Squeezed Middle: Why I should definitely not have another child

Is that what I want? Is it? Yes. . .

‘‘Do you ever think we should have another baby?” The words are out of my mouth before they have even passed through my brain. Where did they come from? Has my womb established some kind of direct line to my vocal cords?

Curly turns pale. After a few seconds, he gathers himself sufficiently to utter one syllable: “No.”

“Oh,” I say. “OK.”

That’s fine. I knew he’d say that. And he is 100 per cent right. There is nothing I want less than to go through the whole messy business all over again. I swore I never would after the last pregnancy, which incapacitated me for five months with relentless, broiling nausea. I swore it the morning I was sick on a businessman’s shoes on the 8.42 train to Liverpool Street (he was amazingly nice about it) and again when I got acute mastitis, passed out on the kitchen floor and had to spend the whole of Christmas Eve in casualty. I swore it every time Moe woke up more than four times in the night. Which was every night. For six months.

I certainly swore it when Curly and I nearly split up and I got that weird depression that was maybe more hormonal than I thought, looking back on it. If you’ve had that kind of thing once, the chances are you’ll get it again.

Now that things have calmed down and life is nice and fluffy again, it would be so easy to forget what a tremendous palaver the whole process is; to look at my two beloved boys and imagine, ever so idly, how lovely it would be to have another.

I must resist. I must not think about cute, chubby baby legs, or the pure animal exhilaration of giving birth, or how fun it would be to have a great, big, noisy gaggle of a family. I must not think about how I’m nearly 35 and that’s the age at which, according to some newspaper article or other, my fertility will “drop off a cliff”.

No, no, no. I must think of the practicalities: there is no way we could stay in the slightly-too-small flat if we had another child. We would have to sell up and move to Hull, though perhaps even that wouldn’t be an option now that it’s going to be the City of Culture in 2017 and prices have probably rocketed and I’ve left my job and there’s no way a reputable mortgage lender would look on us with anything other than amused pity. The more I think about it, the worse the idea seems.

Satisfied, I hum a little tune as I trundle off to get the boys ready for their bath. If only all decisions in life were this straightforward. I wrestle Moe on to his changing mat, strip off his clothes and tickle his pudgy tummy. His legs are so big now, they are hardly baby legs any more. He can walk and say “hiya” and “car” and “teddy”. Soon, he won’t be a baby at all; he’ll be a boy. And then I will never, ever have a baby again.

Larry and Moe will grow up and go to school and I’ll crack on with my life, start thinking about the outside world again, working . . . Things will get easier, more manageable, less intense.

Is that what I want? Is it? Yes, I tell myself firmly. It is.

House prices are one of the many reasons not to have another child. Photo: Getty.

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The seven per cent problem

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses