Journalist and writer Esther Walker is married to restaurant critic Giles Coren. They have two children, Kitty and Sam, and live in London. 

I can confidently say that I have never felt broody. Not once, ever. I can’t even fathom what that feeling must be like. Is it that feeling you feel when you see a really adorable tiny kitten or puppy? I never ‘knew’ I wanted to be a mother when I was younger. I was surprised that I had children at all, let alone before any of my peers. In fact, I had babies before both of my most broody, really-good-with-kids friends. I think anyone who knew me before I had children is probably stunned that I had kids at all, too.

It worried me that I never felt broody, that I only ever looked at a newborn baby and thought “Yikes” or worse “Yuk”. With boyfriends I never did that thing some people have told me they do, which is to imagine themselves as a family, as three – with themselves in some sort of cotton floaty dress and him carrying the blessed child in a BabyBjorn.

Wasn’t that a dreadful sign, wasn’t it a sign that this all just really wasn’t meant for me? Wasn’t it a sign that I was simply going to be a bad mother?

There’s a reason for all this. My sister was born when I was eight and I remember it all really clearly. It’s not that my sister was especially difficult (although my mother was absolutely exhausted, all the time), but I understood completely the prosaic reality of babies and small children – the nappies, the grizzling, the half-chewed spat-out bits of food: I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief enough to feel broody. I knew too much.

My reasons for having a second baby were coldly practical – just one child didn’t feel like a family, it felt like an experiment that had gone awry

Then, in 2011, my first child, Kitty, was born – and all I felt was relief that the labour had been fine, relief that she didn’t scream all the time, relief that she slept alright. I didn’t feel that overwhelming rush of love people talk about, because in between feeling relieved I felt mostly anxious. I felt like any minute now it would all go wrong – today’s the day she’ll start screaming and won’t stop; tonight’s the night she won’t sleep.

But although I was burdened by anxiety, at least there was no sense of disappointment. There was no feeling of “Hang on, it’s not supposed to be like this!” Having never been broody, having never felt the need for a child, dreading many aspects of bringing up a baby, my expectations of the experience were so low that the reality shocked me less than it might do others.

Despite Kitty being a really easy baby and a reasonably easy toddler (as they go), I had a second baby still without feeling broody. My reasons were coldly practical – just one child didn’t feel like a family, it felt like an experiment that had gone awry. I have many siblings and I wanted Kitty to have at least one. And also it turns out that not being broody didn’t mean I was a bad mother. Motherhood hadn’t transformed me, it didn’t feel like it was my one true calling, but I wasn’t a disaster – I wasn’t neglectful or cruel. At times it was fun.

When he was 18 months, Sam started walking. And he stopped screeching. He slept better. Suddenly it hit me. Broodiness!

Sam was born two years and three months after Kitty and by comparison to her he was a nightmare. From nine months to about 17 months he just sat on the floor and cried. He woke up at night. He screamed whenever I left the room. For weeks on end I hated my life – the constant push-me, pull-you of having two small children, Sam’s nightmarish fussiness, Kitty’s irritation with Sam and with me. It was awful.

Then over a period of a fortnight when he was just shy of 18 months, Sam started walking. And he stopped screeching. He slept better. He smiled all the time. He wanted to hold your hand while he toddled down the street. He pointed and spoke.

And suddenly it hit me. Broodiness! Would it be so bad to have another? Sure, Sam was hard work, but that was over now. Another little lovely baby, cooing in the corner of the kitchen in its bouncer, burbling and playing with its feet?

Then as I was lying in bed considering voicing this thought to my husband Sam woke up and started crying. Then he woke up about five more times that night – not ill, not hungry, just being a jerk – and I was reminded why I’ve never been broody. If I knew too much before I had children I really know too much now.

So I have resolved, when Sam is potty-trained, to get a dog. Something smallish and adorable – a Norwich terrier perhaps, or a King Charles spaniel. A really adorable puppy playing at my feet? Now that I can get broody about.

‘The Bad Mother’ by Esther Walker is published by The Friday Project 

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By , 4th February 2021
My third book - the last of three connected, stand-alone novels - is now available for pre-order