Consumed by baby hunger: Jools Oliver has revealed that after several miscarriages she’s still trying for a sixth child in her 40s. So what drives women like her? A mother of five tells all
The moment my life felt civilised again, when I had only four children, is clearly etched in my memory. I was attending my children’s school fete and, though it felt like a scene from my favourite TV show, Motherland, I was in control — just.
My youngest child was three-and-a-half. No one’s nappy needed changing and no one needed to be breastfed. No one was crying or teething. No one was about to toddle into a paddling pool or down a flight of steps.
My eyes weren’t raw and sore through lack of sleep. I had even brushed my hair. Life was the most normal it had been in years.
Sybilla Hart, with husband Charlie and their children Isaac, 13, Beatrice, 10, Florence, 8, Celestia, five and one year Benjamin, says she knows why Jools Oliver wants another baby – as the same thing happened to her
But not for long. Suddenly, looking around, I noticed that everyone seemed to be pushing prams with tiny babies inside. Why hadn’t I noticed them before?
And from those prams came that unmistakable mewing noise that newborns make, followed, swiftly, by what can only be described as a visceral hunger like a punch in my gut.
An ache and need like no other to hold a newborn to my breast, to breathe in that delicious milky, warm, baby fug overwhelmed me. I was suffering from a severe case of baby hunger. I knew, there and then, that baby number five was just a matter of time.
I can only explain this desire as a deep instinct that takes hold like nothing else. So I can understand entirely Jools Oliver, a mother of five who’s endured five miscarriages — something I can’t begin to comprehend — saying how she’s keen for ‘just one more baby’ to add to her brood.
Her age — she’s 46 — isn’t even putting her off. She’s said to be considering IVF to fill that baby-sized hole in her life not filled by Poppy, 19, Daisy, 18, Petal, 12, Buddy, ten, and River, five — not to mention her husband of 21 years, the TV chef Jamie.
People may dismiss this craving as sheer madness, but I understand her longing entirely. Why, her youngest is five and has started school and her eldest has just finished her first year at university. No wonder the baby longing is at its most heightened for a broody hen like Jools. We don’t like empty nests.
Jools Oliver, pictured with her husband and their family has expressed her desire to have another baby
Baby hunger listens to no one — it presses on through all environmental, societal and moral argument.
In today’s current climate, with increasing logistical concerns over carbon footprints, extended families often living at opposite ends of the country and both parents working full-time, what was normal in the 1950s — when five children was common — is not run-of-the-mill in 2021.
To the vast majority of people, five children is neither socially acceptable nor practical — Prince Harry wanted only two children to ‘save the planet’.
I told myself all of this and more, but it simply wouldn’t wash. Some would say it’s Mother Nature at work: after all, if we hadn’t evolved to actively want to reproduce, to instinctively want to nurture a helpless, newborn baby, how would the human race have survived?
Before I go on, I must explain that, as a family, we try to be as green as possible. We rarely fly, and not just for reasons of cost, and find it easier to go on holiday in nearby Norfolk. We recycle clothes and toys and most of our devices are as old as our eldest two children.
I’ve been told I’m old-fashioned, and I don’t disagree. I love sewing and regularly mend worn clothes, which drives my children mad.
Our life is more dolly’s tea party in the garden than driving to Rollerworld, much to my offspring’s chagrin.
That said, there’s no doubting that five children are expensive. Our food bills are enormous, so I rarely, if ever, buy new clothes. H&M is about as exotic as it gets . . .
And that concludes my case for my defence — so now back to that fete. It was the summer of 2018 when I was also enjoying the odd burst of freedom.
Baby hunger listens to no one — it presses on through all environmental, societal and moral argument
My four children — Isaac, who’s now 14, Beatrice, 11, Florence, nine, and Celestia, six — were at an age when life was becoming much more manageable. I remember attending a friend’s engagement party and a few weddings, as well as a couple of peaceful holidays without running around after a toddler or rocking a fretful baby to sleep.
But I have never learned to recognise my limits in life and this was no exception.
After that fete, I became desperate for another baby and remember pacing up and down the steep, little lane outside a holiday cottage on the Lizard in Cornwall. I was hormonal, no doubt about it, and couldn’t get the idea of a baby out of my head.
I’d told everyone Celestia would be our last child. She had to be, didn’t she? Any more than four, someone once said to me, was weird.
Growing up, I’d had it in my head that I would have just two children, a boy and a girl, or just two girls. I thought this would be the key to a civilised life; a clean house (and car), no family arguments and exotic holidays to the Seychelles.
I wanted a really streamlined lifestyle back when I was ten. But fast forward to meeting Charlie, an author, gardener and art dealer, whom I married at 24, and, suddenly, I started to feel rather broody and never really stopped.
At a drinks party I met a gynaecologist who gave me some advice: get on with it! She wouldn’t have a job if people had children in their 20s, she said. That was all the encouragement I needed
As I saw it back then, raising children looked like a lot of hard work, so I thought I had better get on with it while I was young and still had some energy. I could work from home with a baby, I was sure of it.
At a drinks party I met a gynaecologist who gave me some advice: get on with it! She wouldn’t have a job if people had children in their 20s, she said. That was all the encouragement I needed.
I had never really looked after a baby properly before and had absolutely no idea what the workload entailed. I was soon to find out.
Isaac arrived when I was 26 and, as soon as he was born, I told the obstetrician that I couldn’t wait to do it all over again. She looked at me as if I was mad. We waited a few years until we had Beatrice, our second child, and then patted ourselves on the back on the way out of the delivery suite. We did a Harry and Meghan and deemed our contribution to the human race complete.
But what we hadn’t reckoned on was this baby hunger. It seems that my entire 30s was one long decade of breeding and baby yearning.
For soon after Beatrice was born, I became extremely greedy for another baby. Florence was born 21 months after Beatrice, and Charlie and I both breathed another sigh of relief.
We swapped our car for a larger one, and at the car dealership Charlie happened to bump into an Army general who congratulated him on his perfect family — apparently a boy and two girls was the ideal.
So far so good — until Florence hit about a year old and I started to get itchy for another baby again.
I remember pushing my double buggy back from a toddler music class and hearing a newborn wailing in its pram. Could it be possible that we weren’t ‘done’ yet?
I put it out of my mind. It was madness to entertain the idea of any more children — I was beside myself with exhaustion and we were at maximum capacity at our London house. But a month or so later, a close friend gave birth and, when I held her newborn baby in my arms, I burst into tears of longing.
Six months later, we had managed to extricate ourselves from London and moved to the countryside, to a much more compatible, six-bedroom farmhouse in North Essex.
At the moment, I don’t share Jools Oliver’s longing for any more babies. That said, Benjamin is still only two, I haven’t finished breastfeeding him yet, which is Nature’s contraception — keeping those baby hunger hormones at bay so that you can concentrate on the needs of the little one
I remember a friend phoning up to tell me that she was expecting a baby and so couldn’t come and visit. I was so happy for her — and then I realised that my period was late.
Celestia, our fourth child, and third daughter, was born nine months later, making our family complete . . . or so we thought.
Luckily, Charlie and I are on the same page, family-wise. He’s one of six, and I have three siblings, so we are used to big families.
One of my great-grandparents, a country parson, had 21 children: 20 girls and the 21st a boy, so maybe it’s in my genes!
Of course, after the birth of my fourth child I’d become a bit of a standing joke in the family, and everyone starting quipping about when baby number five was coming. Absolutely not, I said. I was adamant that I wouldn’t be having any more.
But the subject kept niggling. I remember discussing the difference between four and five children with our babysitter, who had five children herself. Was there anything in it, I asked her. Absolutely nothing at all, she said. And so my mind was made up.
A few weeks later, Charlie and I were invited to stay at a beautiful Tudor house in Shropshire for the weekend. Charlie does not usually like staying at other people’s houses and things weren’t helped by the fact that he knocked himself out on a medieval beam (people were shorter in those days). After a couple of gin and tonics that evening, however, he seemed to rally — remarkably so.
On the way home the following day, Charlie stopped to buy some snacks and came back with five, not four, gingerbread men for the children. When I asked him why he had bought five biscuits, he said it was because he had it in his mind that we had five children.
He knew. So did I.
Baby Benjamin was born in June 2019, a lovely surprise, arriving two weeks early and weighing 6 lb 3 oz. We were all thrilled. Now that he’s here we feel that we really are complete. When I share this sentiment with family and friends, I know there’s a bit of surreptitious eye-rolling going on. They have, after all, heard it all before.
But I’m 40 now, not far off 41, and feel a bit long in the tooth to chase a toddler around. It’s not so much my age, it’s more how I feel. Age is just a number, after all.
But at the moment, I don’t share Jools Oliver’s longing for any more babies. That said, Benjamin is still only two, I haven’t finished breastfeeding him yet, which is Nature’s contraception — keeping those baby hunger hormones at bay so that you can concentrate on the needs of the little one.
I hope the Olivers manage to have as many more babies as they desire — every one is a blessing. But, as for me, I’m praying that come 46 I will have long hung up my baby boots.
That’s not to say that I cannot appreciate the wonder of a newborn — I can, and I always will.
But, in five years’ time, I will be looking forward to becoming a granny, instead.
Just not too soon please — I would still like that trip to the Seychelles first.
Source: Read Full Article