My baby girl, Rose, gurgled peacefully as she tucked into the milk from her bottle.
"That's my good girl," I cooed.
I loved these sleepy moments together, before anyone else woke up.
It was the calm before the storm in our crazy household.
"Mummy!" Abigail, four, called out. "I'm hungry."
As Rose finished her bottle, six pairs of footsteps pounded through the house.
Georgina, eight, Charlotte, seven, Franchesca, five, Abigail, four and my twins, Catherine and Elizabeth, three, traipsed into the kitchen, rubbing tired eyes.
With seven small children, and another on the way, my husband, Mark, 35, and I certainly had our hands full.
We'd always wanted a big family and started trying for a bub right after we got married, nine years earlier.
Even though our lives only grew more hectic with each one, we knew that every addition was a blessing.
Living in Captains Flat, NSW, with a population of 600 people, didn't ease our load either.
The kids had plenty of room to run around and fresh country air to breathe, but we were also quite isolated.
A 40-minute drive away from large schools, I educated the kids at home, following the state's syllabus.
Mark drove more than 30 minutes away to his job in customer service, and with the closest grocery store the same distance, I loaded up on 48 litres of milk, four loaves of bread and an abundance of fruit each fortnight.
Life was far from easy, but our daughters were our world.
I was six weeks pregnant when I drove to the shops one day, with Georgina clipped into her booster seat in the back.
We'd had some rain so I took it slowly as I manoeuvred my four-wheel-drive around the winding roads.
Next thing I knew, a car sped around the bend and skidded straight at me.
My heart jolted as I tried to swerve but the car smashed into the passenger seat, right in front of Georgina.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I thought of my girls, and the little bub in my tummy as I was tossed around.
The car spun three times then rolled into a ditch.
Georgina's screams were all I could hear as I scrambled to reach my phone.
I could barely see the numbers through my tears as I dialled triple 0.
"I'm pregnant," I blurted when the operator picked up. "We've just had a car crash."
She tried to calm me down but it was no use.
We were trapped inside and I was terrified I'd lost my precious baby.
"Why did you do that?" Georgina sobbed from the back seat.
She didn't look hurt, but I didn't know if she had internal injuries.
"It was an accident, baby," I stammered.
I called Mark, who arrived just as the SES smashed our windows and pulled us from the wreckage.
Mark cradled Georgina, who'd been given the all-clear, and ambos put me in a neck brace before driving me to hospital.
Other than some whiplash, I was okay.
But fear raced through me when doctors waved an ultrasound wand over my belly.
The room was filled with an agonising silence and then... thump, thump, thump... Finally, I heard my baby's heartbeat, strong and steady.
"Your baby's fine," the doctor said, smiling.
I released a breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding.
Later that night Mark's parents drove me home and when I walked inside, my hubby hugged me tighter than he ever had before.
I plastered a smile on my face in front of the kids but when I hopped in the shower, I broke down sobbing.
The day could have ended so differently.
In bed I crawled into Mark's arms, too scared to sleep.
"It's okay," Mark soothed. "You're safe now."
Two weeks later, I knew I had to bite the bullet and overcome my fear of driving.
We were about to have our eighth child– there was no way my family could get by if I refused to get behind the wheel.My hands shook with fear as I slowly drove to the shops.
I was proud of myself when I made it safely to the carpark.
Six months later, I gave birth to a baby girl, Martina and, three months later, I fell pregnant again.
It was yet another welcome surprise.
At our 18-week ultrasound we were so used to having girls that we barely listened as the doctor announced the sex.
"You're having a boy," she told us.
"No, we're not," I laughed. "That's just the umbilical cord you're seeing."
But the doc was adamant. As the news sunk in, a grin settled on my face.
We rushed out to buy blue onesies and booties.
At home, I gathered the girls around me.
"Close your eyes and hold out your hands," I instructed as I placed the blue items in their hands. "Now, open!"
The room filled with high-pitched squealing as our daughters realised they were getting a little brother.
About 20 weeks later our beautiful boy, Michael, was born.
After nine natural births, I was used to the process but holding my baby in my arms for the first time never got old.
Love flowed through my veins as I gazed into his gorgeous, squishy face.
Now, Michael's seven months old and his sisters fawn over him.
Charlotte especially loves helping me out.
She fetches clean nappies for me when Michael needs a change and strokes his hair when he's upset.
With nine kids under 10 years old I'm busier than ever but after my accident, I have a new lease on life.
I'm prioritising my health and have lost 13kg since Michael was born.
I've also started a blog, This Tribe of Mine, to share the crazy details of our lives.
People are fascinated by our big family and ask how I possibly keep on top of everything so it's been great to share our story.
We're hoping to add to our brood in the years to come.
Big families may not be for everyone and we understand that. Our house may be full of chaos but it's also bursting with bundles of love.
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