There I was, surrounded by all of my male Screecher Creatures and in my arms I held a month old vision in strawberry pinkness. A truly beautiful little girl looked up at me with unblinking eyes, starfish hands opening and closing and her little mouth making a definite attempt to smile at me. Mister Husband looked on from the kitchen doorway and asked, “Are you sure you’re finished?” This little baby and her pending arrival had me worried for a while. I honestly didn’t know how I would feel when I saw her. Would she kick start my dormant broodiness or would I be able to hold her and not feel a thing? I answered Mister Husband honestly, “Yes.” And I am, for the moment at least, finished. My family is complete. I do not harbour any desire to keep going. I say my family and not ours because Mister Husband has left that ball more or less in my court. And I say for the moment because I still don’t know how I will feel maybe next month or even next year. However, this December I will turn 40 and for me that was always going to be the cut-off point. I know the chances of having a child with a mental or physical disability are slightly raised the older you become, but this has happened for mothers in their twenties and thirties. There is also the reality of facing back into night feeds, having a second child in nappies again, being pregnant for 10 months and all that goes hand in hand with that status. Not to mention the inevitable weight gain and the slog to shed the excess pounds afterwards. The stress that is involved arranging childcare when ante natal appointments have to be attended. Then for the ensuing duration of a hospital confinement when the baby is born. All of that is just chicken feed though because if I really, really, really wanted another baby, any of those reasons not to have one wouldn’t stand a chance. But there is one thing that, for me, stands out a little bit more in the deterrent stakes. Guilt. Having four boys aged 6 and under, there is still only one of me. I cannot make quarters of myself when they are all still at quite a demanding and needing stage. It can be very difficult when two or more of them are crying for something or if one has an accident and hurts himself; they just don’t understand, nor will they accept that they might have to wait their turn for attention whilst I prioritise one over the other depending on their needs. Recently my sister in law reminded me of a particularly stressful nightly re-occurrence with small babies and older children. The newborn is in the midst of the witching hour and fussing terribly to cluster feed. The toddler is also crotchety and wanting to go to bed. Or not. It’s literally a balancing act between the two of them and then there are two more waiting for a bed time story. Stress levels are going through the roof and no-one is happy with the service being provided, least of all the recipients who are feeing decidedly short changed. And for good reason as corners are not cut, more like shaved off completely. I’m definitely not missing that particular bed time pressure at the moment. There is an old adage that follows thus: you have only one mouth and two ears so listen twice as much as you talk. In my house there are four voices clamouring to be heard and still only one set of ears. Mine. Not only is it challenging to listen to them all at once, it is downright impossible to answer them all. It doesn’t matter what I do, one of them misses out. There never seems to be an opportunity to spend one on one time with any of them. That is the guilt making part. I always feel as if one of them is missing out. I quite simply don’t have equal time to devote to them all. At the moment Screecher Creature No. 1 gets his downtime with me when I rub athlete’s cream onto his feet. Screecher Creature No. 2 is showered in my brief attention for as long as it takes me to pull his clothes over his head. Screecher Creature No. 3 is privileged to have me wipe his derriere. The baby seems to get the best deal all round. I am in no hurry to rush him as he nurses. I relish the opportunity to relax as much as he enjoys his grub and uses his reclined position to stick his fingers up my nose. Plus being just 14 months old and still doing the side step around various pieces of furniture, he also likes to spend a good deal of time in my arms. I’ve tried group story telling but being of different ages and stages, arguments break out over who wants what book read. There have been moments where tiredness starts to win out and they all gather close to tell me something individually. This always ends up in a fight as they scrabble to get closer to me and my feet get trampled on. I have been known to be seated in a chair with three of them sitting on me. They’ve found a way though, it seems, to spend some time with me. It doesn’t matter how quietly I do it, their sixth sense kicks in and they know I’m in the shower. One or more of them will come in and just sit on the floor. Sometimes there are random questions but mostly, they just sit there, content in the knowledge that they have a captive audience. They also like to wait till the house has quieted and they are meant to be in their beds, on the way to Dreamland. There will be a steady stream of little feet up the hallway, followed by a russet, or dark blond head peeping round the doorway. For boys who can’t remember where they left their shoes a mere hour earlier, suddenly they are talking about stuff that happened a couple of years ago. All in an effort to delay the zeds. Or maybe just a herculean attempt to get some rare one on one time with their mother.