I had a tantrum when I was pegging the washing out the other day. It was pretty mild as tantrums go; I am not given to histrionics. In fact, I think all I did was drop kick a peg and frown a bit, but inside I was seriously fed up. Why? Because my washing line will never be perfect. Everyone knows that a washing line should billow with immaculate cotton sheets and towels and clothes for tiny people, all in spotless blue-white. That's what you see on the washing powder adverts. That's what you imagine life will be like when you have a family and hang your laundry out to dry, a smiling baby balanced happily on your hip, all soft downy hair and smiles. My washing line does not look like that. It is a dirge of greying towels, hand-me-downs, murky sheets of indeterminate origin and colour and bobbly t-shirts, interspersed with the odd pair of slutty knickers. None of it is white. Much of it is black or navy blue or red. Dark haired, pale skinned people don't wear white - it doesn't suit them. Messy, clumsy people avoid it too. That's all three of us out, then. I don't think there's one item of white clothing in our entire house.
It's just a way of getting your laundry dry, but on that day, it really riled me. It's another thing that I can't get right, another little detail of my life that won't ever be picture perfect. I really think I could forgive the messy house or the constant worrying or the fish fingers for tea again if only I could be the sort of person who has a line full of lush, white washing once in a while, just as a sort of symbol to myself that I haven't failed entirely. But the only time I ever had a TV-perfect washing line was when Rory was a new baby, and it was bobbing with tiny babygrows and vests and those muslin squares - before they went grey with over-use or orange with carroty weaning stains. I sometimes think it might be worth having another baby just for the washing line. Then I mentally punch myself in the face for being so stupid, because, well, when am I going to have another baby?
When I was bent double and retching in my classroom cupboard from constant 'morning' sickness, praying for oblivion, a tiny voice in the back of my head told me that I'd still have another one. When I was unable to move from bed in hospital, grey faced with exhaustion and blood loss, I still assumed I'd do it again one day. When I was being treated for shock in an ambulance after I fell asleep holding Rory because I'd had no sleep the night before and I'd woken to find him face down on the floor, having rolled off of me, silent and looking lifeless, I still didn't consider that I wouldn't do it again. Even when we weren't welcome anywhere because all he did was scream and wreck things because he could walk before he could think while the other babies slept, it seemed like only a matter of time. Then my friends who'd had their first babies around the same time as me started getting pregnant again and my only thought was overwhelming horror that I might have to have another baby. I congratulated them and got exited for them, but all the time I was thinking "are you mad?" and "why would you do that?" and now we're another couple of years down the line and those second babies are two years old, and the further I get from the baby years, the more I recoil at the thought of going back there. And I didn't understand why, because Rory is the loveliest boy, truly my best friend. I adore him. Why not another baby too?
At first, I told myself that I wanted a bigger age gap. I saw so many two year olds, following their mothers around with hurt in their eyes, confused bewildered by the arrival of a new sibling. I didn't want that, even though I know they get over it in a couple of months and then forget they were ever only children. But then, I didn't want a four year gap like the one between my brother and I, because we were too far apart in age to play well together, but too close in age for me to take a more maternal role. Perhaps a five year gap. Or six. Or ten. Also, I don't really like babies, so that's a problem. I never have.
But although not liking babies and age gap politics and are a valid reason, to me they were really only a convenient excuse. The truth is, I am just too anxious for more babies. I don't think I can bear the worry of putting a baby down to sleep and being convinced that they won't wake up again. I even check on Rory's breathing several times a night now, and he's four. I panic when he's ill, or even when he's not ill but there's a nasty sickness bug or bout of flu doing the rounds. My hand is constantly feeling his forehead, trying to convince myself that he's healthy, and when he is ill - really ill - my maternal instinct to nurture and nurse back to health is nowhere to be found, having been replaced by the urge to run far away. I can't cope with another baby's constant attempts to scale the sofa, another round of a feckless toddler climbing things and landing on their head, making a sound like a coconut being dropped. I can't cope with more years of never quite sleeping properly and being constantly on edge, waiting for the screams that signal that something's very wrong. Night terrors. Vomiting. Fevers. Screaming non-stop for no discernible reason. Choking. All the things that keep me awake in the small hours, fizzing with a sort of non-specific dread. I know I have an anxiety disorder and that this isn't the way a normal person thinks. I know you probably think I'm crazy to worry like this. But, in turn, I think you're crazy for not worrying about this stuff. How do you cope with the uncertainties and the not knowing? How do you even leave the house without turning yourself inside out with anxiety about all of the things that may or may not happen?
So, when am I going to have another baby? When the age gap feels right. When I finally start cooing over them like women are supposed to. When life feels less messy. When I can think of vomit without wanting to die. When I'm not scared of illness and contamination any more. When someone can guarantee me a baby who sleeps and doesn't scream all day. When there's a cure for morning sickness. When someone can assure me 100% that I will not die during labour. When the house is tidy. When we can finally afford our dream home. Hell, when the house is completely safe for a toddler, something like a padded cell. When we get on top of our finances. When I stop waking in the night and lying there for four hours panicking about things that may or may not happen. When I start to enjoy going to Rhyme Time and every other horrible, brain numbing baby group. When just the three of us - Richard, Rory and me - stop feeling like the perfect team. When my washing line is filled with perfect, billowing white sheets. When I'm a completely different person. Never.
DISCLAIMER: Unless I ever screw up with my contraception again.