HAVING A 6TH BABY - WHAT I KNOW NOW

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By Jodi Bartle

Fourteen years ago, we told our families we were expecting our first child.

Everyone was delighted; we were a little scared, full of painfully excited angst over what we had been told to do and what not to do via well-meaning friends and second-hand books - when to tell work, the week-by-week internal changes, the perils of consuming parma ham and soft-boiled eggs.

I became prissily precious over outlawing underwired bras in case my milk ducts didn't develop properly, overcautious about lifting anything marginally heavy, wary of tea and coffee, excessively and expressively tired for the first trimester.

I pounced on the latest issues of pregnancy and baby magazines as I wobbled to work in ill-fitting dresses, devouring photos of babies and weeping silently in hormonally-induced awe.

All this naive romance eventually wore off with each pregnancy, and last May, I found out I was pregnant again with my sixth baby. I sent my husband a text with a photo of the pregnancy test stick, slightly out of date and hastily retrieved from damp recesses of the bathroom cabinet. He came home and laughed. So did I.

Then we sat down and worked out what having a sixth baby might actually mean, and the ways in which we would tell our families (who are a little over such regular pronouncements from us), and how we would tell the people who would find the news verging on vulgar. There were quite a few on that list.

We thought about where to fit a new baby in to our two-bedroom rented flat, and I privately thought about hair loss and weight gain. We told our five boys who were mostly excited, the little ones forgetful and ambivalent, the teenager ever-so-slightly revolted at the burgeoning physical evidence that his parents still had sex.

So, with four months to go and a bladder that has forgotten how to work, here’s a roundup of what I’ve learnt about having my sixth baby.

Pregnancy Gets Harder

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I’m now 41. I had my first baby when I was a sprightly 27 year old - when the skin was a little firmer, the stomach unlined by inch-wide silvery stretch marks, the boobs merely decorative. Although the labour hit me like a bus, the pregnancy was *almost* enjoyable with no sickness and a delight in my changing shape.

I had fun going into TopShop and H&M, buying maternity clothes all too soon, enjoying my marginally larger cleavage. I was paid so little by my publishing job that the loss in wages wasn’t going to be noticeable, so I didn't have to think about going back to work. Pregnancy was like a nine month romantic trip for one.

Since then, the fairly frequent subsequent pregnancies, three miscarriages and one horrible molar pregnancy which ended in a termination in a sad, cold ward, have become harder and harder on my body.

Pregnancy is less romance and more about function. I know I am very lucky that I can get pregnant, and that we have been fortunate to be able to carve the space and time and energy into our lives to have a big family, but this pregnancy lark is now just exhausting. My pelvic floor muscles have pretty much ceased to work - I will leak a little wee not just as a byproduct of a spontaneous sneeze or cough or stumble, but as a result of walking more than ten minutes. I know the pubs and supermarket toilets to and from the school run intimately (though I wish I didn’t).

My hair has lost its former curl and thickness, and has a weird layer from the regrowth from my last pregnancy. My first trimester this time was full of nausea, burping and farting, with acid reflux and a nose that couldn't cope with the whiff of normal food - the smell of toast, or coffee or bacon or mushrooms made me lurch from the room.

Nothing tasted good and nothing felt ok in my stomach, although I wanted to eat all the time. I am losing my balance and have constant mild round ligament pain. I cannot put my shoes on without vomiting a bit.

There is no romance here, and pregnancy isn't kind - at 41, it’s not termed a geriatric pregnancy for nothing.

Maternity Clothes Are Pretty Dire

TopShop launched its maternity range six months before I had my first son. It was terribly exciting then to think of a high-street fashion store catering to women who still wanted to dress well but just had to accommodate a changing and awkward body.

Gap Maternity followed soon after, and where I live, we had JoJo Maman Bebe, H&M and Petit Bateau all down the road. It was a rich time for the demonstratively impregnanted. But this time around, a good five years since I had my last son, the clothes on the High Street reek of having given up.

The fabrics are creased and synthetic, the styles unimaginative and asexual. I despaired at the faux-farmers’ wives’ billowing polyester plaid shirts with awful self-tie belts to bring you in under the boobs, with skinny jeans that on my water-retaining legs look like I’m about to split like an overcooked sausage.

The dresses are on the wrong side of modest - I love a Batsheva-inspired prairie number but not an imitation DVF wrap dress or a badly-cut shapeless sack.

I think the answer lies in a few basics from ASOS - a tube skirt, a few pairs of jeans, and a good rummage through a vintage store like TRAID where you can find big 70’s dresses with elasticated waists. Inexplicably, these work with boots and trainers and a staple biker jacket, although they won’t ever smell quite right.

Also, spend some money on your hair and buy some sort of luscious flattering lipstick and people will think you’ve made an effort. Wear your own clothes until they cut off your circulation - at least you’ll feel like yourself until the numbness sets in.

NHS - The Information Changes

Over my fourteen years of child-wrangling, the one thing about the NHS that has been constant is change; from the set-up of midwife teams, the locations of appointments, the management of Group B strep, the immunisation regime, the weaning advice, the rules about where and when you can have your baby - all this has been different each time I’ve been pregnant.

I now make no assumptions and instead gratefully accept whatever the new rules are. After all, the NHS helped me cook and deliver all my kids safely and kindly and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.

Not Everyone Thinks It’s Cool To Have A Big Family

This is understandable, because it’s actually insane. Most people find it baffling why we have chosen to have six kids, and sometimes I find myself wondering the same thing. For the first time in all these years, I have all my kids at school and I am able to work from home for the whole day, unbothered by small people asking for another drink of water or a trip to the park to feed the ducks - and yet, I’m going to throw myself into the world of controlled crying and vomity muslin squares all over again.

Friends have expressed concern, wondering why we would do this to ourselves - concern for the possible strain on our marriage, the logistic difficulties, the undeniable effect another baby will have on our needy rowdy bunch of five. I don't really have an answer to give - and it’s quite boring to have to constantly reassure strangers that we aren't part of a cult.

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I’ve had to ignore the drunken rants from friends about our shameful contribution to the population crisis and had to tearfully admit my own inability to cope sometimes with the existing lot when they’re squabbling in public and out of control.

It’s not easy to feel constantly judged about choosing to have a big family when most people opt for two; and we have nothing to offer to those who think we are, at best ,a bit mad and, at worst, selfish and delusional. But we are a happy family that thrives on the chaos and the drama and the noise and the fun of it all, and we wanted a little more of that. He or she will be the last one, mind.

You Don't Need Much Stuff

We are starting from scratch because our last baby was so long ago. With four months left, I have a girl name and a boy name sorted, a damp and cobwebby buggy under our stairs that someone gave us, one knitted blanket and a carseat stashed away. I am pretty much waiting for the neighbours to gave us all their castoffs, and will figure out anything else I need when the time comes.

No Moses basket needed here; no Stokke crib (no room for such extravagance), no play gym because there is too much stimulation in our living room at the best of times. There’ll be no nappy bag or steriliser, no musical bouncer or baby gates. It'll be a scantily-accessorised baptism by fire, once again.

And What Comes After…The Case for a Good Nursing Bra

The postpartum period is a little like ‘Twixmas - those lost days between Christmas and New Year where everybody hibernates - rolling around in duvets, snaffling up whatever leftover food they can find and losing track of the days of the week, forgoing makeup and day clothes for bed hair and pyjamas, feeling a bit delusional and watching too much TV. In the post-baby bubble, there’s an added benefit of tiny baby to cuddle, new big bosoms to manage and a constant supply of gifts.

This being my sixth baby and me being a bit casual about the soft, vanilla-scented velvety new addition, I had been rather woefully underprepared in term of essentials (which is where the gifts have handily come in). I was low on newborn baby clothes and also utterly bereft of maternity and nursing bras, mostly because I was convinced I didn't need them.

How wrong I was, Dear Reader, because breastfeeding can, and still does, hurt - my nipples are raw and split, and there’s a dull ache after every feed which feels suspiciously like a bout of thrush coming on. I thought I could just get away with wearing normal bras, but after peeling the lacy, too-small cups from my leaking bosoms and off my pointy, damaged nipples, trying to jam the excess bra fabric away from my newborn’s bobbing little mouth, I realised that it was time for a proper bra.

I settled for Cake Maternity’s Truffles Moulded Cup Nursing Bra in black (there is nude and brown as well). Firstly, it looks lovely - and this matters, because in the postpartum daze, I had been embracing disposable paper knickers and old t-shirts as my #ootd and while this is kind of liberating, it is also a bit depressing. The new bra is beautiful and reminds you of your old feminine, non-leaking, pre-baby self a little: lacy but supportive, with a plunge front and wide straps that don't dig in.

The best bit is the moulded 3/4 brushed cotton contour cup which provides a soft layer for my ouchy nipples to sit against - oh the sweet relief! - which also gives my embonpoint a nice shape rather than the weird cut-in-half-boobs-look my regular bras had been giving me. Feeding-wise, the bra has those handy clasps which unhook to free the breast at mealtimes which is, you know, practically an all day buffet for the little tyke.

There are matching briefs too, for when the disposable paper knickers have served their purpose. I admit, I’ve come very late to the proper nursing bra party - comfortable and a bit lovely, I’ll be sporting this little number until those nipples have long since healed. Wish me godspeed with that one.

+Read more from Jodi here.+