I was cradling my baby in my arms after a long and difficult delivery. Sleep, as any new mother in hospital knows, proved elusive as countless people barged in to check me, check baby and offer advice.
One jolly woman stopped for a chat to ask: “was this my first?”. When I replied that he was my third son, she replied with a corker.
“Hopefully one of them will be gay so you’ll have someone to go shopping with.”
I kid you not (though I can only assume her comment was intended in jest). Since then, friends, relatives and strangers have taken it upon themselves to say how challenging three boys must be and how desperate I must be for some pink in my life.
Admittedly, I spent my childhood daydreaming about my future brood. Although I cannot recall the precise details, a pretty girl with plaits and hair ribbons certainly figured in the fantasy.
But don’t reach for the tissues just yet. Disappointment and longing do not feature in my life. I have never felt anything other than blessed for having three such healthy, happy, clever, quirky, funny and altogether wonderful sons. My life consists of boys and boyish things, but having grown up with just brothers I was already accustomed to that.
There is the small matter of football. If I had embarked on a month-long cruise during the World Cup, would anyone have noticed? Possibly at mealtimes. My complete indifference left me with little to contribute to family conversations during June and July. Occasionally frustrating, it also meant more me-time. As my other half embraced his extra Daddy duties (standing in goal, supervising late-night match viewing and sorting football stickers) I could read, swim, see friends – and wash sweaty football kits.
The obsession did not end with the World Cup. It’s a year-round preoccupation, though more so for one than the others. While my middle son will not let a snowstorm affect his game, his brothers are easily distracted by other pursuits. My eldest is an avid reader who loves to draw, while my little one will drop everything to help with the cooking. Like many same-sex siblings, they share a common ground and generally get on well.
But then there’s the shopping thing. My younger two are rarely seen in anything other than jogging bottoms, t-shirts and trainers. Yet my 11-year-old is as image-conscious as any girl. He must have the right shoes, clothes and accessories before leaving the house, he also quite enjoys shopping.
By way of consolation, I am often reminded that boys are more affectionate than girls. Another sweeping generalisation. As the first grandchild on both sides, my eldest was smothered with adoration from birth, so he tended to squirm his way out of hugs and kisses. But his younger brothers were born cuddlers, though things have changed. Middle son restricts his displays of affection to the privacy of home, while my youngest showers me with affection at every opportunity. And their older brother now loves nothing more than bear hugs and emotional heart-to-hearts.
As for the teenage years, I am under no illusions. My food bill will double, there may be an air of muskiness and mood swings and monosyllabic conversations will be the order of the day. But who knows what direction life will take us in? How they feel and how they express their emotions has changed and will continue to do so for years to come.
Adam Bradley’s life is the exact mirror opposite of mine. He too is outnumbered – but by five daughters aged between two months and 11 years old.
When his wife Keren was most recently expecting, video and audio producer Adam was secretly hoping for another girl.
The 39-year-old from north London says: “I had a feeling this one was going to be a boy but deep down I actually wanted another girl because I thought the idea of five daughters was just wonderful.
“I got a bit scared about if it was a boy and what I would do. It was fear of the unknown, though it really didn’t matter to us what it would have been.”
The Bradleys always knew they wanted a big family – regardless of the gender of their children – so they never chose to find out what they were having each time.
“People sometimes look at me with those sad eyes saying, ‘you wanted a boy didn’t you?’ I would have wanted a boy, but only as much as I wanted a girl. A lot of people think we had a fifth because we wanted a boy and think that we would have stopped if our fourth had been a boy – there’s a lot of presumption involved.”
Adam admits that his house is “fairly pink”, though that has never been a problem. He adds, “My wife has always had a much better eye for home decoration than I, so I’m more than happy to live in a flowery house!”
Like my sons, the girls have their individual interests and hobbies. None are tomboys, but that’s not to say they are uber-princessy either.
“Culture is culture and there aren’t any boundaries. We don’t try to gender assign, we just let them choose what they like.”
And does that extend to football? As a huge Chelsea fan, Adam had hoped to pass on his passion.
He says: “They humour me with the football and they show an interest but I don’t push it. If they ever see something with Chelsea on it they point it out.
“I have taken them to a couple of games, but don’t force them into it as I know that ship has long sailed!”
It may sound like a cliché, but in the same way I struggle with football, Adam says there is one thing he gets sick of.
“In a word: shopping,” he says.
Each girl has her own requirements and everything must always be just so. It’s that procrastination, according to Adam, that gets to him.
And when it comes to the looming teenage years, Adam says he is “blissfully ignorant” – for now.
“People say girls are easier at first but it changes when the teens come. I keep telling myself my children will be perfect teenagers though,” he laughs.
Adam says he imagines himself as a “protector”, “though not standing on my porch with a shotgun.”
He adds: “More a shoulder to cry on and to talk and help them understand the way of boys. I’m the only male influence they’ve got on a daily basis. I see myself as taking on an advisory role and picking up the pieces.”
So does he have a better understanding of women than my husband, for example?
“I get on well with women in general and probably better since having the girls. I think I probably do understand the foibles and nuances of women a little better now.”
He hesitates, then laughs: “No… who am I trying to kid? I haven’t got a clue! There’s this side of females that we just don’t get. I’m getting better, but I don’t think I will ever master the art.”
But there’s one thing we’re in complete agreement with, we love our kids not for what they are, but who they are – unique and wonderful children who amount to so much more than gender stereotypes.