You heard it here first! (ish)


Some News from Chez Brooks. Written early August 2015.

We made a decision. We’d like to have another. And yes, I do mean another b.a.b.y.

But why? Am I one of those ‘baby’ people, who loves babies? That would be an emphatic “no.” While I love my children dearly and am truly grateful for them, I don’t enjoy being pregnant, giving birth(!), breastfeeding or waking through the night. And to be honest, I don’t even enjoy holding babies that much. They don’t do much, do they? I love the babies I know, but not because they’re babies. (This is, in many ways, a good thing. Babies don’t stay babies!)

I can’t explain it, but after much careful consideration we agreed that we would like four children, even though they will one day (God willing) become four teenagers, and we only have one teeny tiny bathroom (it’s almost double the width of the bath).

And it’s happened! Brooks baby number four is on his/her merry way. Still microscopic for now, but a person all the same. We haven’t told anyone yet, so do keep it to yourself. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about sharing this joyous news with my largely unsuspecting friends and family.

When you’re pregnant with your first, people are so happy for you: how exciting! You’re going to be great parents! Praise God! Let’s pray right now about that!

The second baby is less of a surprise, usually, unless it’s eye-wateringly soon after the first, but people can see that you want a ‘proper family’ (I object to this term but people do say it), or that you want to ‘get it all out of the way at once’ (objection again!), or that you just want a little playmate for Jonny (let’s hope Jonny is on board).

In our culture, two children is normal. So when you announce number three is in the pipeline, as it were, people laugh a bit and say things like, ‘Wow, you’re going to need a bigger car.’ Which is true. (Actually for us it was more, ‘You’re going to need a car.’) People with three children in the UK are perceived as having a big family. The washing, the bunk beds, the car seats. Wow. But in my experience, people admire, or at least respect you.

But four children? Are you insane? You can’t have four children in a normal car. You will probably need to move. Goodness me, how will you even walk down the street? You can never go to a supermarket again. Wow, you must LOVE babies.

This is why, since having three children, people have often said to me, ‘I bet you’re finished now, aren’t you!’ or words to that effect. I always thought family planning was quite a private matter, but evidently I’m mistaken. I don’t mind a close friend asking gently if I’d like to have more children, but someone I’m not close to announcing, in front of my children, that I won’t be having any more, is just inappropriate. Being English, I generally smile politely and change the subject, as I wouldn’t want to offend them by telling them it’s none of their flaming business.

A mother-of-two once said to me with absolute conviction that it was totally unfair to have more than two children, because you wouldn’t give them enough attention. But this opinion is so culturally bound. By the end of the 20th Century, women in London were having on average half the number of babies compared to those at the start of the century. In many cultures – and, by the way, in God’s word! – children are seen as a huge blessing and wealth. Your children are your inheritance, as they’ll look after you when you’re old. (As someone said to me last week, in some parts of the world we’d just be getting started.) But now that we have (free) birth control in the UK, people with lots of children can be seen as a drain on society and a nuisance. Hasn’t she heard of the Pill? (or, ‘tie a knot in it’ as I heard someone recently put it.)

When I was in hospital with my first newborn the post-natal ward was, to use the medical term, rammed. I mentioned this to a nurse at one point, who said, ‘It’s the Muslims. They’ve got an agenda, to populate the world.’ I was a bit too drugged up and sleep-deprived to have the suitable reaction (reporting her to some Body or other), so I just mumbled something in defence of Muslims and tried to change the subject. But this is just another example of how large families are viewed. They’re unruly; a threat to the status quo.

So now, instead of phoning round my friends and family with the happy news of a baby on the way, I’m wondering how to break it to everyone. Family holidays with relatives are going to be even more chaotic, with even less chance of a good nights’ sleep. I’ll be less available to other people as my family’s needs grow. My church family will need to help me even more! And will I ever go back into teaching, for crying out loud?

Well, if motherhood has taught me anything (besides the exact words to many a Julia Donaldson chronicle), it’s to care less and less what other people (especially strangers) think of me. Since getting pregnant the first time, I’ve been judged so much that I now just assume that people are horrified by whatever it is I’m doing. Even with three children who are clearly alive and rather stable, people still assume I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing: your child doesn’t look safe on that wall/is far too hot/has cold hands/hasn’t had her hair brushed (that I’ll give them)/is being ignored (yes, that’s because he’s screaming for Haribo). Or even if you’re not doing anything wrong, your child is probably just being a nuisance by his/her very existence. So I’m learning the healthy lesson of not-being-self-conscious. Or something more succinct. I’ll keep praying, asking for advice from wise people, and doing what I think is obedient. The Lord knows I’m making (sometimes slow/sometimes moderate) progress!

So for now, I’m happy to keep it just between Mike and myself, because we’re really chuffed to bits about this little tike. And if the news is met with mixed responses, hopefully I can thank the Lord that he’s making me less and less affected by the judgments of others. Although with pregnancy hormones thrown into the mix, that may work better in theory than practice.

Please feel welcome to comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts!

If you are wondering whether or not to have another baby, you may find this article useful.  (I only found it today, but would have found it useful six months ago!)

Reading this a couple of months on, I’d just like to add three comments of my own!

  1. The people we’ve told about the baby have actually been very supportive, so I’m really thankful for friends who genuinely care about us and take delight in our little family. Praise God!
  2. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of feeling like children are a nuisance, or that “enough’s enough.” If this post seems judgmental, sorry, as the finger should definitely be pointed at me, too.
  3. I think pregnancy hormones had a role to play in my anxiety about this, too! Surprise, surprise.

Dear New Mum

day 1

Here is a letter to my lovely friend Charlie, who is about to give birth any day now. It’s a bit honest, but I hope you like it. It seems wonderfully appropriate, one year on from writing about my own struggles with my first newborn (Push, Push, Glide), to post this here.

Dear Charlie,

I’m sitting in a café (had free coffee voucher – bargain!) and a lady next to me has a teeeeeeny tiny baby! He is very cute and drunk on milk. Everyone is gazing at him. Mum is probably exhausted and wondering when the baby will next need feeding. I’ve found that there’s a big old difference between actual motherhood, and motherhood from the outside looking in.

You’re about to have your first baby! You know that already. I’d love to give you loads of advice and tips. I’m sure all of your mum-friends will want to help and give you their opinion on what’s going on. My first tip would be to ask for advice if and when you need it, but if you haven’t asked perhaps put on some sort of mental filter! And then even when you’ve asked, don’t feel you have to do what people tell you. One thing I’ve learnt from reading many, many books about parenting and having many more conversations about parenting, is that babies are all different. And mums are different, as you’ll know. You’re unique, as is your family, so not everything that works for others will work for you.

You’re about to enter a world of contradictions. The baby is completely weak and vulnerable – frighteningly so – and yet has the power to make you giddy with joy one minute, and crushingly disappointed the next. Things you know are small and relatively insignificant become paralysingly huge: Why hasn’t he burped yet? How long has she been asleep? How many clean vests will I need to take with me? What does that face mean? When should his teeth come through? Which brand of bottle/travel cot/car seat (and how do we assemble any of these things)?

Conversations with your husband undergo a complete transformation. Things I thought I’d never hear Mike say, and then did:
‘We need to assign a cupboard in the kitchen just for the bottles and sterilising equipment.’
‘The ideal situation would be this: Wherever you are in the flat, you can turn around and find a clean muslin.’
And then there was the song he made up encouraging a constipated Miriam to do a poo. (It was to the tune of the South African national anthem.)

Life will change. You know what’s about to hit you, but actually you won’t know what’s hit you.

How is any of this useful? Well, I was pondering these things and wondering what the best advice for you would be, and here is what I came up with (except I didn’t come up with it at all):

One of [the Pharisees], an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matt 22)

When you can’t remember what day it is, who just visited you or when you last had a shower (top tip: do have a shower!), hopefully you’ll be able to remember these two commandments.

When things seem huge, especially in the middle of the night (when sleep is short and truth is needed*), it’s vital to remember the wonderful truth that the Lord is God. The world revolves around him, not me or my baby. When we’ve lost all perspective, let’s remind ourselves what we know to be true.

I remember Mike finding me in a heap on the floor at the end of the day because acid-reflux Ezra had cried for too long. At that moment, it was hard to remember that God is big. It was hard to believe that one day I wouldn’t be sad about that anymore. It sounds silly now! But emotions are powerful. So when you’re finding it hard to look beyond you and your baby, try dwelling on the Lord your God, and worshipping him (Psalm 27: 4 is good. And stick a worship CD on!).

So onto that second commandment. You may find that your baby teaches you how to love someone else as yourself. It’s certainly true that motherhood is a great lesson in sacrificial love. What a blessing. But I also want to encourage you to keep loving others, especially as your baby’s demands seem overwhelming. In Babywise one of the many parenting books I’ve read, I remember it saying that when we become mothers we don’t stop being wives/daughters/sisters/friends. That’s not the advice you’ll hear everywhere, and that’s why it’s so important to hear.

I don’t mean to pressure you – “Don’t you know that a 3 day old baby doesn’t get you out of the church baking rota?” No I don’t mean that. But by God’s grace you’ll be able to show concern for others and pray for them, check how they’re doing and even offer to help them. And in doing this, you also will be blessed. Sharing joys and sorrows with your friends and family will help you to see your own issues with a bit more perspective. (I recently said to a friend who’d been in a horrific car accident, ‘Will you pray for me? You’re not the only one with problems!’ I truly am a wonderful friend to have around! Do you miss me?)

And we need grace, grace, grace:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. Romans 3:20-21

Every day of being a parent, you will be conscious of your sin and your need of a saviour – at least I hope so. And in Christ, you have the righteousness of God. So keep asking for his help – he’s listening! Don’t expect to know what you’re doing, or be any good at it! And that’s all good. Your child needs to see that Mum and Dad need Jesus.

So in summary, it’s going to be hard, remember the world doesn’t revolve around you, and remember you’re absolutely hopeless without the grace of God! There, I intended to encourage you and I feel my work here is done!

Heaps of love,

Cat. X

*That was a quote from my lovely friend Katy, who sent me worship CDs to listen to during the night feeds with Ezra. Amazing. Now I’ve told you that, I suppose I’ll have to send you some! 🙂

p.s. Love you, I think you’re going to do a great job!  (Probably should have led with that.)

Expect Chaos


Just a quick post to welcome into the world my beautiful new niece, Rachel.

And something for you to ponder:  My mum was an only child, and grew up in a quiet home – each evening her father would go out and play dominoes and her mother would sit and read.  It was a modest, peaceful upbringing.

My Mum tells me that as a young married woman she wasn’t too interested in having children, but my Dad managed to persuade her to have two.  Our family home was lively, but fairly peaceful and civilised.  Lots of music, lots of laughter, lots of cheering on the Boro (Middlesbrough FC).  But it certainly wasn’t overcrowded and there wasn’t much hustle-bustle.

Today my lovely, peace-loving mother has six grandchildren under the age of 5.  Just think about that for a moment.  In December, I expect we’ll all be visiting her and my Dad in the home I grew up in, and there’ll be children aged 5, 4, 3, 2, 1yr and 4 months (and four of them are girls).

So when you look into your future and you see peace and quiet, look again friends. Your children may go on to have very large families.  And what a chaotic blessing that will be!  It’s just worth bearing in mind…

Push, Push, Glide: Reflections on my Daughter’s Fourth Birthday


My daughter turned four last weekend.  She’s my eldest, and four seems much older than three.  Three-year-olds can be classed as toddlers; four-year-olds go to primary school.  Yikes.

Miriam has been asking me for months if she can go ice-skating.  Living in central London without a car and with two younger children, this is not an easy request to grant, so I told her that when the winter outdoor rinks sprang up we would go.  This coincided nicely with her birthday, so I booked us a lesson on her birthday – at the crack of dawn, incidentally!

On the way there, I was thinking about how relieved I feel when I look back over the years since her birth.  I’m relieved because I found things so much harder when she was first born than I do now.  I expect most people feel like that, although I know some mums love the baby phase and find the pre-school phase harder.  I don’t want this to sound ungrateful, because children are such a precious gift, but I found the first three months in particular extremely difficult.  I feel so relieved to have gotten this far!  Many thanks to God for his grace!

When we arrived at the ice rink, Miriam was given a stabiliser to hold – they give out heavy, plastic penguins with handles so children can push them along and spend less of their time prostrate on the ice.  But from the moment she stepped onto the ice, Miriam hated it.  Several teachers tried to help her – ‘Come on, take baby steps, I’ve got you, yep small steps, you won’t fall, you’re safe’ etc., but to no avail.  She was miserable.

One of the teachers told me to try waiting inside to see if that helped Miriam to get engrossed and start to enjoy it, but as I watched her through the window she just stood there, morosely gripping her penguin, watching the other children slide and shuffle about.  It was, for both of us, excruciating.

It did strike me that her experience on the ice was a tiny bit like my experience when Miriam was first born.  She had wanted to ice skate because she’d seen it on the TV and it looked fun.  It looked elegant and graceful.  It looked rewarding.  I think she probably assumed it would come naturally – that she’d get it right first time.

My ideas about motherhood were about as naïve as Miriam’s were about skating.  Even when people told me ‘it will be hard at first’, I still didn’t really know.  You can’t know, can you? Not until you get out there on the ice.  Until day three of breastfeeding.  Until no amount of pacing will stop the crying.  Until you realise that between you and your husband, despite your combined intelligence and the books you’ve read, you have no idea what you’re doing.  (I have friends who between them are Doctors three times over, who have at least once managed to put their baby’s disposable nappy on back to front AND inside out!)

One thing that it hurts to admit is that it’s actually a good thing that I didn’t and don’t find motherhood easy.  True, this is a result of the Fall – frustrations and disappointments and poo down the wall won’t happen in heaven – but God is also using this season to make me more like Christ.  It’s hard to be proud when you’re crying because baby won’t get his wind up, or crying with the pain of breastfeeding or just crying because you haven’t had any sleep, or crying just because.  This is when we learn to depend on God more.  If I’d found motherhood easy, then I’d have been even more proud and self-sufficient.  Instead, God chose in his kindness to refine me: to make me more pure.

It’s amazing how a change in perspective can affect you.  Since I’m older than Miriam, I know that ice skating is hard and you have to practise, fall on your bum fifty times, get back up and practise some more before it gets remotely fun.  And yet, when I became a mum for the first time I was so shocked at how hard it was!  (I don’t know why I’m using the past tense – I still regularly get surprised by how hard it is.)  But as we struggle and learn, we’re growing.  God is giving us character – which we wouldn’t get if the lesson were easy.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4.

I have to admit that, compared to God, I am about as wise and patient through difficulty as my four-year-old daughter.  Thanks be to God that he has the right perspective, and he’s there with me on the ice, holding my hand and cheering me on.

And do you know, it’s not all bad!  Even though Miriam was stubborn, reluctant, sullen and uncooperative, I could see glimpses of a talent for skating.   I know that she didn’t believe me when I said from the sidelines, ‘You’re doing it!  That’s it!’  And when your mum or your friends or your husband say to you, ‘You’re doing a great job’ and it’s week three and you’re just trying to keep your head above water, you might think, ‘as if!’ but they do mean it.  They’re seeing glimpses of the ability God has given you to excel at this particular line of work.

So I’d like to encourage you (no matter how old our child is, by the way!) – if you feel today like you’re slipping around and just getting cold and wet, please remember that God is growing your faith and your character, which is priceless – ‘of greater worth than gold.’ (1 Peter 6:7)  And the people you see gliding around have all been in similar positions to you, they’re just further along the journey. And slowly but surely you are making your way across the ice.  Small steps!

On an even more personal note, I would just like thank God for giving my daughter breath in her lungs for four whole years.  [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Colossians 1:17.  From emergency C-section until now, may I never forget that it’s the Lord Jesus who is holding us together every. single. day.