When my niece esme was born, I was too afraid to hold her. For 22 years, I’d been the youngest in our family; experience with babies was minimal. Not only was I scared I might break her, I had no interest in having a child myself. Of course I didn’t. I was single, about to finish uni and embark on a career in journalism. Kids would come at, say, 30, I told myself – but so much else would need to happen first.
And it did. I lived alone for a while and travelled. I studied some more (getting an MA in journalism) and worked as a trade magazine editor. But in that time two things happened. First, and inevitably, Esme grew. So did our bond. We were often mistaken for mother and daughter, and she became the most important person in my life. Second, I reconnected with my childhood sweetheart, Mudassar, and, when I was 26 and he 25, we married.
I can’t know for sure which of those made me crave motherhood sooner than planned. But here I am, 28, feeling like I’m more than ready for a baby of my own. Emotionally, I have everything I need: an incredible husband, a supportive family, experience with Esme and the six nieces and nephews who followed. I even have a bedside copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
I have everything, that is, except financial security. For three years I’ve been a self- employed writer, having realised that I’m not cut out for an office job. This freedom comes with a dramatically reduced income. On a good month, I might earn £3,000, but in a lean month it might be only £500. Mudassar, an actor and theatre technician, is also on a low income.
Our furniture is either charity shop or from Ikea’s bargain corner. Our food is from Aldi and our budget for luxuries like holidays and the gym is supplemented by discount codes. What we can’t do is save. And having no savings means no deposit, which means no mortgage, which means no house for us to raise a baby in.
Research from Shelter recently found that 38% of privately renting Millennials (aged 25-35) are putting off having kids or expanding their family because they’re renting. The traditional steps to parenthood used to consist of marriage and a house.
We did our wedding on the cheap for £9,000 (more than half of which came from my parents, who’d saved for decades). But – thanks to extortionate house prices and, if we’re honest, our career choices - buying a house isn’t possible.
Our rented two-bed at on the outskirts of Leeds costs £700 a month. It’s ideal for now, but I use the second bedroom as an office. We’re pretty crammed in as it is – our coats hang in the shower. Our baby would be assigned either the balcony or the bath, and either would probably have Child Services calling. Of course, many parents do manage a baby in a rental. I could give up my office and work in the lounge (or bath?). But we wouldn’t be able to paint the nursery or fix units to the walls to stop them toppling over. Our building has no lift and we live on the top floor. If Child Services hadn’t got wind of our nursery situation, a balcony pulley for the pram would alert them.
Adding to the instability, we’re on a rolling one-month contract, so at any time the landlady could ask for her home back. Finding somewhere else affordable and practical to live while pregnant, or with a newborn, would be fraught with difficulty.
That frantic a ernoon six years ago, when my family finally coaxed me into holding Esme, I experienced for the first time what it was to be so suddenly and irrevocably protective. I wanted nothing more than to keep her safe and happy for as long as I could, and that feeling has never gone away.
So now I wonder: is it selfish to have a baby before we have a home and savings? Or is it worse to risk elderly family members never getting the chance to meet their grandchildren? Should we wait, or should we throw caution to the wind?
I don’t have an answer yet. But I have to trust that, just as I learned to hold Esme, I could learn how to raise a baby without a permanent home. It won’t be easy. But what part of motherhood is?
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