I thought nappies and night feeds were behind me. Having a third child at 40 felt like a prison sentence


I thought nappies and night feeds were behind me. Having a third child at 40 felt like a prison sentence

By
Fiona Duff

PUBLISHED:

00:00 GMT, 23 August 2012

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UPDATED:

00:00 GMT, 23 August 2012

By the time I reached the age of 39, I thought I had my life sorted. The stressful early years of child-rearing were over and I was revelling in the joys of uninterrupted sleep, no more potty training and not having to check my clothes for bits of chewed-up rusks before leaving the house.

In just a few weeks, my six-year-old daughter Betty would be going into her second year of primary school and my four-year-old son Bill would be starting full-time nursery.

I had cleared my home of nappies, travel cots and baby wipes. I had a great part-time job at a newspaper and was looking forward to devoting more time to my career again.

Child-rearing days not over yet: Fiona loves daughter Ellen, now 11, but wishes she'd had her earlier in her life

Child-rearing days not over yet: Fiona loves daughter Ellen, now 11, but wishes she'd had her earlier in her life

My love life was also flourishing. I’d finally found a kind, handsome man called Calum after splitting with my husband three years earlier. I was, as Gwyneth Paltrow (aged 39) said this week, ‘past the baby stage’, with its incessant demands and relentless mundane tasks: feeding, changing, wiping, burping… 

Then, one morning, my world was turned upside down — courtesy of a thin blue line on a pregnancy test. Sitting on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, I started to sob. I was done with looking after babies — could I really go through it all a third time

Everything went through my head — the physical problems of pregnancy and birth (particularly the crippling backache I’d suffered before), and the emotional and financial costs of bringing up another child. Buying everything from scratch again would cost a lot of money, and I’d have to forsake those 6in-high designer boots I’d seen.

'Evenings out to the theatre or for dinner became a thing of the past.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I found myself resenting this little
creature'

Calum said he would stand by me,
whatever my decision, although I knew he’d love to have a child of his
own. When we met, I told him I had no intention of producing any more
offspring, and that if fatherhood was on his agenda he’d better find
someone younger.

However, when I found myself pregnant, something else — hormones or a mothering instinct, perhaps — told me I couldn’t get rid of the baby. So, two months after I celebrated my 40th birthday with half a glass of champagne, along came Ellen, as healthy and beautiful a baby as anyone could want.

However, the same could not be said about me as a mother. I spent the first few months utterly exhausted. Coping with a newborn while trying to juggle piano lessons, dinners, PE kits and homework nearly killed me. It didn’t help that Ellen was a clingy baby who would scream and sob if left her with anyone other than me, her dad or his mum (who lived 30 miles away).

I thought things would become easier as Ellen passed the newborn stage. But they didn’t.

No more children planned: Mother-of-two Gwyneth Paltrow has admitted she's 'past the baby stage'

No more children planned: Mother-of-two Gwyneth Paltrow has admitted she's 'past the baby stage'

I couldn’t leave her with a
babysitter, so evenings out to the theatre or for dinner became a thing
of the past. I am ashamed to admit it, but I found myself resenting this
little creature.

Losing my
figure for a third time was also incredibly dispiriting — especially as
getting back into shape as a 40-something mum is no easy feat. But my
waistline wasn’t the only thing that disappeared — my sex life also did.

Calum and I hadn’t been together for that long and he’d hoped that our active sex life would resume fairly soon after Ellen’s birth. He was to be bitterly disappointed.

Exhaustion contributed, but there was also a worry raging at the back of mind. What if love-making resulted in Baby No  4! That would tip me right over the edge.

On top of everything, the two older children were jealous of the helpless life form who took up so much of my time. Betty would start telling me about her day at school but Ellen would then begin to cry and I’d have to comfort her. One day Betty told me there wasn’t any point in asking about her day, as I wouldn’t hear the answer.

This anger continued long after Ellen passed babyhood. When Ellen was five, Betty — her teenage hormones raging — focused all her anger and insecurities on her little sister. Ellen was barred from her room; if anything went missing, she got the blame. And she wasn’t allowed to utter a word to Betty’s friends.

Bill would tease Ellen mercilessly. He’d realised that with one look or word he could elicit a blood-curdling screech from her, which would make me tell her off.

Now I’m 51 and still knee-deep in child-rearing. I know it sounds awful, but at times the years ahead feel like a prison sentence. Ellen is only 11, so I’m looking at a seven-year stretch — and you don’t get that long for daylight robbery.

The future never seemed more dispiriting than when my mother turned to me during Betty’s final, lengthy, junior school carol service, and said: ‘You’ll still be doing these for another seven years.’ The thought filled me with dread then and still does. It sucks a lot of the happiness out of being a mother.

Who knew
The average interval between children is two years and nine months

Ellen is a delightful, active,
talented girl, but I don’t feel the same thrill over her hobbies and
achievements as I did with Betty and Bill — although I do my utmost to
hide my malaise.

When the
older two were learning to ski, I found it thrilling to stand shivering
by the Hillend ski slopes near Edinburgh, where we live, and watch them
wobbling about. Now I’d rather watch paint dry.

I turn up for Ellen’s sports days, but frankly more for the social scene than urging her to do her utmost. Having forgotten my glasses at the latest one, I watched one race with a few desultory shouts of encouragement before I realised it was for the year above and she wasn’t even taking part.

I used to be fascinated as my older two children babbled on about their daily lives, but nowadays I have to switch to auto-pilot to deal with the bombardment of questions and triviality that is the soundtrack to my life.

Holding the baby: Fiona resents being an older mum as her friend's children have now flown the nest (posed by model)

Holding the baby: Fiona resents being an older mum as her friend's children have now flown the nest (posed by model)

From breakfast onwards, Ellen’s questions are relentless. ‘Where are my shoes’ ‘Who was that on the phone’ ‘Can I have a leprechaun for my birthday’ By the end of the day, my brain aches from attempting to cope with the sheer inanity of it all.

I suffer terrible pangs of jealousy at
my peers who had their children in quick succession. Recently I had
lunch with a couple of my 50-something friends. Our three daughters
started primary school together over a decade ago, and are now in the
final year of A-levels.

As
my friends speculated about how their lives would change when their
children left home, it occurred to me that mine wouldn’t change at all.
I’ll still be weighed down with parental responsibility while my friends
spend their days shopping, lunching, having their hair done and
laughing at me still trying to work out maths homework.

I
know this may sound harsh — in fact you’re probably wondering why I
didn’t just ship Ellen off to an orphanage — but I do love her
desperately, and she has brought much joy to our lives.

She
shows interest in curling, a sport that Calum loves and the rest of us
treat with disdain, she walks the dog with me, which the others refuse
to do, and she gives me a reason to watch The X Factor without looking
like a saddo.

I just wish
that I’d had her a few years earlier, when my other children were still
toddlers, so that she, too, would be spreading her wings and embracing
adulthood.

Gwyneth Paltrow
is quite right to be wary of ‘going back to the baby stage’ — for while
it isn’t the end of your life, having to devote yourself to another baby
when you thought you were done with all that will certainly change it
beyond recognition.