Having a third baby definitely counts as the most reckless thing I’ve ever done. All other acts of madness – whether they’ve involved sex, alcohol, public humiliation or all three at once – pale into insignificance compared with choosing to have my youngest.
I did it knowing I couldn’t afford to get on the nursery fee treadmill again; knowing it would cut into the time I have with my older children; knowing I’d be exhausted and lacking the support of extended family close by; knowing that, in environmental terms, having any children at all is selfish. I knew all this, did it anyway and haven’t regretted it for a single moment.
That’s why I’m hardly one to object to the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have chosen to go for baby number three. Good for them. As far as I’m concerned, three children’s the perfect number, especially if money’s no object.
Two always felt far too neat and tidy; I love the chaos and sense of abundance that comes with a third. My eldest two adore their little brother, while he’s always learning from them. I honestly can’t imagine things any other way.
I’m well aware that, were I to stand trial for over-reproduction in an overpopulated world, there’s not much of a defence I could give (other than “sorry” followed by an unconvincing PowerPoint presentation demonstrating the levels of cuteness I believe my two-year-old adds to the planet). I could waffle on about the fact that someone has to be responsible for continuing the human race, glossing over the fact that my contribution has been surplus to requirements.
The truth is, human reproduction isn’t particularly moral, at least not on an individual level. That’s why we need to think of it in broader terms, asking questions such as what children mean to society as a whole, how we value them, how we reward the care that goes into raising them, and how, crucially, we can recognise that one life isn’t more valuable than another.
William and Kate’s new child will want for nothing, courtesy of the taxpayer. Maybe now isn’t the time to call for the overthrow of the monarchy (then again, when isn’t it?), but I can’t help thinking about what a third child means for them compared to what it means for a family struggling to get by. Neither George nor Charlotte asked to be born into such staggering wealth and privilege, and nor has their future sibling. Nevertheless, if we can understand the desire of the mega-rich to produce more mega-consumers, why is it so hard for us to show compassion to those who aren’t so lucky?
In April this year the Government reformed child tax credits, introducing what is commonly referred to as the “rape clause”. From now on, a woman will be unable to claim tax credits for any child after her first two unless she can demonstrate conception occurred “as a result of a sexual act which [she] didn't or couldn't consent to" or "at a time when [she was] in an abusive relationship, under ongoing control or coercion by the other parent of the child". To claim this exemption, she must complete an eight-page “rape assessment” form, countersigned by a third party professional to whom she must disclose her assault. Continuing to live with the father of her child will render her ineligible for support.
Much has been written on the sheer callousness of this approach. It’s not just the ignorance on display regarding reproductive coercion (many women live with the men who force them to get pregnant); it’s the message, first, that child tax credits are some sort of undeserved bonus, as opposed to a shameful symptom of grossly unequal pay, and second, that the poor shouldn’t breed (or, in government-speak, people on benefits should “make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work” – as though money or the lack of it doesn’t already affect every single choice a person makes).
One could argue it’s just an unhappy coincidence that the announcement of a third royal baby comes in the same year the Government deems third babies a luxury not every family has earned. It’s more than that, though. The contrast lays bare the fundamentals of reproductive injustice: the fact that class, wealth and race control which groups are considered worthy of the privilege of reproduction. Underpinning this is the lie that the wealthy are self-sufficient, whereas the poor upon whose work they depend are parasites. We know this is not true.
I hope any mother expecting a third baby experiences as much delight as I have. I don’t begrudge the Duchess of Cambridge her happiness (once she’s past the horrors of hyperemesis gravidarum).
I do resent those who’d rather force petty, humiliating trials on struggling pregnant women than acknowledge the inherent value of all third babies. Every child deserves to be welcomed. Every family has a right to their joy.
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