Glancing up from cooking the kids’ tea, I noticed something going awry over in the corner. “Mary, don’t sit on the new baby,” I said. “I tired”, replied my one-year-old.

For a split second I thought: “That sounds reasonable enough.” Then I shook myself and got there just as the toddler started to ride the baby. “Seesaw Mardaw!” The baby smiled sweetly at her sister, no doubt glad to be getting some attention.

Not for the first time that day, I thought of the woman who led part of our marriage preparation course. When it transpired that she had 14 children – 14! –my husband asked her: “What was the hardest number of children?” I was expecting her to say something like “Seven”, but without missing a beat she said “Three.” Now here I am, with three children under three, and I know exactly what she means. At least with four, one would be old enough to be a bit sensible with the younger ones. With three, I’m constantly watching for trouble.

And there usually is trouble.

When pregnant with my third, I attended a reception at Archbishop’s House in Westminster and was chatting to another mum. “I had three under three,” she said, “There’s a whole year of my life I can’t remember.” Then she whispered: “Don’t take the whole birth control too seriously. You’ve got to think about yourself too.”

I’ve heard similar comments before. From family members saying they were worried I was “losing myself in childcare”, to a friend who told me the story of a Catholic mum friend of hers who apparently said she regretted not using birth control: “It’s OK, you know, most Catholics use contraception now. And Pope Francis is changing all that anyway.”

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