What’s new? Well, we have two kids back at school, with slightly shortened hours and slightly different start and finish times, so my mornings are quite busy doing double lots of shouting. The baby has become cranky about something at 4am so there has been some early morning screaming, and on the weekend we got two phone calls from New Zealand in the middle of the night because the caller forgot about international time zones.
You know that thing, when are are on the verge of sleep and something wakes you up, and you cannot sleep again all night? Your eyes get all sharp and sore and you feel like crying and you won’t look at your phone to check the time because if you knew the truly terrible late hour, you would get all anxious and so you just imagine how late it must be and how many hours have gone past in useless wasteful non productive segments of time. The kind of time I wish I could have to myself in the daytime, but never do. And then your husband starts snoring just loud enough, just rhythmically enough, that you realise you need a fresh pair of silicon earplugs if you hope to drown it out. You can never drown it out though. Then comes the next stage in the War Against Your Sleeping Husband. This involves careful, persistent prodding and sharp “SHUSH”ing until Mark finds the mythical sleeping position that doesn’t involve any shuddering, humming, deep breathing, soft nasal sounds or deep throaty growls. It is 50/50 whether any of this stuff even works.
On Sunday night I got him to turn him over about 17 times by prodding his arms, stomach, back and ribs enough times to get his brain to recognise the need for his body to move over but not quite enough to wake/bruise him. At this stage of a snore-filled night, I really do feel like bruising him. But on Sunday night it was to no avail. He started up again and again and so I cracked at about 2:30am and headed to the couch in the living room.
Bleary-eyed, angry, falling over the discarded tennis racquets and dirty socks left in the hallway and careful not to wake the baby, I made my way to the couch which had SO MANY CRUMBS ON IT. Luckily I brought with me a fitted sheet, which was the only thing I could pull out of the linen cupboard safely without sending years worth of duvets and old towels that I have shoved up there from killing me in a tragic suffocation-related incident. I wrapped myself up in it and tried to get some sleep in before my Monday morning 7am run.
That’s how things are right now.
So. Directionless, tired, with silvery purple hair and nowhere to wear my puffed sleeved dresses, I wonder what to tell you. It is hard to find stories when our stories are the same every day. I sometimes try a new recipe or we start a new TV show. We’ve been to one non-essential shop which was the same as before but much more awkward, with added queues. The middle kids seem to have caught up on the hours and hours of work they had ignored since school closed. The baby refuses to speak but uses sign language (and screaming) to get us to do what he wants. The skin on my fingers continues to split and crack. The Serpentine is closed for swimming so if we want to cool down we have to take our clothes off and sit in front of the fan. I made a babka.
In lieu of much more exciting tales, I thought I could recycle the article that I was commissioned to write for one of the Sunday papers, all the way back in the olden times of January. It didn’t get used. I got paid a kill fee, but the only thing that was actually killed was my joy in being COMMISSIONED FOR A SUNDAY PAPER! A good one, too.
Anyway, here it is. This is my version before they Sunday paper’ed it up. So more my voice, but still with a mind for the Sunday Times readership. THERE! I SAID IT.
Geriatric Mother’s Club
By Jodi Bartle
There are not many ways in which Cameron Diaz and I have any real sort of connection. I don’t have her adorable appley cheekbones or expensive caramel hair, I can’t surf, don’t do my own stunts and have never mastered that running-along-in-the-snow-back-to-Kate Winslet’s-cottage-in-heels-thing she does at the end of The Holiday (but Lord knows, I’ve tried). Similarly, Chloe Sevigny and I aren’t that much aligned, me having only been to New York once, and so far, appearing in no iconic ’90s indie movies, at all, ever.
But we three do share something rather marvellous and increasingly, it would seem, A Thing. Last week, Diaz announced the birth of her baby daughter Raddix while Sevigny was spotted swanning around NY with an elegantly sheathed baby bump. Both women are no longer in their first flush of youth – in fact, at 47 and 45 respectively, they are firmly entrenched in the Geriatric Mother’s Club, of which I too am a fully paid up member. If such A Thing were a trend, you could add to our role call Geri Horner (44), Rachael Weisz (48), Alanis Morissette (45), Janet Jackson (50) and Brigitte Nielson (at a spectacular 54); women who have also braved birth and babies in later life.
What does it feel like to have a baby after 40, whether it’s your first time or you’ve done all this before – you’ve worn the disposable pants, you’ve seen through cutting teeth – and come up for air, only to dive back into it all again?
In my case, I spanned the decades having babies, which perhaps puts me in another subcategory altogether (something along the lines of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop – it’s a very small group). I had two in my 20s, three in my 30s and last year squeezed out baby number six when I was 42. I say ‘squeezed’, but more accurately he sort of felt his way out; the scaffolding just isn’t what it used to be.
The pregnancy was termed ‘Geriatric’ in my pregnancy notes and I was treated as such. There were extra appointments all the way through to check my blood pressure and urine in case of complications, and I was not allowed to labour in St Mary’s birthing unit, home of soft furnishings, birthing pools and dim lights, in case something went wrong owing to my probably knackered uterus and objectively middle-aged body. I said yes to the Down’s Syndrome test and was monitored for pre eclampsia, warned it would be best to wear compression socks on our summer holiday flight to Turkey for the possible blood clots and told not to jump off the side of the boat into the Mediterranean Sea from any real height – because, you know – spontaneous rupturing and all that.
All of this fuss of course makes sense – family lore tells it that my own mother swelled up like a blowfish and was bedridden with preeclampsia for the last six weeks of her pregnancy with me. She was, by today’s standards, a relatively fresh 37 year old but in small town New Zealand in the ’70s, she was a bit old with an appetite for risk. For women in their 40s now who dare dream to conceive, carry their babies, push them out and then get on with the exhausting job of keeping them alive – well, it’s a miracle, a joy, and a Herculean task best carried out under close medical supervision with full disclosure of the myriad potential dangers awaiting mother and child.
It’s also awkward, too, at times. My teenaged sons attend secondary school and I have turned up to Parent Teacher interviews quite obviously in the family way, which embarrassed the boys, because, you know – their mother must have had sex, WITH THEIR DAD, probably, which is utterly repulsive and deeply scarring if you are 15 years old and trying to fly under the social radar. Later, I’ve had meetings with disciplinary members of school staff to discuss short term suspensions (a whole other story) and fed my baby, flopping out my wizened breast flesh and puckered nipple while my sons slide lower and lower into their chairs, dying of the shame.
My friends, once tethered to their own tiny babies, have long since given away their bags full of speckled outgrown onesies and pointless baby hats. Now deeply enmeshed in their own satisfying, challenging careers, they sometimes call, seeking a night on the Soho tiles with me but forgetting I’ve got to be home for the 10:30pm dream feed. They sigh and tell me that, as much as they love that little Remi, he has become a bit of a bore.
Pregnancy the first time around was a miraculous wonder, endlessly fascinating and worthy of daily pondering on the size and development of the foetus. Pre-smartphones and pregnancy apps, books piled up next to my bed on what to expect and on alphabetised lists of names full of post-it notes to test out with other young, as-yet-childless friends. I may have even taken to my bed once in a while in the first trimester, flouncing off in the early evening, owing to the extreme tiredness the pregnant books assured me I would be feeling. In my 30s, when numbers three, four and five were variously born and bred, I felt confident; though ragged by the demands of a feral tribe of preschoolers and babies, I was fully in the zone. My body was holding up and my relative youth, optimism and energy, such as it was, got me up and out of bed to tend to my little boys, again and again and again. There was precious little time to be tired.
After miscarriages, an unspeakably horrible molar pregnancy and a gap of six years, this last pregnancy in my early 40s was full of bloat and gas and a permanently dampish crotch. People, bacon and toast smelt bad and there was a permanent hangover feeling in my roiling gut. Postpartum, my body is now war-torn, stippled and stretched. My cervix seems to be slowly making its own way out, while my bladder is fairly relaxed about returning to work. There is upper arm weight that won’t shift so I’m having to say goodbye to a particularly nice Vilshenko blouse. My period, such as it is, comes and goes in the unconvincing, maddening way that echoes the periods of my peri-menopausal friends. I sometimes feel too old for this shit.
But then I get to sniff that little 11 month old head. I nurse that baby boy and his eyes close, tiny fingers brushing my skin, murmuring quietly as he feeds. My husband often comes into the bed with me as I am putting the baby to sleep, leaving the big boys in the living room to watch reruns of Friends on Netflix, escaping from the noise and the homework and the occasional eruptions of irrational violence to have a little cuddle all together. A baby in your 40s is different, somehow. Less slog, certainly; more lovely. We have both wondered if the other babies were quite as delicious as this one, and we don’t know the answer because we can’t remember. It was too long ago; we were different people then, we were drowning a little bit. A baby after 40, when you really want one, and when you are hopefully settled in lots of mid-life kinds of ways, is a bonus baby, a gift. In this, my Geriatric Mother-Sisters Diaz and Sevigny, I can assure you – you are in for a knackering, miraculous, joyful, baby-shaped ride. Welcome to the club.
And there you have it – a recycled newspaper story because I have nothing else except for my usual roundup of photos.
Babka. Slightly burnt but a triumph nonetheless:
Cute baby. Very much covered in chocolate mousse, but also a triumph, nonetheless:
New on-sale Batsheva dress, slightly too much perhaps for a dog walk:
Otis with excellent lockdown hair and chocolate mousse spill: