5 Things Younger and Older Mums Have in Common

AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.

It’s a trend that’s not going anywhere. Women are waiting longer to have children. In the United States the average age of a first-time mum in 1970 was 21. It was 25 in 2000. The latest data puts it at 26.

It puts me in a minority. I often hear things like, “You’re young to be a mum”, or the less polite version, “Oh, you’re just a baby yourself”. Apparently being a younger mother is an invitation for strangers to weigh in on my life. Then again, I’ve heard older mothers get uninvited comments too, from well-meaning friends, to rude shop assistants.

It’s not surprising that having a baby, like being a woman in general, is an invitation for people to volunteer their opinions, regardless of your age. But what’s it really like to be an older or younger mum? When I started asking questions I expected to hear all sorts of pros and cons to having a baby and different ages.

In fact what surprised me the most was just how much older and younger mums have in common.

1. We all feel ok about our bodies

In general younger mothers are more fertile and their bodies bounce back from pregnancy more easily. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with how I look but, surprisingly, being pregnant helped me to be comfortable in my body in a way I hadn’t known before. There’s something about seeing my body perform its reproductive function that made me less conscious of the superficial, cosmetic aspects.

Younger mother Jenny agrees: “I have more confidence in my body to be able to do what’s necessary to nourish and raise my daughter.” Older mum Aleisha does, too. While she worries that her skin is “not as elastic as it once was” she knows it’s a “reminder of what I have done and what I have made. I don’t care so much about that stuff now.”

2. We all have to make choices about work

There are lots of considerations for new mums going back to work. When to return? Full time? Part time? What can we afford? Studies have shown that women make more money for every year they postpone having a child.

Aleisha agrees that there’s more financial security in having a child later. And she feels that it has made her more productive at work. “I am certainly much better organised now. I think perhaps I work harder when I’m at work so I don’t have to bring anything home with me. I live for the weekends now.”

Jenny also refuses to bring her work home: “I want to be around my children as much as I can—staying late nights in an office or away from home is not something I will do to further my career.” She feels lucky to have the opportunity in her role to work flexible hours and still get the experience she wants.

Meanwhile younger mum Samantha has felt the strain of trying to balance motherhood and her career in IT, as part-time work and maternity leave make it harder for her to keep up with technological advances. And older mother Marcie has similar concerns: “If I go back I would have to do training again and start from the basics.” A tough issue for mums at any age.

3. We all feel judged sometimes

A recent study of over 15,000 mums found that older mums felt judged about not being able to keep up with their children, while younger mums believe they’ve been actively snubbed by older mothers who don’t take them seriously.

Both Jenny and Marcie grew sick of people weighing in on the needs of their new babies. “I may be a new mum,” says Marcie, “but I know when my baby needs socks, needs to sleep, where my baby can sleep, how to feed her.” Jenny, too, had people suggesting that her baby was hungry or tired. “I can’t help but feel like that person has actually said ‘I know better what your child needs.’ As a mum who is around her child 24/7, I know what she needs, or, at the very least, I’m trying to figure it out.”

4. We all have changing friendships

It’s not surprising that both older and younger mothers can feel out of sync with their friends who are at different life stages. Samantha found it hard to keep up with the friends she used to see out drinking or at parties. “When I became a younger mum it made it very hard to keep up with friends, and for people to understand why I couldn’t be the friend I used to be,” she says. Aleisha has a group of friends like that, too: “I have noticed it’s harder to catch up with them, purely because I don’t go out on the weekends so much.”

But for me, there were definitely friends who stuck around, the people who were generous and considerate when I couldn’t do the things I used to. Jenny’s good friends have welcomed her daughter into the world. “It is a great joy seeing my friends interact with her.” But more casual acquaintances have dropped off for the moment: “I don’t have the time or the energy to catch up one-on-one with people I don’t have all that much in common with.”

5. We are all happy to be older or younger mums

Busybodies are quick to remind mums about the possible fertility issues that rise as women age. Older mum Marcie conceived her daughter with the help of IVF so is no stranger to this. But it has made her appreciate her daughter all the more.  “My real favourite thing is just having my miracle. I am grateful for every minute.”

Both Aleisha and Marcie feel more self-assured and confident because of their age. Marcie says, “I feel more relaxed, I don’t worry or overthink things.” Aleisha knows herself better than she did when she was younger: “I know what sort of mother I want to be and what values I want to instill in my daughter.”

Meanwhile, Samantha felt that a lack of expectations actually helped her as a younger mother. “I didn’t know anything about babies and had nothing to compare to so this helped me to adjust my lifestyle more easily.” I know what she means: as few close friends have babies, I felt free to do things my own way.

So there you have it. It turns out it doesn’t matter if you’re an older or younger mum. Regardless of age we know our children and know ourselves. We have career successes and challenges and friendships that come and go. And hopefully having so much in common makes it easier to make mum friends and set aside our judgments, no matter what age we are.

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Chrissy Teigen’s Postpartum depression really got me

AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.

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Yesterday I read Chrissy Teigen’s essay about suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety and I cried. I’m so not that person! I said to myself (and anyone who’d listen). I don’t get invested in the lives of celebrities. I don’t care about who they’re dating or when they break up. I don’t buy trashy magazines or spend time speculating about their triumphs and tribulations. So why did this get me?

Last month I wrote about how Chrissy Teigen’s pregnancy helped me through my own. Her growing baby bump and Twitter commentary brought me excitement, joy and hilarity. Her daughter Luna was born six weeks before mine and since then I’ve looked to Chrissy’s social media for the same things I did while she was pregnant, namely hilarious and honest commentary on being a new mother. Chrissy is a self-professed “chronic oversharer” and her public persona made me feel like I knew her, that maybe if we somehow knew each other in real life we’d become friends. I cared what Chrissy was up to and how she was doing.

When I read Chrissy’s letter in Glamour about suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety I was shocked. We all know that social media is generally used for displaying our best self rather than broadcasting moments of loneliness and pain. But Chrissy Teigen is famous for being so open and unfiltered that I’d forgotten this might apply to her too. I felt, strangely, like I’d failed her – like she really was my friend and I hadn’t seen the warning signs. She’d been suffering all this time and I was taken in by her amazing holiday snaps and red carpet outfits. Of course she looks happy and amazing. That’s literally her job. But still, how could this happen to Chrissy?

My next reaction was to the parts of her life I could never relate to. Her amazingly accommodating work:

The show treated me incredibly well—they put a nursery in my dressing room and blew up photos of Luna and John and my family for my wall. When Luna was on set, they lowered the noise levels. They turned down the air so she wouldn’t be cold. Only the most gentle knocking on the door. Pump breaks.

Her easy access to health care:

I had to go to the hospital; the back pain was so overwhelming. I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy: These kids were around me, asking questions. Maybe it was a kidney infection? No one could figure it out. I saw rheumatoid doctors for the wrist pain; we thought it might be rheumatoid arthritis. I felt nauseated all the time, so I saw a GI doctor.

Her help at home with Luna:

I have all the help I could need: John, my mother (who lives with us), a nanny. 

Chrissy addresses this in her piece:

I have a great life. I have all the help I could need: John, my mother (who lives with us), a nanny. But postpartum does not discriminate. I couldn’t control it. And that’s part of the reason it took me so long to speak up: I felt selfish, icky, and weird saying aloud that I’m struggling. Sometimes I still do. I know I might sound like a whiny, entitled girl. Plenty of people around the world in my situation have no help, no family, no access to medical care.

But my reaction was not what she was predicting. In fact, understanding Chrissy’s position of privilege didn’t make me think she was whiny, selfish or entitled. It just made me sadder. Here was a strong, smart, funny, empowered woman who is using all the tools available to her… and it still was not enough.

On a bad day, when I haven’t slept or showered, and nothing I do seems to please my baby, I might see a picture of Chrissy at a Hollywood event. She’ll look perfect, of course. And I’ll think to myself, If I had a team of hairstylists, makeup artists, nannies, stylists, personal trainers, etc, etc, I could look like that too. Obviously not like THAT, but I could look glamorous and stylish and put together. I could be a great mum without showing the physical cost. The sad thing is that my bad day, without my team of expert help, is still nowhere near as hard as every day was for Chrissy. So, no, Chrissy, I don’t think you’re being entitled.

There’s another aspect for me: while I was pregnant I was terrified of getting postpartum depression. My husband didn’t understand it. I didn’t have any risk factors and it didn’t seem to run in my family. My pregnancy had gone smoothly and I was so excited about my baby. But when I woke up in the middle of the night (usually to pee) I’d worry about what would come next. What if I didn’t bond with my baby? What if it was too hard? What if I couldn’t handle being a mum? These fears crystalised into a fear of postpartum depression.

It didn’t happen. Sure, I had days when I cried for no reason, times when I was overwhelmed and everything seemed too hard. But it was for hours, not even days, let alone weeks or months. And hat was bad enough.

I’m so sorry that women have to go through postpartum depression at what is already such an intense and hard time. A time with all sorts expectations, both from society and from themselves.  I’m so sorry that Chrissy had to go through it and that, even with all the help and support she had available, she still felt so bad. But I’m glad she told us about her experience. I know that by being her usual open, honest and candid self, the same way she got me through my pregnancy, Chrissy will help other women suffering from postpartum depression to feel less alone.

I shared my pregnancy with Chrissy Teigen and learnt a lot

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Like everyone else in the world, I am a huge fan of Chrissy Teigen. I love her fashion sense, her unabashed love of food, her sweet relationship with John Legend and her general ballsy attitude. I love watching her get into fights on Twitter and I love watching her glammed up for an awards show but most of all I love that both these things seem to come equally naturally to Chrissy. She is an incredibly beautiful woman who is also smart, open, feisty and funny as hell.

­­In October 2015 Chrissy Teigen announced that she was pregnant. I found out I was pregnant two weeks later. I was equal parts excited and intimidated to share my pregnancy with Chrissy: eager to see her hilarious and honest take on this new life stage and confident I could never live up to her beautiful, hilarious, glowing pregnancy. But I did not expect that Chrissy’s pregnancy would help me through my own.

Lesson 1: It’s about you and your family.

When I found out I was pregnant I was excited and scared and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, unable to keep a secret. My mind was buzzing: who would I tell? When? How? I constantly ran through announcement scenarios in my head.

On the 13th of October Chrissy Teigen announced her pregnancy with this beautiful photo of her and John Legend:

There’s no gimmick, no joke, just a candid picture of the couple looking excited and happy and a heartfelt caption about the couple’s fertility struggle.

So I took a leaf out of Chrissy’s book and realised that my pregnancy was about me and my partner and our growing family. I didn’t do any sort of announcement, instead I visited the people who were most important to me and told them in person

Lesson 2: Your pregnant body is not up for discussion.

At what was probably the 3-4-month mark, Chrissy posted this photo of her baby bump:

Somebody is early to the party 😩😩😩

A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on

People all over started weighing in on her body, insisting that she must be having twins. She responded in true Chrissy Teigen fashion:

Then was forced to respond again:

And finally gave up:

When you’re pregnant it seems that everyone has an opinion. You’re big, you’re small, you’re glowing, you look tired – everyone has something to say. Luckily for me, I am not a celebrity and so my exposure to crazy members of the general public was minimalised but, like Chrissy, I learned to be firm about shutting people down. It is none of anyone’s business what size my stomach is and, no, you may not touch it.

Lesson 3: Eat what you want.

Not long after that, Chrissy posted this photo of her sugary cereal craving:

Cap'n Pebbles cravings, nightly

A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on

Everyone decided this was somehow their business and started food shaming Chrissy about her “unhealthy” pregnancy diet. She responded with a series of hilarious tweets:

As a vegetarian, I spent lots of time researching and then freaking out about pregnancy nutrition. I even saw a dietician. Then I kept on eating white food anyway because no amount of advice could make me start craving fresh salad instead of plain pasta. It’s easy to feel guilty in the face of Instagram pictures captioned #healthypregnancy but, as Chrissy proves, you have to trust your body and realise that it’s ok give into your cravings some (all) of the time.

See also: her many, many, many, comments about food.

Lesson 4: Wanting a girl doesn’t make you a monster.

The next public outcry came when Chrissy revealed to People Magazine that she and John Legend had chosen to have a girl. Vogue looks at the process here.

Chrissy was forced to defend her choice with facts, honesty and, eventually, sarcasm:

This was a big one for me because I also really wanted a girl. And I was pretty open about it. The most common response was, “As long as they’re healthy it doesn’t matter!” Others insisted that I’d love a boy just as much – ummm, I never said that I wouldn’t. In general, people seemed uncomfortable about my having a preference. Unlike Chrissy, I didn’t have a choice but if I had, I might have done the same thing. It made me examine my reasons for wanting a girl. I realised I wanted to share my experiences of being a woman, which are so crucial to who I am, with my child. I felt better for exploring this and, strangely, less concerned about my baby’s sex after thinking it through.

Lesson 5: take whatever help you can get.

Towards the end of her pregnancy Chrissy mentioned to Us Weekly that she and John planned to hire a night nurse. Naturally people got critical, telling Chrissy she was spoiled, uncaring and would miss out on bonding with her child.

Chrissy hit back at the publication for using a throwaway answer as a clickbait-y headline:

Women are praised when they seem to be managing everything. Everyone wants to be a supermum. But new motherhood is hard and tiring and requires you to quickly master things you’ve never done before. Many people offered to help and my instinct was always to turn it down with a breezy “We’re fine, thanks!”

But there’s no prize for doing everything alone and caring for a new baby can be incredibly isolating. So say yes! Yes to the offer of food, the offer to watch the baby while you have a shower, the offer of anything at all. Think about what you need and then ask for it. There’s no shame in getting help and, as Chrissy says of night nurses, they’re “helpers and teachers” and we all need more of those.

On the 14th of April 2016 Luna Simone Stephens was born. It was not, by any means, the end of the outrage (of course not!) but Chrissy’s honest and funny tweets, instagrams and interviews kept me going till the birth of my daughter at the end of May. It’s comforting to know that the experience of pregnancy and motherhood is something we all share, whether we’re millionaires, supermodels or just regular ladies, sitting on the couch eating pizza for breakfast.

Keeping up friendships when you’re a new mum

AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.

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My daughter was born eight months ago. Suddenly most of my waking moments were devoted to feeding, changing, burping and bouncing this new tiny human. I didn’t think about my friends all that much, and can honestly say I never asked myself whether or not I was being a good friend to them.

People give you lots of advice when you are pregnant—most of it variations on, “Watch lots of movies, you won’t get the chance again!” and, “Sleep now while you still can!” Everyone told me, in short, that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I liked once I had a baby. (It’s not true, by the way; you do them less but you appreciate them more.)

But I hadn’t considered that it might also apply to my friendships.

In the early days everyone wanted to visit and cuddle my new bundle of baby. Everyone made the same joke—they were there to see the baby, not me. It was probably true, but I didn’t really care because I was a big fan of my baby too. But then time went on, and the visitors dropped off. People went back to their everyday lives and I was left trying to figure out what my own would be like. I learned quickly: It was very different. No more after-work drinks; no more big weekend nights out; no more spontaneous coffees; no more commute into the city to meet friends halfway.

So how do you make your friendships work?

Location, location, location.

When you only have two hours between feedings, you need to make that time count for sleeping, showering, and eating (in that order, for me). So if a friend came to my place it made my life much easier and maximized the time I could spend with them. (Tip from a midwife: Try to keep just one room in your house clean, and entertain people there).

I loved when people met me at the café down the road or joined me for a walk, a real bonus for a new mum with a baby who would only sleep in the pram. It made it harder for friends who lived far away. But it also meant I appreciated it even more when they made the trip.

Be understanding.

New mums are masters of running late, changing venues, or just plain cancelling. It’s really hard to be at the mercy of a tiny tyrant who has no respect for your schedule. So as a friend, do not take it personally when a new mum bails. Remember it’s not intentional; she would much rather be on time.

I can never be sure when a nap will end or an untimely vomit will necessitate an outfit change for everyone involved. I’ve always been one of those people who’s constantly ten minutes late. Add in a baby, a long list of supplies all crucial for leaving the house, and unpredictable pooping, and it went from a mildly annoying ten minutes to an extremely rude half hour.

At my end, I adjusted my preparation time and now always leave the house early to allow for any surprises. If I expect people to be considerate of me, I have to be considerate of their time as well.

Be honest.

If you want to ask about my baby, please do! If you don’t, that’s totally fine. Don’t ask if you don’t care, though, it’s really obvious and makes the interaction awkward for both of us.

I don’t expect everyone to be as interested in my child as I am (that’s what grandparents are for), so I’m happy to talk about my offspring as much or as little as my friends would like. And honesty goes both ways. There are so many media portrayals of the perfect mum and I don’t want to add to that pressure by pretending every moment is a delight. Some of the best conversations I’ve had involved me being completely open about my experiences and it’s brought me closer to my friends.

Mums are people too.

I may be a new mum, but it doesn’t mean all my other interests have evaporated. 

New mums still want to talk about the things we loved before giving birth, whether that’s movies, food, politics or The Bachelor. I really appreciated the friends who gave me books and then asked what I thought of them. And if you’re a mum, don’t be afraid to gently change the subject if you’re getting a bit sick of baby talk.

And try to schedule some baby-free time to catch up with friends. I was constantly distracted with my little one around, so leaving baby home with my partner or my parents was a real treat that allowed me to focus on my friends and my own interests.

Text/call/email/use social media.

You might not be able to do all these things. You might not be able to do any of these things. If you can’t get out to visit, or can’t find a time that suits both of you, just let your new-mum friend know you’re thinking of her.

I have friends who I’ve only seen a couple of times in the last eight months, but regular text messages let me know they’re thinking of me and let me keep up with their lives from a darkened room while shushing a baby to sleep. Talk to your friends in whatever way works for you—get in contact and stay in contact.

In general I see people much less now, but I definitely feel very secure in many friendships. With others, I hope we’ll reconnect when things settle down. I’ve become closer to other friends I can really appreciate now, and found wonderful new friendships with other mums.

And some weeks go by when I can’t get it together to respond to a text, let alone see a friend. But my true friends understand, and will still be there when I’m ready.