Of all the weird and wonderful wedding traditions I've discovered since getting engaged last year, perhaps my favourite is the recommendation – found in my grandmother's ancient recipe book – that couples should save a tier of their wedding cake for the christening of their first child the following year.
To the over-60s, the assumption that a baby will promptly follow a wedding may not seem particularly noteworthy (indeed a beautifully pressed family christening gown already hangs, slightly menacingly, in my mum's bedroom). But to my peers, the idea that having children was once no more than a rite of passage seems almost staggeringly quaint. Why? Because whichever way you look at it, 21st century Britain is a hostile environment to become a mother.
From a financial perspective there are, of course, huge barriers to having a baby. According to a new study from UCL , in the first year after the birth of their first child, women's earnings were on average 28 per cent – or £306 a month – lower than they would have been if they had remained childless – rising to 45 per cent when the next six years were taken into account.
Young social justice warriors talk about the "gender pay gap" as though patriarchal dinosaurs at the top of their industries simply have it in for women. And in some places that may still be the case. But the statistics – which also show that women in their 20s tend to earn the same, if not slightly more, than their male counterparts – suggest the crux of the problem is far more insidious and deeply rooted: in short, too many workplaces just don't work for mothers.
Opting out of paid work, however, is rarely feasible, even for those women who would rather stay at home. The price of living – from rent to fuel – has been creeping up for so long that raising a child in a single income household is out of the question for most, while at an eye-watering average of £865 a month, childcare costs in the UK are now among the highest in Europe.
And money is just part of the problem. Despite the UK being in the grip of a baby bust that has the potential to cripple our economy in the not so distant future, there is a growing cultural hostility to those who want to start families, let alone large ones.
I've heard woke young greens with an armageddon complex – who see children primarily as energy guzzlers – argue that bringing them into a world on the brink of collapse is selfish. Their pious logic may be deeply flawed – the scientists who will one day find a solution to global warming have probably not yet been conceived, for a start – but you can see it spreading. Last month Harry and Meghan won an award for limiting their family to two children and were widely lauded on social media (without a hint of irony) as role models.
This anti-family mindset is not peculiar to eco-nuts. Once upon a time simply enjoying parenthood was justification enough for having lots of babies, as long as they were happy and healthy. But to a millennial middle class that grew up gorging on reality TV programmes like Benefit Street, there's something intrinsically distasteful about a mum with a double pram and a toddler on her hip – a prejudice subtly reinforced by the Government's two-child limit, which restricts support through tax credits and universal credit to the first two children in a family.
What's more, with the notable exception of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, few parents seem willing to speak publicly about the joys of having children. In fact, in fashionable magazines and on daytime TV, there's a growing trend for feminists to "break the last taboo" and admit that they regret becoming a mother altogether. Such a confession must feel liberating – and I can see that it must take a certain kind of strength. But to pregnant women, or couples excitedly planning a family, it can feel pretty alienating (and I doubt it goes down particularly well with the offspring of the confessors either).
Having babies isn't for everyone. And no one should be shamed for wanting to remain childless. But there is power to be found in being a pro-natal society, with the confidence and vision to regenerate and grow. While on a very basic level, children make for happiness more than most things in life. So why are mothers and would-be mothers the ones fighting the tide?
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