In February 2016, Emily Writes and I started a parenting podcast called Dear Mamas. Our manifesto is no bullshit, no judgement, and we hope to build friendship, support and community. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher, or listen on Emily’s blog. I’ll be posting transcripts of each episode here for anyone who’s unable to listen.
In this episode we explore how to know when you’ve had your last child. Holly is agonising over whether to have a second, Emily is pretty sure she’s done at two, but you never know… so we ask our friend Andrea (@MsBeeton) who has twelve (yes twelve!) children, why she kept having kids and how she knew she was finally done.
In the process, she breaks every stereotype we thought we had about people with large families, graciously endures our wide-eyed questioning, and we hold hands and agree it’s different for everyone and we’re all doing just fine. Huge and heartfelt thanks to @mamamuriel for the epic transcript.
Holly: Welcome back to the Dear Mamas podcast, after a very embarrassingly long break, so we thought we’d better start off with apologies and excuses for not having done a podcast in so long. I, went to America and did a writing work shop which was awesome and then have basically been procrastinating and pissing around since I got back from either writing or making podcasts, that’s my excuse, what about you Emily?
Emily: yeah, I just, every, there is so much, just lots of life going on and stuff, I’m not pregnant, I don’t mean it in that way. I just mean that like, I wrote a review and it ridiculously went viral.
Holly: So for those who aren’t familiar which is probably, nobody, Emily wrote a review of the Tarzan movie that became the best review in the history of the internet ever.
Emily: (Laugh) It just shows, that you just, the internet is a strange place with what happens on there.
Holly: do you know how many hits you had on it in the end?
Emily: I think it’s about, about 700 000 or so, I have no idea, I think it’s around that because it just keeps going up each day and everyday that I think it’s going to stop and it just keeps going. But um, It’s been interesting, so but, it did mean that I got a review gig with Metro Magazine, which you know, paid writing work it’s pretty great, so yeah, so that was good, so it wasn’t like an altogether terrible thing that happened, but you know.
Holly: kind of a stressful and crazy thing as well
Emily: Yeah an odd thing, so.
Holly: So that’s our excuses for why we’ve been so long between podcasts and we’re very sorry.
Emily: We did organise one as well, but then there was sickness
Holly: We did a couple of times I was, once I was sick, yep it’s been just
Emily: Yeah, its so much sickness around.
Holly: But we’re here and our topic tonight is about how you decide when you’re done having kids or when your family is complete. How many children you should have and how can you be sure that you’ve had your last child, and for me this is a totally selfish topic selection because my one child is nearly three and you know, a lot of the people that I had, um that had, my friends who had babies around the same time have already had their 2nd children and I’m starting to really seriously think about whether or not we should have another kid and every month my body tries to trick me into having another kid and it seems like the best idea, like ever, and clearly the only sensible option and then um, I manage to ignore that and come the end of the month I’m like “Oh god why would I ever have another child”? So why would I do that to myself again? (laughter) um and I go through that cycle over and over again every month and so what I’ve mostly been doing is agonising over it and asking other people what they think. Um, so here we are. And what about you Emily are you done having kids?
EMILY: Aaaaargh I love babies so much, and I also really love 3, I feel like 3 is like the best age ever, like when they start talking, like maybe 2 and up, like maybe 2 and a half ish. So I’m, like If I could not be pregnant again, have lots of baby cuddles, skip most of the in between bit and then have a like a 2 ½year old, 3 year old.
Emily: I mean tonight I was laying in bed with Ham trying to get him to sleep and he was all snuggled up to me and I was like “oh, I could have another baby” and then I was like maybe I’ll say that in the podcast and I was like laying there and then he was asleep, so like I went and got up to leave and I just shut the door and then he started screaming. And I went back in and I did it again and then he was asleep and then I shut the door and he did it all over again and then I was like, four, like I went down like four times and then finally I was like to my husband I was like, “I have so much shit to do, like, just fucking do it, the baby” and then I was like “I’m never having another one”
Holly: having another kid,( Laughs)
Emily: And you know its just like, I love them
Holly: Yep, I pretty much constantly just flip between those two emotions all the time
Emily: I’m like, they’re so cute , babies are just like, they smell so delicious,
Emily: Like I’m almost like, I saw this baby in the Warehouse and I just like had this like primal urge to take the baby from the woman. It was terrible I had to like stop myself and then I was like “Oh how old is it? Oh its so cute“ and she was like, she was where I was. You know, when random people come up to you, and you’re just like “oh my god, go away” and, but I was. I was it.
Holly: Yep, you were doing it . (laugh)
Emily: I was it. And I’m gonna be like this horrible old lady who does it to people as well, like going up and being like , “cherish every moment”
Holly: So I think now its time to introduce our guest, who you probably heard laughing at us, as we gave those little monologues
Emily: she has a lot to laugh at us for.
Holly: Yes (laughs). So we’ve got Andrea with us, who is also know as @MsBeeton on twitter, both Emily and I knew her on twitter and then I also joined a book club that um, Andrea is one of the lynch pins of and have had a fantastic few months drinking wine and talking books with Andrea and some other wonderful ladies from the Hutt. Um, and Andrea, would you like to tell us, how many children do you have?
Andrea: Well, I have 12 children.
Holly: JUST 12 CHILDREN ! (laughter)
Emily : I just cannot, I have to say that I knew Andrea on twitter and we would have conversations and stuff and I’d be like “Oh my god I just want a thousand babies” and then Andrea would be like “I have 12 “ and all these, all these years I just thought she was taking the piss.
Andrea: (laughs) yeah, a lot of people do. (laughter)
Emily: And then, like I just found out last year, that she wasn’t. And I just have to know, how you look so good when you have 12 children? (laughter) because I look like sometimes I actually am afraid when I look in the mirror so how do you have 12, I only have 2, and I look so ….
Andrea: Well, yeah, I don’t have babies anymore which helps. I have time to brush my hair now (laughter) brush my teeth, (laughter) but yeah, I still have my moments.
Holly: So your kids range in age from 28 to 11.
Andrea: yeah, 11 is my baby.
Holly: And how many do you have at home with you?
Andrea: We have ah five, at home that are still sort of, still at school and still dependent and three adults that are sort of coming in and coming out. They haven’t quite found their own way and have discovered the joys of free rent
Holly: (laugh) staying at home for as long as possible
Andrea: and a laundry matt. Yeah (laughter)
Holly : But, of course as well as having 12 children, because we are not defined by our children or our status as mothers, Andrea’s a children’s librarian and a part-time student.
Andrea: Yes, I feel like forever, part time student (laughter) when will it end?
Holly: How many papers to go ?
Andrea: ah well at the end of this semester I’ll have three more papers to go because I’ve just dropped one. I just went in today and withdrew before I got academic penalty, I mean financial penalty I was like I can’t do this!
Holly: On the last possible day?
Andrea: Yeah, (laughter), so yeah, now I’ve got three more to do, which will happen next year I guess, yeah.
Emily: And what are you studying?
Andrea: Anthropology and English are my majors and classics are my minor but so many regrets, I think I probably just should have just stuck to one major, I’d be done by now, so done, (laugh), yeah so you live and learn, its too late to go back
Emily: So, I have so many questions. Are any of them twins?
Andrea: Yes, we have one set of twins, who are 16,
Andrea: fraternal girls and um that’s it.
Emily: Ok, so
Andrea: One by one
Holly: What’s the biggest gap?
Andrea: The biggest gap, probably, must have come after the twins, I think, because that was my bottle shock moment, I’m like “What the hell” (laughter)
Emily: So how many kids did you have when you had twins ?
Andrea: The twins were number 8 and 9
Emily: Oh My God. (giggle)
Andrea: yeah, I thought I was handling it pretty well up till then (laughter) but um yeah, so they were quite, actually they weren’t difficult babies, I just found…
Holly: Two at once
Andrea: the um, mass amount of children. Suddenly I was “oh my god, I’ve got so many children “ but um yeah so , I had a two and half year gap, oh just over, no actually I only had a 2 year gap, because they’re both born, yeah, Zac whose the next one he’s born in the same month as Sam , well it felt longer , (laughter) I guess because all my other gaps were quite small ,
Holly: So that’s two years completely, before
Andrea: two years, so I guess my biggest gap might have been, no shit, I think that is my biggest gap,
Emily: Two years?
Andrea: two years
Emily: Holy Fucking Shit
Andrea: and I think the smallest was 15 months and that was between number ahh, 4 and 5 and the rest are all roughly 18 months apart.
Emily: Oh my gosh.
Andrea: And um that’s what I was gonna say, is probably the, the thing that kept me going, coz I didn’t quite get to that three year old stage,
Holly: See my mistake was coming up for air
Andrea: was waiting, that’s right , you waited too long (laughter) All that rationality came flooding back,
Holly: Yeah and I started sleeping again and feeling like a human being
Andrea: That’s right
Holly: And then thought, why on earth would I go back to that? (laughter) but you never left !
Andrea: No, no. There’s , there’s this real sweet spot I think, around their 1st birthday where you, where it just feels so natural to have, and I think that’s usually about the time I get pregnant. Or got pregnant . God, please don’t let me be pregnant (giggle) I think they’re little, sort of sleeping, and doing all their normal baby things
Emily: but your older ones must have been hitting the different
Andrea: Yeah, yeah they were, but I took it in my stride, I really loved the challenge and I loved, I thrive on sort of chaos, and business and if I don’t have it, I sort of, we make our own drama (laughter) You know there’s gotta always be something happening really, so.
Emily: So what is it like with 12 kids?
Andrea: Its hectic, I think the gap is 17 years between my oldest and my youngest, so um, I think they, the older ones were probably getting fed up by that stage, I remember, they didn’t give me any sort of like “ohh not another one” sort of comments, but you could tell that we were done with babies in the house, so um, this was at that point you know that I was starting to think that, you know, it was more than just me wanting babies, I’ve got to think about this whole dynamic, whose lives am I destroying (laughter)and its really funny coz,
Holly: Who am I forcing to share a room.
Andrea: None of the older ones want children (laughter) and they’re all quite happily child free and I don’t think they’ll ever have children. So um,
Holly: They’ve done their share of
Emily: At least like, you’re probably like sorted though for grandkids even if only like some of yours have kids then
Andrea: yeah, the middle ones are my only one’s that are procreating at the moment. And um, possibly ever, I think, because my older ones definitely don’t seem to want children. (laughter)
Holly: Did they end up helping quite a lot? Coz I was guessing that one of the things might be ,that after they reach a certain age you’ve got extra bodies around
Andrea: Ahhh, Yeah, but we’re not, not like the Duggars, we don’t sort of hand one off to the older, the older child and like ’yours now”, but um, they helped in that they were entertaining, you know children play together, and um there was always somebody to pass a baby to at dinner time, when you know when things were really crazy. So that, you know, it is a huge help, you really have your own village so it is great, but they weren’t helping as in, raising the child or changing their nappies or you know that sort of stuff, they were just being siblings, and I had a lot of siblings, so that’s quite helpful, yeah.
HOLLY: And did they, did they, pair off and sort of form cliques within the tribe?
Andrea: Um, yeah I guess, its funny because they did it, they sort of get on best with not their next age peer but the one after, sort of they always, and because my genders are quite odd.
Holly : oh yeah, so tell us
Emily : Hmmmm yeah
Andrea: Ah well, I’ve got 6 boys and 6 girls, but there not all boy, girl, boy, girl. We had a clump of boys and a clump of girls so, They sort of all paired off to um, sort of the sibling that was maybe not immediately closest to them in age, but you know within that 3 year gap , and it was the same gender, so they’ve all made their little friendships and. Its funny the twins um are really going their separate ways now too and they were like really close beasties, and now they’ve got quite different lives , and its funny seeing them separate.
Emily: So you must have like your pregnancies were pretty ok, then to have 12
Andrea: yeah they were, and that made
Emily: or 11
Andrea: A big difference, I didn’t get hyperemesis, and I didn’t suffer, you know the strains that a lot of pregnant women get, I had really nice pregnancies and I Loved being pregnant it was just like my go to state of being, It was just, I loved it, I loved that feeling of life inside me and I just really enjoyed the roundness and the attention and I just loved being pregnant, so, its always not been a problem for me. But you know, I know, I know some women get sick from the moment they pee on that pregnancy test (laughter) and it goes right through.
Emily: Yeah, and I think that’s why I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t do it again, mainly because of the pregnancy, I often think, if I could just not, do the pregnancy, but then I would feel a bit greedy making somebody be the surrogate for me. But, um yeah, I, and so you had mostly good sleepers then?
Andrea: um, we had, kind of a, really lazy approach to sleep in that, ohh, I guess it was chaotic in that we didn’t have bed times for them, they would sort of fall asleep on where ever they landed and we’d just scoop them up and take them to bed, you know, because, I guess we were just so busy.
Holly: Its pretty hard to run a regimented routine
Andrea: There was no order, There was no order (laughs)
Holly: When you’ve got so many running around.
Andrea: (laughs) yeah, that’s right, and its funny I get this comment all the time – “Oh you must be so organised- I bet your house is super organised” I’m like, “yeah. Sure”, (laughter) its like- no
Emily: that is so, that is so interesting to hear, because I was thinking, oh my gosh I wonder if she’s going to say, that like sleep is really easy, you just have to do it a certain way. I thought maybe you would say something like that. And then I would be like “Oh my god, I can’t get only 2 children to sleep, only one, you know, um, but that, so that’s very reassuring .
Andrea: yeah, they’ve all been different, they’ve all had different levels of sleep and how much they’ve needed but they’ve, we’ve all been the same in our approach to sleeping times in that we’ve never had one (laughter) we’re such crap parents (laughter)
Holly: that is super reassuring
Andrea: We’re terrible (laughter)
Emily: That is so reassuring, and I think you know what’s so reassuring is this idea that they’re all different, and that you wouldn’t have this
Andrea: Definitely, yeah
Emily: one approach for all, because you know a lot of the narrative for parents, is that there is one approach for all children and if you don’t do that, then you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing clearer if you have 12 children and they’re all different
Andrea: hmmm, Oh hell yeah, yeah
Holly: You have empirical evidence to know. Yeah I think that’s really true, coz I, when I imagine having another child, I think about the child that I had and I imagine that I would, I imagine repeating that experience, and she’s a brilliant, wonderful, gorgeous, incredible child, but sleep was never her strong suit, she’s nearly three and she’s pretty much only just learning how to do it now, and so a big part of what makes me hesitate, is imagining a repeat of that experience, and I know people say to me, every child’s different, but I don’t have any or limited experience to prove that.
Emily: And also, also every child’s different and then you get one that’s fucking worse (laughter)
Holly: (laughter) yes, exactly
Emily: because that’s what happened to me, I can’t believe that I ever said that Eddie was a bad sleeper, he didn’t sleep through the night till he was 2 but he’s not a bad sleeper compared to Ronnie. Like I mean I used to complain about only waking up like 2 or 3 times a night, like that’s ridiculous, what I wouldn’t give for 2 or 3 times a night.
Holly: (laughs) that would be a luxury
Andrea: Is he like a day sleeper or is he just not a sleeper ?
Emily: Nah, he’s just not a sleeper,
Andrea: little shit
Emily: Yeah, just like the, you know like, I could not, I feel like it’s such, it would be too much of a risk too … but I don’t know, I think that you do have those like chronic sleep depravation, I really feel like I’m still in it and you know, so
Andrea: hmmm sleep, that fog of disorientation
Emily : Yeah, so did you have that? Like the sleep dep?
Andrea: Yeah, I guess I did, but because, um, I don’t know, I just, I can’t remember. Honestly, and I think that’s part of it, your brain gets wiped (laughs) and I think I probably did, I just don’t remember how horrible it was, so I’m like, I’m like “nahh not really”, but like I probably did and I honestly can’t fucking remember.
Emily: Yeah , because it feels like, it must have been, like it seems like from I guess being in it, that it must have been years and years and years where you were always getting up to a baby at night.
Andrea: Yeah, you know what, no they were, I’m gonna be honest, they were pretty good at sleeping through um, I don’t remember it, having a baby that was like a constant waker or anything like that . But um
Emily: Did you co-sleep or ?
Andrea: Yeah…. we did.
Emily: (giggles) with like all of them, coz just like 2 feels like so many in the bed
Andrea: Yeah we had like
Holly: How big is your bed?
Andrea: Like an arc type of a bed (laughter) ,um. There was, there was a point there was, like 5 of them in there at some stage (laughter) and I’m like ‘Oh my god’, I don’t remember, but, you just put up with it I don’t know why, I just felt like that was the norm, and I can’t remember it being terrible , I guess because, I felt like, You’ve put yourself in the situation ,you know, you just made your bed, you deal with it.
Holly: Let your children in it (laughs)
Andrea: yeah! I guess I can’t really remember how terrible it was.
Emily: But I suppose its, I mean there’s something innate and frankly quite ludicrous , in some of our make ups, where when you said 5 in a bed, I just started smiling, and thought ‘I could have 5 little ‘(laughter)
Holly: Ohh wouldn’t that be nice (laughing) little limbs tangled,
Emily: Like I know its not nice, I just
Holly: dewy eyed faces asleep on the pillow next to you
Emily: I just really for a second I was like, three more, and mine are
Andrea: mine were like, sleeping down by our feet and we were like, get away from me, I wanna stretch out
Emily: Yeah, I so, I’m in it and I know this is the biological imperative eh ?
Holly: yeah this is the problem with the hormones
Andrea: The baby rabies (laughter)
Emily: because even as you said it, like I will have children in my bed tonight, its not like I need more you know (laughs) but they’re so, children are so delightful . They are.
Andrea: They’re pretty cute
Holly: Yeah, they are, they’re intoxicating, yeah
Emily: And just, like that’s why sometimes I do think, um, I should just make my husband go and get a vasectomy coz he’s keen, he’s super keen, but then I think, ohhh, maybe when the kids are like 5 I might not be done and all that, and then I’m like, I don’t want my not rational side to, you know, and not at all to suggest you weren’t rational in having lots of kids but
Andrea: well maybe I wasn’t (laughter)
Emily: but did you ever, so how did you know to stop at 12?
Andrea: yeah, we were kind of talking about this a book group the other night weren’t we ? It was like a, like a perfect blending of all sorts of different things, it sort of came together to make this perfect storm of ‘we’re done’ and like I’d always heard, as I was having children, from those women who “ oh no, you know when your done, we’re done. We know, we know”
Holly: People were stopping around you
Andrea: yeah, and I’m like, how, how do you know? I’m thinking oh well, obviously its some sort of magical force that will come down upon me when the time is right, like the holy spirit. But it never happened and then I sort of, after I had the twins, like I said, it was really, that’s when It hit me that ‘You’ve got a lot of children’.(laughter) and yet, I still kept going, I still kept going, I still kept going . But I started at that point too, to age, and I think that’s, that was a big thing for me, coz I’d popped out my kids all really in my 20s quite young and I was quite spritely, Then I sort of hit my mid 30s , early to mid 30s and I also was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which is a sort of a chronic illness where you’re really tired and fatigued and you get quite sore, and, that along with aging and along with a couple of difficult pregnancies sort of made me think, you know, enough’s enough “You’ve got 12, you don’t need any more” so and I think by the time I’d had Oscar, who was my last one, I was really, I knew that was it, I was done, there’d be no more and yeah, but um, I did also sort of have a, like talking about this mystical holy spirit, that comes down on you, I did always have a feeling I’d end with a boy, that I knew , I dunno really, because I’m not a, sort of an ooh laa laaaary type of person , I’m quite sort of scientifically rooted, (laughter) So I don’t know why, but I always felt that we’d end with a little, a little boy, and so I, so once we’d had him, I thought no, this is it, this is the last one and I was really quite happy and quite content with that. And so it did happen
Holly: Yeah, it did, like everybody said, it just took 12 (laughter)
Andrea: Not over night , it took 12, yeah
Holly: And did you, I’m quite interested too, that you said that you’d always felt that you might end with a boy, when you started having children did you having any idea of, that you wanted to have a large family?
Andrea: No, none, it was, the whole way through it was one child at a time, there was never any set goal, set number, I mean obviously the twins, weren’t one child at a time (laughter) most of them were and yeah, it was always per child, then you know, I decided after that one I wanted another one, we. You know, Because there was two of us there, wanted another one , but um, it was, yeah like, It wasn’t just, um, sort of a fanciful, lets do it type of thing, there was a lot, we took a lot of stuff into consideration , like our financial situation our living situation, because I mean, there are a lot of structures in society that bar you really from going any further than having three children, you know, house sizes and car sizes, and, family passes to the movies (laughter) so you know, there’s a lot of – its not an easy decision to go sort of beyond the norm, so you know, each time there was a lot of thinking behind it it wasn’t just a ‘yeah lets do it’ sort of a thing,
Emily: Do you and your partner, do you come from big families or ?
Andrea: No, no average. Average families. I’ve got one brother and he’s got a brother and a sister, so no, we just really, I guess we just really loved it and we realised that we were made for it, we both had the right temperaments , we both enjoyed it, we loved the dynamic and there’s something awesome about just seeing what new DNA combinations will come out(laughter) its like a game, like “aw my god, I made a new creature” but its just. Yeah, we really just loved having a big family, we loved the chaos, and um, we just never felt done. That that was it, always felt, and it wasn’t an immediate thing after each baby, I know I’ve got to go have another baby. You know it happened eventually , but no we’re not done yet and so and one day we were , not very helpful
Emily: And your partner felt the same, at 12 like that, did he feel that he was ready to ?
Andrea: I think he was done earlier than me, but he was quite accommodating that he would let me decide when we’d had enough, but I could tell he was starting to check out about the same time I was, about with, around the time when the twins came along, he would spend longer at work (giggles) detour on the way home ‘oh I’ve just gotta do this’ so he’d avoid that really chaosy sort of 4 till 7 o’clock time period, which was really stressful to me because I was dealing with it on my own. So I kind of knew then, that he’d had enough, but he was just being really gracious about it, and um, yeah combined with the other health problems, and, it just came to a head, yeah it was enough , yeah
Emily: And, I don’t want to, you have been so generous in having this discussion with us and anybody else whose listening, so I don’t want to step too far, but did your marriage survive 12 kids ?
Andrea: Yeah (laughs) it did. Um, it , I’m not going to say we were like, perfect partners or anything, it was really stressful and we had some boomer fights, but you know, um, we’ve been married for, I think up, coming up to 30 years soon
Emily: Wooow, that is so impressive.
Andrea: We have, we did quite well
Emily: I mean, its just I think because sometimes with, small children seem to be such a intense thing on a marriage.
Emily: Like I often, those things that are like, you know the biggest stresses on marriage being money and moving house and all those things and I always think
Holly: What about Hmmm,
Emily: why aren’t kids up there ?
Holly: yeah, especially small children
Emily: Yeah, because, I mean I was with um, you know, my husband and I have been together a really long time and, and 10 years before we got married and um then we started um, and then we had Eddie. But I’ve always thought, been quite shocked at how much of a strain it is on it, we’re really happily married and things, but I’ve always thought that if you add more children, is it more ?
Andrea: It is, it is.
Emily: because that is a big consideration for me that.
Andrea: well its also, the more children you add the more financial stress and like you’ve already mentioned, that is a pressure on a lot of couples so it just amplifies it really doesn’t it ?
Andrea: so yeah, And um, and you also grow, you change as people when you become parents and often you, change in completely different ways and a lot of people do separate once their children are independent, or older, because they’re just different people, but um yeah
Emily: Because do you get, like I guess now you’re getting to see each other a lot more and spend a lot more time together , but I often feel, like my husband and I often sort of lament that we don’t see each other, even though we’re
Holly : You pass like ships in the night don’t you.
Emily: Yeah , because particularly Ham’s sleep is so bad that one of us always has to go to bed at about 8 o’clock, 7.30 , 8 o’clock, to begin the night , and then we swap over. And so we don’t actually get to spend a great deal of time together
Holly: And that must have been a big challenge
Andrea: Definitely, yeah, I mean, I actually quite like not spending time with my husband at the moment (laughter) Its like this, I’m really selfish with my time, and I think that’s also a reason that probably a lot of women, stop having children, is because they’ve become really selfish with their time, they don’t want to be nurturers anymore
Emily: Yeah , yeah
Andrea: and I know that’s definitely how I was feeling, I was done . with giving. And um I’m still in that phase, where I’m really selfish of my time and I will quite happily go into my room, shut the door and just play video games rather than talk to my husband or my children or anyone else , coz its just, I need that.
Holly: And how, long was it until you started to get that back again, because there must have been a long time where you
Andrea: It was probably hasn’t started, I just went 11 years. Um, like, now we can go out and we can have dinner and we can go to movies and um, kids still tag along but we make them sit somewhere else (laughter) like “you sit over there” Like they just crash our party all the time, um but , they’re not, um the stresses are different when they’re older than when they’re little and yeah, I think one of our kids was at our anniversary dinner a few years ago, she was just “ aaww I’m really hungry” and so she came out and had pizza with us, but um, but yeah , but they were adults and you relate to them so differently than when you‘ve got little children, they’re like friends, you know, they’re peers, so its quite different, but um, yeah, I guess, I dunno, we’re still at that stage in our marriage where we’ve still got dependent children and now we’ve got grand children which is different altogether because its really funny
Emily: Do you take the grand kids over night?
Andrea: Um no, ahh, we’ve had Eric a few times overnight, but it um, my daughter ah one of my 16 year olds sort of takes care of him more than I do, I don’t really do much grand parenting at all. We’re the worst grandparents in the world. (laughter) Its really funny seeing my husband grandparent, he’s totally different as a grandparent than what he was as a father, like he was quite short tempered as a father, you know like, he didn’t have time for silliness, and he does now with Eric and Alice and its really cute and I love seeing that. But um.
Holly: I think, I think, parents are different as grand parents like um,
Emily: yeah it’s a very strange thing to watch your parents be grandparents
Holly: I know Dave, my partner, um, always has a wry smile at how um, ready his mum is to give sugary treats to our daughter, she takes quite a lot of delight in being able to do that, when that was not a great feature of her parenting, I think in Dave’s time.
Andrea: I know, how hard we avoided sugar with our own children, and then like, “come and make cookies Eric, full of sugar look at them all (laughter)
Emily: So you must have some tips, 12 kids, what are your big tips for parents ?
Andrea: Did you miss the part where we talked about how chaotic my life was (laughter)
Holly: Maybe that’s the tip, don’t try to control anything, just ride the wave.
Andrea: (laughing) hmmm, I honestly, just, don’t listen to tips would be my tip, just find your own way and be confident I guess no matter how you’re doing it. Don’t um,
Holly: Did you always feel like, like, I think that’s, I mean I think you’re absolutely right about that, and I think a big thing is for people when they have their first child or when they’re new to parenting, that they’re doubting and questioning themselves a lot, um, did you ever do that or did you sort of feel like you knew what you were doing right from the start?
Andrea: I didn’t really, I had my first quite young, I was a teenage mum and I had no peers that had children, I had no frame of reference, so I just did what I did and I guess that’s where my terrible parenting started (laughs)
Holly: It sounds like great parenting from where I’m sitting
Andrea: So yeah, we, I had um, I didn’t even read any childcare books, I read every pregnancy book perhaps on the planet and that’s where my reading ended.
Holly: (laughs) but that’s a common thing
Andrea: so when the baby came along I was like, “What” but um, I did have a great anti natal support group who I used to sort of reflect my own parenting off, am I you know, doing it right? Am I ok? Oh my gosh I’m not, but um, it was yeah, really just finding my own way. And I didn’t have the internet when I had my own kids, so I, again wasn’t comparing myself to anybody else, that didn’t come till much later (laughs) so yeah. Just own it, however you parent, just own it and be confident and its nobody else’s business but yours.
Emily: And on the topic of it not being any bodies business, do you often have people
Holly: Like us
Emily: like our sort of reaction tonight and sort of, fascinated, tell me everything,
Andrea: hmmm, all the time, yeah, all the time
Emily: And how’s that for you?
Andrea: umm, I’m used to it now, I used to get really annoyed. People would, when I was having children, people would always demand of me, umm, is this the last? are you having any more ? umm how many are you going to have? And sometimes, I would just be so annoyed I’d pick like a random number and I’d say 25 or, coz its just like, “what business is it of yours” but um, yeah complete strangers, all of the questions, are they same daddy? Are they the same, you know father, how many bedrooms do you have? how much money do you earn? um, are there twins and are they, were they all born naturally, like, what is naturally, you know, “yes they all come out my vagina”- well they didn’t actually (laughter) but I’m not telling you that. (laughter) um yeah sort of like really personal questions and I’m quite used to it um and the kids get it now, which is funny, they get it from their peers they want to know.
Holly: I was going to ask you that, did they ever, yeah did they ever come home from school saying that their friends were
Andrea: yeah they do
Holly: Asking them what its like to be one of 12.
Andrea: Not only their friends, but their um teachers, their um, yeah, their friend’s mothers in fact probably are the worst offenders who want to know all of the details and we’ve always joked that we’d make up an FAQ so you know, you could just like hand it out.
Emily: (laughs) so do you find it harder to connect with other mums or?
Andrea: um no, not really, I , I’m pretty, I get on with pretty much anyone, so I never let it
Emily: Yeah, you’re incredibly gracious, with people
Andrea: aww thank you.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely.
Emily: like, we’re peppering you with questions tonight and
Andrea: No, I don’t have a problem with other parents, I’ve always found it difficult to find peers that I’ve had common, had a commonality with, I don’t mean like, I actually have a friend that’s got more than, maybe at a maximum 4, I’ve got a few online friends that have got lots of children, but no real life friends, but also, its not just my children, its I find, my peers don’t have many common interests with me in all sorts of aspects of life but that doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with lots of different people
Emily: And I suppose it is a bit unusual that like you’re not in a cult (laughter) or your not weird
Andrea: Yeah, I’m not religious at all, I’m not a Mormon, I’m not a catholic
Holly: You don’t live at Gloriavale
Andrea: We don’t do the quiver thing,
Emily: A quiver full
Andrea: quiver full, yeah
Holly: I don’t even know what that is, I don’t think I want to know
Andrea: I had to google it
Emily: Its was my like, evangelical, Christian sort of upbringing,
Andrea: Oh was it, ohh ?
Emily: I know quite a bit about a quiver full, I mean its not my upbringing in terms of that, but I mean and I suppose that you know– I was talking to my mother in law and I was saying about the podcast and I said, “and she’s had 12 children” and you know and she said “well that was quite normal on our street we had you know…”
Andrea: Yeah that’s the thing I get that a lot
Emily: coz she’s one of 7 and my mum’s one of 7 and um, but you don’t often see it these days and you know I think, I have wondered the types of reactions you would get , and whether, because I mean some of the things people say on line about any aspect of parenting that’s actually quite normal is really sort of aggressive and mean let alone something that’s slightly outside the norm like having more than 2.5 (giggles) you know children and everything, so have you got any thoughts on how you cope with that, given that a lot of listeners are mums who are kind of struggling with, well I think all mums are struggling in a way to cope with unsolicited
Holly: advice, questions, judgement, criticism
Emily: and also criticism, of your life style or the choices you make as a mother
Andrea: I, Yeah, that’s been one of the things I’ve always been sensitive to, I guess is criticism, because I know that its out there. When I first went on line in the, early 2000s I think it was, um, on usenet (laughs) dating myself. People were really critical, and I only, I had 9, which I guess is still a lot, um, but they were critical to the point of hate. I had somebody from overseas ring New Zealand Child Youth and Family on me,
Emily: oh my gosh
Andrea: I know, somebody, I’d never, I didn’t even, never knew, never met , but they saw one picture of one of my children on the internet and felt they were too skinny
Holly/ Emily : What !
Andrea: So they called Child Youth and Family, who actually contacted me.
Holly/Emily: Oh my gosh, you’re kidding
Andrea: I was like ‘you’re what’ (laughs) So I was just like, you know they, have apparently they had to investigate every call that they get, but I’m like “who called you?” and like they said, that somebody had seen, from overseas,
Holly: So unwelcome internet judgement
Holly: Is nothing new
Andrea: No !
Holly: It feels like a very um, kind of now phenomenon, but even at the very beginning of using the internet in that kind of way you got that.
Andrea: I think that women especially are just easy targets for hate. You know, people have a lot of anger about a lot of issues and its just easier to target mothers.
Holly: and to do it anonymously
Andrea: yeah, that’s right and I think too, when you have a lot of children, you become an easy target for everyone that thinks the planet’s dying, you know, All environmental issues are my fault, global warming is my fault, um you know, everything is my fault because I’ve had too many children.
Holly: Never mind that we live in New Zealand where the population rate is not growing,
Andrea: (laughing) things like that don’t matter
Holly: we have an aging population and we’re gonna have a need for young, skilled people to support our economy.
Andrea: But um, and I mean, really my 12 children are not the norm, I think probably there’s maybe 2 or 3 families that size in the whole of New Zealand. Its not like everybody’s doing it. And I think, I guess I did have a lot of guilt about that as well, because I am quite conscious of our foot print.
Emily: But I wonder if that kind of touches on, you know um, the concept of, like I was thinking about my first reaction when I realised that you were actually serious and had 12 children and I had this odd sort of pang and I thought, I wonder what that is, and I thought, actually when I started to unpack it a bit, which is what I try to do a lot now when I have any kind of reaction to any choice another mother makes, I think ‘ ooh, I wonder why I think that or that’,
Holly: what’s going on here, why am I think that? hmmm
Emily: and I think I had this thought of like I can’t cope with 2 how can she cope with 12, and I thought, she must love children and be so good with them to have 12, and I had this thing of like ‘ I want to be that, I want to be so, such a good mum, that I can have 12’ you know?
Holly: And isn’t that such a thing, about, part of what this whole piece is about. And part of the reason we do the podcast and your blog and your book, is about, trying to get, trying to get to the point of understanding that when people make different choices to you, they’re not making them at you, do you know what I mean ?
Emily: Yeah, and they have nothing to do with you
Holly: Its so easy to feel judged just by hearing that someone else, quite, no I’m not going to say easily ,it clearly hasn’t been easy, but has skill fully managed having a large number of children, when you feel like you might not be able to have more than one. So there’s a real thing there about other people’s choices and how you know people feel, it as , they feel it as a judgement of themselves when of course its nothing to do with them.
Emily: And you talked before about, before, like having less people to compare yourself to. And I think that that’s so a key, because sometimes when I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself in terms of my parenting skills, I will compare myself to like other, like say ‘well she has 4 and she’s perfectly capable, and she’s getting through the day’ each day and um, and its this real sort of, the comparison is a way to hurt myself or, like you know, and if you want to react to that and you can’t sort of process why you’re feeling that, of course it comes out as a judgement which isn’t fair and it is that comparison, I think always wanting to compare yourself because its so difficult to just say ‘My situation is different’, and you know my children are different which is again another thing you’ve talked about, you know 12 children that are all different you know, how much of the things that we struggle with I wonder could be eased slightly
Holly: By simply knowing that they are all different
Emily: by simply understanding all children are different
Andrea: And you’re a different parent with each child as well, you know, you bring that wealth of experience from the last one and you’ve grown as a person and you’ve informed yourself more and you know your just in a different place. You do it differently, things that stressed you the first time around, don’t stress you the second time, and um, and that third time its just, I won’t say get exponentially less stressful because it doesn’t but you reach critical mass of stress point (laughter) you know I think by the time you hit 3 or 4 you realise that your doing ok , your not terrible and they will survive this , they will live and so will you.
Emily: I do wonder if the jump from one to two is one of the biggest jumps, but I only say that as a parent of only two. But I think, I was so, under prepared for what two would be like because I just thought it would be, just one more than what I had, and it is just one more, but its so much more, like its, so, the things that I’d got so used to with, there’s not a big gap between my two, but there were things I had gotten used to that are just totally out of the picture now, and also having a bit of a roadmap with the first, I’m like, I have to remember that Eddie didn’t sleep through the night for a long time but then Ham is such a horrendously worse sleeper, but um yeah, I often think maybe three wouldn’t be as hard for me as two
Holly: (giggles) I think that’s another thing that happens right, you, your brain after a certain point after the last child says, you know, like you say, you know so much more about this now, you’ll be able to do a really good job with the next one (laughter)
Emily: And its so funny, my husband has a thing, where he says that like, he thinks that I get this look in my eye when I see babies and stuff and he like, I will somehow start doing it, If I see a baby out and about when we’re out and he’ll be like “ you’ve got a baby, you’ve got a baby, you’ve got a baby just look down, you’re literally pushing a buggy (laughing)
Holly: Look ahead, look ahead, keep walking, keep walking (laughing)
Andrea: Awww, its hard, those urges are primal, they’re hard to fight, but um yeah, I can’t say though I was particularly drawn to other peoples babies when I was having my own babies, I don’t think that was one of the driving forces like ‘ohh baby baby everywhere” I just really wanted to have another baby. I don’t know. Not just another baby, but I wanted another person in this clan, this group, it’s a really hard concept to explain but I guess, you know
Holly: Yeah, well my partner and I were talking about it last night, about when we did, when we had Esther, and the confluences of circumstances, that, I mean basically we agreed we made the right kid at the right time and I think, and when we were talking about whether we have another one, the conclusion we basically came to is that if we feel that same confluences of circumstances we’ll probably make another kid at the right time and if we don’t then, you know, then we weren’t meant to have that kid , so and it sounds more or less that actually that’s kind of been how its was for you
Andrea: yeah , pretty much
Holly: except that it took 12 kids until you knew (laughs)
Emily: I always thought, that I would only ever have one, that was my thing that I would only have one. And then I think part of having a second and its difficult to explain this without, because, you know, I won’t even try to put justifications before I say it, but I think that there’s a certain type of grief that has a health condition, you feel like their childhood. So much of the first year and a half, 2 years of Eddie’s life was spent in fear and in hospital and feeling very overwhelmed and a lot of the, sort of joyous aspects of having, it was still joyous and wonderful, I mean it couldn’t not be with Eddie because he’s such a delightful child, but I mean, a lot of it was really distressing, um like, medical procedures, and things like that and my pregnancy was really unpleasant too after you know, 4 years of trying, so I had this idea that I could re-do it, the way and get what everybody else gets and I thought, I would have that good pregnancy, even though I had no reason to believe that it would be, but I was like, and I can be like all the pregnant women with their, you know. And I thought, and I would have a child that I wasn’t constantly terrified um through the first year or so of their life, and things and there is something about just when a child comes through from having a health condition, they are, there’s something, I don’t want to like, yeah, its been a real privilege to see Eddie come through and grow in this particular circumstances he has, so I think that’s part of why we wanted a second, to try and have, and there are definitely aspects of it second time around, when you’ve had and I’ve discussed this with friends who’ve had kids who are medically fragile or have high health needs, about watching, like you never have to worry about their weight, like I had a 6 pound baby, versus a 10 pound baby, you know. And Ham is literally called Ham because he is enormous and so that alone is quite joyous, never dreading Plunket visits, and being able to put them on the floor and they just like hoover up whatever’s around and your not worrying about germs all the time and you know, so that in itself has been, but I wonder if maybe I would have only ever had one because I love having 2 and everything, but sometimes I, temperament you said, is really interesting to me because, I often wonder if I just don’t have the temperament, or you know, I’m really, um, I try , I feel like I have to make a really conscious choice all the time to be patient and kind and even tempered and all that because, you know, that’s the type of mother I want for my children, but sometimes it feels like a very conscious choice like,
Holly: You have to work at that, yeah, I feel like that quite a lot of the time as well
Emily: You’re a mum and like, even getting down and playing with them sometimes I’m like aww you have to do this because this is what…
Holly: yeah, I get involved in a lot of imaginary games, I’m the, perpetually the baby
Andrea: Awww, cute
Holly: to Esther’s mother or the sister to her big sister or the you know, cow or the chicken or the bunny rabbit, and I do often think, ‘oh if only we had another kid you could, you could make them play the baby in your games ‘(laughs)
Emily: I do have to say and maybe you’ll back me up on this Andrea, um and it probably won’t help your decision, but the other day we were saying to Eddie if you managed to get through the night again without getting up and going to the toilet during the night, we want him to do that, and um we said If you manage to do that a few more times, your reward will be, we’ll organise a sleep over for you and you can have anybody in the world, your absolute best friend anybody we’ll organise it, and so have a think for a couple of days who your very best friend is and he said, “I don’t have to think its baby Wonnie”
Holly / Andrea: Awwwww (giggles)
Emily: And I was almost tearing up, and my husband goes, ‘oh well that’s easy to organise’ (laughter) But yeah, no they’re, how they are with each other ,they’re just like, I love the little age gap, in terms of how close they are, but I feel sometimes a longer age gap is better just for the less relentlessness but I guess that would be different for you Andrea?
Andrea: Yeah I guess I liked the smaller age gap, but you know I’ve got absolutely no comparison so I can’t tell you about a big age gap other than the big 11 year old one that I’ve got right now and that’s been great. But um yeah, I dunno, I‘ve heard that the perfect sort of time to get pregnant again physically is like 2 and half years after you’ve had a baby, because your bodies recovered. But um yeah,
Holly: Unless you’re still breastfeeding like I am
Andrea: (laughs) oh are you, well good on you
Holly: Yeeaah we’ll see. Ok, well thank you so much, its been such a interesting, fascinating and really reassuring conversation and what I’ve taken away from it is, basically, yeah don’t worry about what other people think and trust your instincts, whether its your instincts about how many children to have or how to parent the children you do have
Emily: Absolutely yeah I really feel the same and I think its really interesting some of the assumptions that I had before we talked, I was really sort of up my own arse, and Iike, oh I’m sure that she’ll probably say something about how its really easy it is to get kids to sleep and then I will be like , have nothing to say because she has 12 sleepers (laughter) and you know, and I thought that’s really interesting that, because, I’m really making, doing the best that I can to make conscious choices not to make assumptions about other mothers but also about what they’re thinking. And what they think about me , or you know I think when you’re at home and you’ve got the kids and its really easy to like make up this dialogue about your parenting and you need other people to be having views on your parenting, and I think that, you know, what you’ve said is so you know, so great and so reassuring, and I think that even though its not outside of the norm to have 12 I can see how people do it because yeah,
Holly: Five children in the bed, five children in the bed,
Andrea: And a dog (laughter)
Emily: thank you so much,
Andrea: You’re very welcome, its been my pleasure
Holly: Right lets clink our glasses
Emily: I was thinking you could probably hear me drinking beer the whole way through this, so
Holly: That’s it for another Dear Mamas podcast, thanks for listening, this podcast was produced and presented by me Holly Walker and Emily Writes, our fabulous guest Andrea is on twitter at @MsBeeton she tweets about books, video games and hardly at all about having 12 kids, you can find all our previous episodes on Emily’s blog under the podcasts tag. You can also subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher or where ever you find your podcasts and please, leave us a review while you’re there.
We’ll be back next month, maybe. In the meantime, hang in there, you’re doing great.