.
Go for it.