To breed or not to breed?

Yesterday a series of removal men was due at Esther’s to inspect her furniture (it’s mostly books – there will be about 30 boxes of them) and give quotes. So she had to stay in to receive them, and as it was a lovely day, I went round to give I. a breath or two of fresh air.

every time I see him he’s more self-propelled.   Yesterday, when I arrived, he was deep in a book. Obviously, he wasn’t actually reading it. But he knows most of his favourite books by heart now, and can tell himself the story as he turns the pages. Only one ladybird left! Like his mother at this age, and probably for the same reason – because he really wants to know what it is about books that everyone finds so fascinating – he’s well on his way to twigging how reading works. As for the playground, unless actually pushing a swing, all you need do is be around while he potters about. Once they have a garden, it’s clear, or at least possible, that he’ll largely amuse himself while the attendant adult just gets on with life.

All this has led to a certain amount of soul-searching on Esther’s part. The plan was that as soon as they got settled in at the new house they’d try for another baby – she’s always wanted more than one, but there was no question of that while they were tied to the Fulham shoebox. And now the moment has almost come. But can she really face it? Now that I.’s launched into toddlerhood, and she’s pleasantly back into freelance work, does she really want to begin the whole baby business again?

Most of the friends she made when I. was born have already had another. But then, they are rather well-off, unsurprisingly since they’re mostly from nearby, i.e. the high-value postcode of which Esther and the philosopher live at the run-down edge. And most of the ones who’ve stuck at one don’t have the option of more, either because they can’t afford the necessary space for more than one child or need two fulltime incomes to make ends meet, and can’t afford any more breaks. So she’s deeply aware that being able to choose is itself a luxury.

Of course this can only be a good thing for the planet. The last thing it needs is more humans, and especially not high-consuming first-world ones.   I’ve always been keenly aware of this: I remember telling my father-in-law, when he inquired if Bruce and I were planning to have a baby sometime, that I thought large families immoral – words that fell into a slightly appalled silence: as a devoutly Christian father of four, this perhaps wasn’t a point of view he had previously encountered. But like most people, when push came to shove I was less high-minded. If I’d really had the planet’s future at heart, I’d presumably have given up when my first pregnancy failed, a message from on high if ever there was one. In real life, however, I became obsessed with getting pregnant again. And although it never really occurred to me to have more than one, this too had less to do with humanity’s future than with diminished energy, desire to get my life back, and fear (once you’ve had a Down’s baby, your chances of having another are one in four). But she’d have liked it a lot. ‘Can’t I have a little brother or sister?’ she once asked me. She was five at the time; I can see her now, sitting in the bath, squeezing her sponge dinosaur. And I suspect I. will feel the same way.

If all goes to plan, he’ll be three and a bit when the new sibling arrives – old enough not to feel too threatened. Or so Esther hopes. Her original plan was to wait even longer, but now she knows how it all works, she and the philosopher are both quite keen not to make the babycare section of their lives too long-drawn-out.

Of course, I hope they will have another. We’d love it, and (rather more importantly) so, I’m sure, would they. But I try and shut up about it. It’s Esther’s choice, and it would be hard, hard work.

What I can say, however, is that I’ve quite often thought how delightful it would have been to have a second Esther. By the time I started thinking that, however, it was too late. And (I tell myself) you can’t do everything.