If you're mulling over when to have baby number two... or three... or four... you might want to pay attention to the wisdom of Gillian Harvey, mother of five. Yes, five. FIVE. Five! Five!!!
When you give birth to a baby, no-one tells you that motherhood comes with a side-order of perpetual guilt. And that the fear that you’re getting it all wrong is one you’ll probably carry with you no matter what your choices.
And when it comes to the prospect of popping out a sibling or two, most mums are left with a dilemma: is it better to have a big gap between the kids, or just get on with it?
My own children range in age from two to seven: I’ve squeezed out five little blighters in as many years. But my family wasn’t planned that way. My first two pregnancies which brought us Lily, 7, and twin boys Joe and Tim, 4, were a sensible 18 months apart.
I thought my family was complete, but nature had other ideas – ten months later, I was given the surprise gift of my fourth child, Evie, 3; and ten months after she arrived, I fell pregnant again with Robbie, 20 months. Meaning that at one stage, I had five children aged five and under.
I’ll admit: having five years of almost perpetual pregnancy, an episiotomy, four epidurals, hundreds of stitches and having been left with a pouch of skin on my midriff that would make a kangaroo proud, I sometimes regret not giving my poor body more time to recover before growing another one.
But from the kids’ point of view – apart from the fact that they now see mum as a virtual baby-machine, crying ‘what’s that: a baby?’ at the first sign of festive belly bulge – I think it’s worked out OK.
Mind you, the age gap does have an impact on the kind of connection they have with one another. Lily is adorable when she plays mum to baby Robbie. But her relationship with her other brothers is more complex. One minute they can be playing beautifully, the next she’s sticking in her elbow and making them wail. Their proximity in age means that as well as viable playmates, they’re also the competition, and they all want to be both ‘top dog’ and mummy’s favourite.
When you’ve got a baby to settle, as well as a few reluctant small children, life can sometimes resemble a hit-the- frog arcade game: no sooner do you settle one, then another one wakes up, needs a pee or wants a drink of milk. Recently, my children have also decided that sleeping past 5am is so last year and I’m often stumbling around in the wee small hours wondering where it is that kids get their energy from.
Combining this with night feeds when Robbie was weeny meant that sometimes I was so tired I’d see shapes floating in front of my eyes, find that I’d put my handbag in the fridge, or forget what I was saying mid-sentence.
I’m not saying there aren’t perks to having a gaggle of babies in quick succession; I’m just saying those perks don’t seem quite so appealing in the middle of the night.
Anyone who’s had to pretend to enjoy playing cars, making sandcastles or rolling and cutting Playdoh for more than five minutes will know that most parents – despite their fixed smiles and cries of "oooh! A caterpillar!" would probably rather claw their eyes out than make another inedible cupcake, or stick another flag in a lopsided, crumbling mound. Well, guess what? When you have kids close together, after the initial can’t-do-anything baby stage, they play with each other.
I remember the first time this happened, I was mid cup of tea and experienced the horrible stomach lurch most multiple parents feel when they realise that things are just too quiet. But when I went to investigate, no-one had fallen down the stairs or consumed the contents of the cleaning cupboard, they were – wait for it – having fun.
There are few sights as cute as peering around a door and seeing your little ones preparing food for each other at a plastic kitchen, or overhearing the words "I’ll be the mummy, you be the baby" or "let’s draw a picture for gwanny!". Not only is it super-sweet; it also means you get to see the bottom of your cup of tea for the first time in 18 months.
For all its ups and downs, I’m glad that I – more by chance than proper family planning – pushed out five in such a short space of time. The older they get, the more they bond. And whilst they have their squabbles, their proximity in age means that they enjoy the same toys and like going to the same places.
My abs might be a thing of the past, I’ve got eye-bags that I fear are becoming a permanent fixture, and my head aches for more than four hours on a pillow, but as far as my family goes, I wouldn’t change a thing.