I've been made aware recently of a sector of my peers I never knew existed until a few weeks ago: couples who are trying, but failing, to have a baby.
My family are hopeless in many ways, we can none of us barely hold down a job or remember each other's birthdays, but one thing we are super at is getting up the duff. Sometimes by accident! Sometimes we don't even know we are in the family way for weeks on end! Sometimes the pregnancies are not viable, but often they are. Then we ring each other, slapping ourselves on the forehead going: "Pregnant agaaaaaiiinnnn".
There are 7 grandchildren, soon to be 8. If my mother had her way, there would be 20. When I got married, next-eldest said to me darkly "Just mind out how quickly you have a baby." I didn't listen and Kitty was born 9 months after my wedding day.
So it has never crossed my mind that some couples I know don't have children because they can't, rather than not wanting to.
The worst thing about people knowing that you're finding it difficult to have a baby must be the sympathy. No wait, not the sympathy - the pity. The Oh Poor You. Especially if you are having IVF. I don't know the full horrors of the process but I know at the very least you have to have injections all the time. And then there is this endless waiting. And the disappointment. Or what if you keep having miscarriages!?! Awful. Just awful! No wonder no-one wants to talk about it.
I'd rather, probably, if it was me, just let people assume that I simply didn't want kids. Or didn't want them right now. I'd rather people thought that I was just too glamorous, successful, independent and fulfilled emotionally and intellectually to spend 2, 3, 4? years in the nappy wilderness.
And, also, there might be lurking there that feeling of Oh Fuck It let's give up. Let's just get a fucking puppy and say yes to every bastard who asks me to be godmother. Because it's not like there aren't plenty of opportunities to see what a mind-boggling fucking shambles your life becomes, or can become, or will be at times, if you have kids. Observing your peers - rich or poor, organised or chaotic, relaxed or neurotic - disappear into the same quicksand as you calmly pick out tasteful outfits and holiday in Barbados must make the actual tangible desire for a family tricky to hold on to. Because you're not a bloody idiot, you know what babies mean.
Some people aren't broody. Like me! I can confidently say I've never felt broody. I had to ask Giles, the broodiest man in the world, the other day what it meant, what it felt like. "It's like winterlust - really, really wanting winter to come so you can wear sweaters and have fires. You forget that it's just dark and depressing and rains all the time. Or it's like really wanting any of that shite you buy on the internet that comes in the boxes that I have to jam into the recycling."
Not everyone longs and longs for a baby and just knows that it's right and it will complete you and all that cobblers. And if you're not broody at all, but hypothetically think you want a family and believe you would enjoy family life - if you then have a hard time having a baby you might think O God maybe it's a SIGN?! I would have thought that instantly. I would have thought, if it had taken a long time to get pregnant, that it was a sign saying: "Don't have kids because you are not broody so it means you'll be shit at it."
Lining up for IVF, heading down another path of possibly yet another miscarriage in order to get a baby, which may or may not complete you or may or may not just totally ruin your life and bring you to your knees physically, emotionally and financially must be confusing.
And then!! (And this is the worst bit - well, it would be for me -) when you actually do get the baby you would feel like you could never complain about it!
HA! What a fucking nightmare, to have worked so hard for this child that you then feel like you can't ever just throw your hands in the air and say FUCK THIS SHIT because you sacrificed so much for it.
Having a baby is such a choice these days. It's - do I want this kind of life, or that kind of life? There are options, having a child is not just a biological imperitive. And thanks to the wonder of private medicine, you can spend a limitless amount of cash on having a baby: where do you stop? At what point do you say - "I don't want to have a child that much"?
Even thinking about it just for the length of writing this piece - without even talking to someone in the middle of IVF - makes me feel depressed and anxious.
And who would talk to me about not being able to have a baby?? It's no wonder these people are invisible to me. I would just hiss "Count your fucking blessings. Babies are awful. Sam has been sent here on a mission from someone who hates me to fuck my life up."
Because that it what it feels like at the moment. Don't get me wrong! I find Sam cute and winning. But he is also a shrieking, dementing hell toddler. Although he's not bloody toddling! Bloody 16 months and no sign of walking, though his crawling is amazing. Dr Mike my paediatrician said "Yes, some way off walking yet," cheerfully - the bastard - but "there's nothing wrong with him". "Looks like a very happy chap!" he added, as Sam pointed at Dr Mike's stethoscope, looked at me and said "Dis?" meaning "Pass me this thing so that I can break it or hurt someone with it."
He's also having too much milk, said Dr Mike. Yes thanks, I know that Sam the ravening Avent bottle fiend is having too much milk. Two nights ago, when he was feeling particularly troublesome and arseholish Sam demanded 4 bottles in one night. I lay awake in bed for two hours racked with anxiety. What have I done? How have I allowed this to happen? What. Have. I. Done?
I haven't felt so panicked and incompetent as I have in the last few weeks since Kitty was roughly the same age. I feel like I have arrived home to find that my house has been bombed and the only tools I have with which to clear it up are a dustpan and brush.
(Note, please that I am working hard now to correct this awful state of events, though it's hard because Sam has not much else in his life except for his bottle, his "bobo" - he can't walk, can barely talk, doesn't suck his thumb, have a dummy, breastfeed, have a blankie or a rabbit. It's just his bobo, that is his only comfort.)
I have let things slide because Kitty is my evidence that problems during years 1-3 just work themselves out eventually. They all do something awful - I mean, it's all relative but there's always a problem - but by the time they're 3 even the worst habits have subsided.
And by 5 years old, I see from observing other children, they're almost always passable as human beings. That's why there is a thing in this country about the Under-5s. You're either under 5 and therefore a frightening, unpredictable lunatic, or you're over 5 and reasonably manageable.
So I have brushed off Sam's various manias as passing phases, as we are always encouraged to do - but his bottle mania needs correction. I won't go into details. I can feel your eyes glazing over as it is.
Let's turn, now, to cake pops, which I have always avoided because I don't like "trends" in food and because performance bakery takes time and patience that I just don't have.
But the other day while I was in Brent Cross (where else?) I went into Lakeland and my hands, as if with a life of their own, reached out for a pink silicon cake pop mould and purchased it with my husband's credit card.
I took it home and made, in 1 hour, some cake pops for Kitty's nursery bake sale. They were properly shoddy but the kids didn't care. They went freaking mental for them.
So here's how I did it.
Slutty cake pops
makes loads - about 20
2 eggs - weigh them (shells on)
then the same amount of
a drop of vanilla essence if you like (I don't)
icing sugar and decorations
Preheat your oven to 180
1 Cream the butter and sugar together, then whisk in the eggs one by one and fold in the flour. You might need to add some milk to the mixture to loosen it up
2 Either grease your silicon cake pop mould with butter or spray with a baking spray (I use Lurpak, it's brilliant - get it from Waitrose!)
3 Fill your mould with cake mixture to just below half-way, then fit the top half on and press down well round all the little spheres so the mixture doesn't leak out as it rises.
4 Bake for 12 mins. Let the little cakes cool in the mould if you've got time. I didn't.
5 Make up your icing with icing sugar and water. Not too much water, only a tablespoon or so and much more icing sugar than you think - about 5 tablespoons to one of water. Don't forget to SIEVE your icing sugar, this is so so important or you'll get lumps.
5 Dip your cake pop sticks into the icing sugar and then skewer each cake pop and leave to harden. Again, I didn't do this, but it works well if you have the time to.
6 Dip the pops into the icing (you can add colour or flavour to it if you like) and then roll in decorations. If you don't have a cake pop stand a lump of old, brown mashed-up Play-Doh in the bottom of some sort of cup works very well.
There are entire blogs and websites dedicated to cake pops - mostly about how to cover them in chocolate, if that's a thing you want to do. Me? I can't be arsed with it, especially as kids don't care. They just want some crazy lollipop cake-thing covered in neon decorations. Also I have only ever, at most, got an hour to spare. You can blame Sam for that.