During one of my son's infamous sleep strikes, I posed the question to my husband, 'Why do people have children?' It wasn't a sarcastic, rhetorical question in the midst of a third consecutive all-nighter. I genuinely started wondering why people inflict such stress on their lives when they have the option not to. Children do, after all, hinder our lives in a way we never understood before having them.
My husband's answer was a typically male pragmatic one: 'because we have an innate need to procreate.'
Although I don't disagree with my husband that there probably is within us a subconscious, animalistic desire to procreate. I think there is much more to it than that, and only after having a baby myself and going through that first tumultuous year of parenthood can I understand the real driving force behind why we choose to have children.
Quite simply, it must come down to love. But why is that different to anything you've heard before? Well, because what I don't think we've realised is that it's not our need to be loved, but our need to love.
If we look at parenthood without love and simply gather all the other facets of it, this is what a typical day looks like: you are awoken around 5am, after having three to four hours broken sleep, and you have no choice but to muster the strength to smile and coo at your kids, get them dressed, get yourself washed and dressed and make them breakfast and packed lunches. They get impatient while you're preparing everything so you distract them with TV, iPads and anything else that before becoming a parent you swore you'd never do. Then, if your children are like mine, the breakfast will probably end up on the floor being eaten by the dog.
You attempt to clean the kitchen as best you can before heading off to the school run then taking the younger one to playgroup, where all you want to do is talk to other human beings over the age of 18 but when you do, finally, sink into the comfort of a good old chat with another mum, your child has wondered off to hug another child whose mother 'doesn't like it'. So you have to release yourself from the only conversation you'll be having that day that doesn't involve singing your words, to tear your child away from the child whose mum doesn't like him being touched.
Lunchtime no doubt ends up the same way as breakfast but... the hour of salvation has arrived: lunchtime nap time. But no, he decides that four hours of broken sleep through the night, are, in fact, quite sufficient and you most certainly do not deserve any time to yourself so he thinks he'll stay up, actually. You attempt to do the chores with him fluttering around, pulling pans out of cupboards and moaning because he is tired(!) then you get him in the car to pick up the older ones from school. Lo and behold, he falls asleep in the car. You curse to yourself but you let him sleep, because it won't be worth your while later if he doesn't, and you arrive at school... late.
Help the kids with homework, drink cold tea, and once again, mealtime. They might eat a bit, they might moan that they want something else, they might throw it on the floor. After a bit of play time (for them, not you - you are cleaning the kitchen for the fifty-third time that day), it's bath time. They drench you in bath water then take every set of pyjamas out the cupboard until they decide that the very last one is the winner, and you have to refold the rest.
By the time husband walks through the door, kids are in bed reading, baby is fresh as a daisy, house is clean as a whistle but you look like Keith Richards on a bad day and you know you have to go through the whole rigmarole the following day, and the one after that, and so on...
Now let's take 'love' off the bench and put her back in the picture.
With love, he may have been screaming in your face for three hours before falling asleep but when he does finally fall asleep, you 'waste' precious minutes you could be sleeping just staring at the perfect form that you still cannot believe came from you.
With love, you may be exhausted beyond belief when she wakes at 5am but the minute you see her smiling face and smell the top of her head as she nestles into the crook of your neck, you forget you are tired and want to bottle that hug forever.
With love, you may crave the adult interaction but you know how utterly fortunate you are to be able to call yourself a mother, and how you'd give up adult conversation forever to hold onto these precious early days.
With love, you may look like Keith Richards after a two week bender, but you know that you have spent the day raising children, sustaining the lives of other human beings who love you and trust you and fall asleep in your arms because they know it's the safest place in the world and that thought fills you with a warmth that will return to your heart every time you think about it.
The rewards of parenthood are not too dissimilar from the act of giving and receiving presents; we like to receive gifts but giving a gift stirs up a totally different sort of happiness in us.
Being able to love a person to the point where your fragile heart breaks into a million tiny shards if they so much as graze their knee, changes us as humans. It completes us, even more so than being loved. Being loved back by them is just the super sweet icing on the cake