Full disclosure and relevant to the blog post topic but I’m writing this piece post dog-tired, short of time (what’s new?), full of cold and feeling a little sorry for myself if I’m honest after nursing three poorly kids last week (all week) who were struck down by yet another seasonal bug, so bear with me if it becomes a little rambling!
Despite all of the above, I felt determined to hit publish on this despite three previously failed attempts, so as to provide an update to the popular blog post I wrote back in July, Having a Third Baby at 40 and the Reality of Juggling Three Kids, now that my youngest, Florence, is firmly in toddler territory at 16 months old.
My daughter was born 5 days before my 41st birthday. 41. Not old by today’s societal standards, and not old, I discovered, reproductively according to my consultant obstetrician, particularly when it comes to subsequent pregnancies. First time pregnancies post 35 do have causal links to fertility issues however.
Suffering a devastating missed miscarriage prior to Florence’s conception, only discovered at a 10 and 1/2 week scan (and after a visibly strong heartbeat at 7 weeks), led me to assume my age was to blame yet after much investigation: several scans and blood work post surgical miscarriage management (as the medical term goes) later, my doctors deduced my miscarriage could easily have occurred in my 20s or 30s and urged me to try again.
I conceived as soon as we tried after one period (to allow my uterus lining to thicken).
The baby who didn’t make it was conceived quickly too.
My boys took several months respectively in my younger years. It was surprising to me that I was more fertile at 39 and 40.
My rainbow baby pregnancy, while an unsurprisingly anxious time, was physically my healthiest pregnancy to date, until the final few weeks (due to an issue unrelated to my age).
My mental health certainly took a bashing though, as with my first pregnancy, so again not necessarily age-related, and there was trauma around the birth and recovery, but for the most part, whilst pregnant at 40, I walked the streets of Windsor, where we lived at the time, clocking 21k steps a day and every test I took proved I was a picture of health.
I did lose some hair in the first year post partum, a first for me, otherwise on the whole my body doesn’t look anymore stretched and bruised than the first time round!
So what is life like, now? Florence is a high-energy, talkative and demanding toddler (as toddlers should be) who enchants everyone she meets with her bright eyes, brilliant diction and maturity (with grandmas always telling me knowningly, ‘She’s been here before’).
She’s improved our lives, and the bond between us all, tenfold. Florence is the sun we orbit around. And doesn’t she know it!
That doesn’t mean everything’s rosy twenty four seven and I don’t miss sleep. I miss it madly. I certainly ache more after a particularly bad night (three hours of broken sleep for example if Florence has a gastro related flare-up) than I did in my 20s and 30s. I certain struggle to juggle in a way that was a breeze with two kids because three humans reliant on me as the default parent (a role I chose) often feels like thirty three (and I used to be a teacher so know that number well) and frankly, most days are exhausting.
I must add that I know I’d be just as tired if I’d had Florence a decade earlier because her intesity and non stop climbing, jumping, zest for life and learning is utterly relentless and that’s her and what makes her awesome. Apparently it’s me too according to my Mum! Payback right?!
Florence is a child who requires constant stimulation, a stark contrast to my middle son for example who would happily play independently from a young age (just like my razor sharp but super calm husband).
I literally cannot even send a single email with Florence around! I look the other way for a millisecond and she will have climbed the furniture about to attempt a bungee jump. That girl is utterly fearless! I email once she’s asleep and my friends have given up on receiving texts from me I reckon!
When I reflect on the postpartum journey with Florence it certainly felt tougher than my second, tranquil experience but it wasn’t as bad as my first.
It took 10 months to turn a corner emotionally after her birth (I’d have good and bad days and weeks so wasn’t consistently low) and 14 months, and starting progesterone, to balance out my hormones (FYI, I wish I’d requested this during pregnancy) to finally feel myself again. That’s a pretty long time when I consider I started feeling anxious during pregnancy.
I’m sad the experience wasn’t as smooth-going as I’d hoped but that’s life, and life has evolved in such a short time and I’ve felt truly happy and consistently for the past few months.
I’m enjoying motherhood and feel so lucky to be experiencing these early years again (I had to pinch myself at the fun we were experiencing on the swings and slides at the park the other day and that baby is mine) and I’m also accepting that I’ve irrevocably changed as I did from baby one to two and now three.
Day-to-day I’m ready for bed by 9pm, sometimes earlier as Florence isn’t a fan of sleep and only now am I able to slowly rediscover who I was pre-baby. Who I am.
I can only work productively one evening a week in total (spread out) and half a day on a weekend catching up, writing and working on commissions.
I’ve built my digital business over 12 years which means I can keep it going working sparingly and smartly but I want to be real about how much time I have and that’s not much.
Florence will start a day or two of nursery a week soon which will free me up more as I have a new book to write (more of that soon) and I hope to return on set to direct too (more news on that to come too)…
Work/ life balance with three at this moment in time is almost impossible. It’s taken a move back near my parents (who we’re currently living with whilst we buy a house in Yorkshire) to create a more robust support system and find even a slither of time to work or even go to the toilet solo. And that’s with the help my folks give me.
The mum guilt still consumes me irrespective of how many times I’ve experienced it with my other kids and how aware I am of overcoming it. It’s not logical.
Not recognising my post partum, post c-section body never gets easier. I’ve still got weight to lose, 16 months on, something I found far easier and quicker to do in my 20s and 30s. It’s true what they say: losing baby weight in your 40s is an uphill struggle. I’ll get there (I’m determined) but so far, it feels twice as hard as losing weight this time due to waning willpower because of lack of sleep, heightened stress with three kids and less time to exercise. I’m trying though. I’m back following a low carb diet and I joined a gym recently which gave me that endorphin release I forgot how much I love.
…I’m not the oldest mum at the baby groups I attend but I’m in that bracket. The lovely thing is that most of the other mums assume I’m younger or seem surprised if I mention my age. Maybe they’re just being kind!
When I had Oliver in 2010, I was the first and youngest within my friendship group at the time to have had a baby and that felt searingly isolating.
This time around, at 40, only two of my close friends had babies at the same time as me, and while nourishing and supportive at the time (during our Maternity Leave in Windsor where we saw each other sometimes daily and definitely weekly), we now sadly live 5 hours apart from one another. Phone calls and texts help but I miss them and my other mates back in Berkshire in a way that feels like heartache.
While life isn’t as isolating as in my 20s, there is crossover to that time.
My friends are amazing and adore Florence but equally they’re not experiencing this all-consuming chapter with a young child in tow like I am. They’re thick in the midst of work and raising older kids for the most part and our schedules differ.
I still see my close mates here and often but I’m not the same more carefree mama I once was with school age kids, pre-Florence. I can’t travel as easily or be as spontaneous or fun as I once was. They get it though and thank goodness for that.
I’ve made a few new wonderful mama friends with babies of a similar age and whilst most are younger than me, they know a lot more about toddlers than I do and it helps combat loneliness, to hang out with others who understand exactly what it’s like to be experiencing toddlerhood right now, simulataneously.
So what else changes with third time motherhood in your 40s?
Time is an issue.
I wish I could dedicate more one-on-one time to my older kids (and the list of dream projects I want to get stuck in to) but Florence being so little, rightly so, takes up so much of my day/night and attention. She needs me the most. The boys have thankfully adapted well to this and where possible my husband and I will dedicate time, however fleeting, to each boy or we engage in seperate activities with each when we can.
Small gestures mean a lot to them. Such as watching an episode of Outer Banks with my eldest (we even managed to watch 3 whole seasons together, albeit slowly) and my husband sticks to monthly cinema and food trips for him and the boys, they love.
We’re simply trying our best, and reach out for help from our family (mindful of their own time), aware that this period is trying but it won’t always feel this way. We won’t be spreading ourselves this thinly forever. Even if it feels never ending. We just have to take it one day at a time. The days are long, the years are short.
Yes, three kids is intense without much respite. Some days are a sh***show, others are a walk in the park (literally) but these early years zoom by and that’s the beauty of parenting third time round, I’ve been there before, I know the score, I remember how brief this time is. How consuming and claustrophobic it can feel at times but also how magical it is and how yearned for it is once it’s gone in a flash.
Having a teen, tween and toddler means everyone has different needs they want met, and usually simultaneously and all of the time. That’s hard. I’m one person during work hours and we’re two from 6pm and on weekend. We’re outnumbered.
The life admin is immense as my sons attend different schools and the school-run is a 20 mile round-trip to boot. Tiring times three.
My sons are experiencing puberty and require support, guidance and compassion as does my toddler as she changes by the day, like them, navigating new emotions and experiencing an ever-changing world around her. They’re all experiencing huge life shifts.
The boys love for their sister brings them a lot of joy though, and a bit like a puppy helps soothe some of the tougher moments of growing up! Sounds silly but it’s true. Florence is good for their mental health and both have different attributes they bring to the party!
My middle child at 10 never tires of playing with his little sister, my eldest loves all the cuddles but bores quicker than his younger sibling. Both are brilliant at being protective big bros, and keeping her safe.
I can trust either to watch her in the lounge for example whilst I clean the kitchen. The cleaning never ends by the way nor do the washing loads as the baby changes several times a day due to self-feeding and my clothes are a mess most of the time too with sticky fingerprints on leggings and jumpers (the uniform du jour). We literally wash every single day!
When it comes to the age gap between my kids, seeing them all together, seems perfect for us and is exactly how our family should look so don’t let that worry you (I receive emails asking me about age gaps a lot).
If anything there are real benefits to having older children with a baby/ toddler. The fact both my boys are at school during the day makes caring for Florence easier (I can focus on her demands without distraction) and while 4pm onwards is chaotic, I love collecting the boys from school and seeing them all play and eat together. Florence is utterly ecstatic when her besties are back home again and can be found squeeling, dancing and jumping around in delight until bedtime most nights!
She gets her socialisation hit with kids her own age from play dates with mates, toddler classes, library rhyme time and even trips to the park.
You never regret having a baby so if you’ve gotten this far I hope you’ve gleaned that much.
I recently read that the parenting paradox is that child-free people are the happiest. They can be impulsive and selfish, reckless and more fun (and experience more fun) than those of us with children and greater responsibilities.
I don’t believe you have to have kids to experience the same happiness as those who have. No way. For me, it’s unlocked endless happiness but also great stress. That’s the pay off.
Once kids come along, the more carefree version of ourselves fall by the wayside for a while.
A new you emerges in that period though, a more neurotic, anxious, protective you, no doubt, but in time, you come to terms with the loss of your former self (and all that sweet time you had) and accept your new identity, the one who keeps evolving with every child and chapter your child experiences…Until you and they change again, and you find your time slowly returning (and a different you is born).
I’ve personally become more patient, compassionate and creative (with my skills, time and resources) thanks to my kids, and in some ways, more ambitious as it feels primitive to aim to succeed with more mouths to feed. Not all of the time, some days, I’m too shattered to even think about professional goals and my sole aim is to simply survive the day and not forget to pick the kids up from school on time (been there!).
Motherhood is undoubtedly the most challenging endurance test there is. A marathon without a finish line. The rewards are so hard-won though, so precious and addictive, I’m certain that’s why so many of us, like myself, keep having babies, even in our 40s and beyond…
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