Saturday 7 December 2019

From Blackberry to baby bottle

Three high-fliers tell what it's like to be a new mum

Joanne Hunt

We've always known that Irish people love their mammies, and with Ireland having the highest fertility rate in Europe, it's clear that we love being mammies too.

Eurostat figures rank us top of the baby-making leader board with 2.1 children per woman of child-bearing age. But while we lead in the field of baby making, Irish women are choosing to put off motherhood for longer than ever before.

An ESRI study of census data shows that most Irish women now delay having children beyond 30 years of age.

In fact, the higher a woman's educational attainment, the longer she is likely to delay having children.

In the 20-year study, Ireland has seen a transformation in the role of women at work.

Their commitment to third-level education and career means children are being born later and into smaller families.

The data suggests that women are enjoying further education and getting a firm foot on the career ladder before attempting "a rapid catch-up" on motherhood.

So how do these highly educated women balance the career opportunities their education has afforded them with the personal priorities of partnership and motherhood?

With Mother's Day around the corner, these three thoroughly modern Irish mammies talk about how they go about shifting gears between career and motherhood as they swap the BlackBerry for the baby bottle.

Linda Moran, Financial Planning Consultant: 'There's something new every day. Daniel is his dad in a babygrow'

Linda Moran lives in Limerick city and had her first child, Grace, at 29. With Limerick recording the lowest average age of mothers at 29.1 years, she is bang on trend.

After college, Linda moved into the insurance industry. Working full-time, she studied at night for her full financial advisor qualification and gain membership of the Life Insurance Association of Ireland.

From there, she accepted a role with a major bank advising on pensions and investments. Having worked hard to earn her stripes, she enjoyed the fruits of her success and had a hectic social life.

At 27, she married husband Neilus and says she was one of the first of her friends to settle down.

"While I always knew I wanted to have children, we didn't get married to have a baby immediately," says Linda. "We just wanted to enjoy ourselves for a while."

When the couple realised that there might be a baby on the way, things changed. "All of a sudden I was just so excited. I got up in the middle of the night to do the pregnancy test. I just couldn't wait to find out," says Linda.

Baby Grace is now 19 months and little brother Daniel followed just five weeks ago. Linda laughs at her preparations before Grace's arrival.

She says that in between selling pensions and insurance, she became "obsessed with finding the right bedroom theme -- would it be Boris & Millie or Zeddy & Parsnip?"

What has she found difficult about motherhood so far? "Sleep deprivation," she says. Spontaneity is next. "You can't just pop out and get your eyebrows done. With two babies, you need a full-scale plan before leaving the house."

She says that mother-and-toddler groups can bring some pressures for first-time mums.

"Breastfeeding, weaning, weight and teething milestones can lead to comparisons" Linda says. "You've just got to remember that every baby is different."

Heading back to banking after Grace's birth, she said she felt some guilt. "You're tired in the evenings and you can feel guilty about only having an hour with her before bed time. But she loves the creche."

What's the best thing about motherhood? "Everything. There's something new -- a smile or an expression -- every day," says Linda. "Seeing bits of us in them is mad, too. Daniel is his father in a babygrow.

"Grace and Daniel are healthy and happy. I just feel very lucky."

Claire O'Regan, Dublin City Councillor: 'Just one smile from my darling baby and everything is alright'

Dublin City Councillor Claire O'Regan typifies the trend where Irish women enjoy opportunities in education, travel and career before embracing motherhood.

Following an Arts degree at Trinity, Claire travelled in Africa before returning to Dublin to train as a solicitor. Spending the Celtic Tiger years working at the Bridewell district court, the coalface of the criminal justice system, she saw how the boom was leaving many behind.

Claire sought to make a difference through politics and won Labour's nomination to stand in the North Inner City ward.

"With life being so full, I didn't think I wanted children," says Claire. At 33, she married Richard. When told they may have difficulty having a child as a result of Claire's arthritis, things changed. "I was surprised at how upset I was," says Claire. "Something changed in me."

Claire was in the throes of an election campaign when she found out she was pregnant. "I hardly had time to think about it,' she says.

In June, Claire won the support of her constituents to represent them in City Hall. In December, she gave birth to daughter Maeve.

Has the workplace given her any skills she can apply to being a mum? "Nothing can prepare you!" jokes Claire, now 35. "When I became pregnant, I wished I could do a course to get up to speed. Now I know that if there were courses, it would frighten people off altogether!''

While Claire is on maternity leave from her job as a solicitor, council work goes on. She was answering constituency emails five days after giving birth and was in City Hall five weeks later.

"I fully understood that this is what I was signing up to," says Claire. She laments that a lack of maternity provisions could be why there are so few women in Irish politics.

So has motherhood changed her? "I've always hated being late or having to re-schedule. With a baby, the schedule goes out the window."

She admits juggling motherhood and a career can be exhausting. But there are perks. "The feeling of love toward this tiny person is beyond description. Nature has an amazing way of rewarding you. Just one smile from Maeve and everything's fine."

Aisling McCarthy, Aircraft Trader: 'I came round to the idea of motherhood in my mid-thirties'

Aisling McCarthy gave birth to her first child last year. Having studied languages at UCC, she then did a Masters in Translation Studies and earned a further postgraduate qualification in marketing before moving on to the career ladder. She has worked in aircraft leasing and trading for the past eight years.

At 29, she met her husband Brian and the couple married in 2006. Backing up the ESRI stats, the 37-year-old agrees that spending longer in education and a later entry into the world of work kept her from considering marriage or motherhood any sooner.

"I had studied hard and enjoyed learning," she says. "Then from my late 20s to mid-30s, I wanted to build my career, enjoy having a disposable income for the first time and just enjoy life.

"There was never a big hankering for a baby. There was never a definitive pull," she says. "The idea of motherhood is something that I gradually came around to in my mid-30s."

When it happened, she and Brian were delighted to find themselves expecting a girl.

So how did she find the gearshift from work to motherhood? Aisling admits to preparing for the impending arrival as she would for any big work project. "I was a complete nerd!" she laughs. "I set about being as prepared as possible. I read and researched as much as I could."

The new mum was grateful for an easy pregnancy. "Thankfully I was able to keep up my work rate during my pregnancy," she says. "I enjoy my job but it's demanding and I wanted to continue to do it as thoroughly as possible. I was fortunate to be able to do so."

The couple welcomed baby Tara last October. "We were just amazed by this little person," she says.

So how is she adapting to motherhood? Aisling says that while she still likes a good plan, baby Tara can throw all of it out the window at will. "If she throws up a feed or wakes up at night for hours on end, you've just got to roll with it."

Aisling heads back to work this month but was keen to monitor emails throughout her maternity leave. She says it's not something her company expected her to do. "It was my choice. I love my job and, for me, keeping a hand in meant an easier transition out of work and then back in to it."

Asked if motherhood can be just as competitive as office life, she says that she only sought parenting tips from family and friends, and has no truck with "competitive mothering".

She says the biggest pressure as a mother comes from herself. "I think being a mother is such a huge, critical job. I'll always try to do it to the best of my ability."

She treasures every moment with her daughter. "I love watching her personality develop. There are so many little firsts; so many tiny, everyday miracles. She's great! We're so lucky to have her."

Irish Independent

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