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first person

How many babies can we fit in here?

In Vancouver, Erin Ashenhurst can't afford to move her growing family. But what are her alternatives?

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The bulge of a foot protrudes from the lower right side of my abdomen causing me to wince in alarm. "I think the baby is growing claws," I tell my husband. He cups the hard knob in the swell of my belly before it retracts back into the general mass.

"Felt more like a horn," he says, grinning as he heads out the door.

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We are expecting our second child. The first one came out with all the common human bits, but this one feels like a wild card. In the ultrasound pictures, his face reminds me of the smiling skull logo of the 1980s punk band Misfits – only cuter, of course.

We don't yet know just how this baby will fit into our lives, but a more concrete question is how he will fit into our apartment. In theory, once we are four, each of us will have approximately 200 square feet to enjoy all to his or herself – even more if we take turns sleeping. Unfortunately, the majority of those feet are already spoken for by objects such as the refrigerator, the oven, the bathtub, an aging IKEA couch, various precarious bookshelves and eclectic clutter. There is clear floorspace in the entryway if anyone needs to pace (or run screaming for the front door).

The story of why we are cramming our family into a rented Vancouver apartment despite the privilege of professional-level dual incomes is not unique or particularly interesting. The city's housing market is bewildering and cruel, but all our stuff is here. We used to say it was too expensive to buy – until it was impossible. Still, as some form of perverse escapism, I find myself scrolling through the airy spaces of home-decor magazines, signing up for e-mails from posh baby shops, and manufacturing desire for a big country home (the isolating nature of which my less-hormonal self found revolting).

"He is used to cramped, dark spaces," I tell myself as I switch on the light to our once luxurious-feeling four-and-a-half-foot by 6-foot in-suite storage closet. The space is just big enough to accommodate a standard crib at one end. The fit is so perfect it does not seem like coincidence, but a design choice. After the first few months of the baby sleeping in our bedroom, this is going to be a nursery. It will have a crib and a change table, and a pretty mobile, and a fluffy rug, and an industrial shelving unit housing old textbooks, craft supplies, power tools, folding chairs, likely a case of beer and camping equipment. It will be chicly multifunctional if not joyfully minimalist.

"My brother fit right there?" inquires our toddler, pointing to an empty square on the plastic shelving otherwise loaded with large Rubbermaid boxes. I imagine slotting the aquarium-like plastic tub that they use to wheel around the babies at the hospital into this space. I could fit at least eight babies on this one wall if that were the plan, I think to myself.

"Yes, but we'll put the crib here instead of all this junk."

Our toddler looks skeptical, but reserves comment.

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At week 23, my pregnancy app offered me tips for decorating a nursery. The most applicable is not to place the crib by a window as the baby would later pull at your "window treatments." Across the hallway from the closet is our toddler's bedroom. His room also lacks a window, which makes it officially a "den" and keeps our rent in the only slightly more merciful category of a one bedroom. Despite the absence of natural light, he has grown to over three feet tall and shows few signs of becoming a vampire. His night vision is only average, and he would prefer to consume plain pasta or cooked meat in breaded nugget form – no blood. He also hasn't turned into a brooding recluse, although his repeated chanting of "the wheels on the bus" does tend to take on a nasally demonic tone after the 40th verse.

I hold up a newborn-sized onesie to give the toddler an idea of what to expect. Most full-term babies only measure 20 inches, give or take. This makes them highly portable, although still hopelessly incapable compared with a baby white-tailed deer or mountain goat, both of which are born at about the same size. Fawns are able to walk almost immediately and would undoubtedly find the suggestion of sleeping in our storage closet to be total rubbish.

My friend's baby slept in a bed made from an empty suitcase while they travelled for several months of his first year. Today, he can walk and talk just fine.

"My mom just put us in drawers. There was no room in the house for twins," a woman on the playground says.

"That's not a bad idea," I laugh, as we watch our respective toddlers slide down moulded plastic chutes to land on a ground covered in a springy rubber surface. The kids have to work hard for the splinters and skinned knees that used to come easy. I picture drawers taken out of a dresser, resting on the floor with little fitted mattresses. Then I picture drawers still in a dresser with twins nestled amongst socks and sweaters. I steal looks at the woman and feel unsure which vision is more accurate. Either way, we are both old enough to have survived sleeping face down under blankets and stuffies, while today's babies doze packaged in smother-proof sleep sacs like snow angels.

As the weeks pass, the baby grows until it feels like I am carrying a tightly packed bag of antlers.

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"It will be okay, little one," I think to my tenant. "While our home is small, it will still be more comfortable to share the same apartment – and not the same body."


Erin Ashenhurst lives in Vancouver.

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