Irish doctor and TV presenter Dr Pixie McKenna had her first child, Darcy, at the age of 40. The Cork native, 44, who is best known for her work on the Channel 4 series ‘Embarrassing Bodies’, has just published a weaning book ‘Dr Pixie’s First Foods’, which she says was prompted by her coming to motherhood late in life. Dr McKenna shares with West Cork People some of the biggest challenges and lessons that come with parenthood.
“It’s assumed you know what you are doing,” says Pixie of becoming a mother in her forties, “and, from my perspective, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Also, by the time you’ve done four decades, you are set in your ways and independent, so it’s a massive life change. I swore it wouldn’t be, but it so was!”
The positives? “Hopefully if you have waited as long as I did then ‘Dad’ is someone you will have an amazing relationship with for the good times and the bad. I’m not sure I would have been the best mum or made the best choice of sparring partner at the age of 25!”
“Would I have another child in my forties. NO WAY! I had an amazing pregnancy, delivery (I cheated and had a section) and my daughter is fit and healthy. I wouldn’t chance doing it again because I know it wouldn’t run as smoothly and I would be scared of the health implications for my baby and me. I salute women who have babies well in to their 40s. On a selfish level I am also only just getting my sleep back, so wouldn’t want to be back on the night shift again thanks to a new arrival.”
At present, Pixie works two days a week as a GP in Harley Street in London, which she says she really enjoys and she is just about to open her own clinic there next month. She is also writing a series of books, one of which, the aforementioned ‘Dr Pixie’s First Foods’ launched in January. Then there’s more TV work on the cards both in Ireland and the UK and in between all that she is squeezing in some health promotion work, other writing and doing regular radio work. “It’s busy but that’s when I work best,” she says “I’m not one to be ideal, as it makes me lazy and mischievous!”
As a busy working mum, no two days are the same for Pixie, but generally her day starts at 5.45am and is non-stop until bedtime. “I run round the house deciding what to wear, then my daughter usually wakes about 6.45am. I get about half an hour of Darcy time and then I jump on my bike to the station and take the train to London. I then walk to work and normally do clinic from 9am-5pm. During my clinic day I’m often double jobbing, doing phone interviews, finishing articles or getting ready for my next TV appearance. So If I keep you waiting for your appointment that might be why! Then I race home and normally get back about 7pm. I have about an hour of mother-daughter time and then have dinner with my husband. By 9pm, I’m fit to flop, so it’s an hour of telly and bed at 10. I’m rarely out socially during the week and generally, if I have a TV commitment, I try to get home straight after, even if it’s in the middle of the night, as I feel huge guilt about being a working mother. I’m hugely lucky that we have the most amazing nanny without whom my world would fall apart…my husband Mitch isn’t that bad either!”
Pixie says that, despite being a medic, as an older mum she knew nothing about weaning, which is what prompted her to write this book. “Weaning crept up on me and I really hadn’t planned or prepped for the milestone that it is. You get confused, you get contradictory advice and often you find yourself clueless and covered in puree! My book isn’t about following my plan (because I didn’t have one) it’s about knowing categorically what you shouldn’t do and working out what you can. There is no plan but here is a whole host of pitfalls, so arming yourself against those helps.”
According to Pixie, weaning is a marathon, not a sprint, and just like all great races, it is possible to go off track, hit a wall or even want to give up. “You have to have your eyes on the prize,” she explains.
“There is no wrong or right way to wean; the right way is the way that works for you and your baby,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to freeze and don’t feel guilty if you feed your little one from a jar now and then. Parenting is a precarious job and it is predictably unpredictable…Always remember tomorrow is another day.”
Just like lots of other children, although she loves tuna, pasta and sweet corn, three-year-old Darcy’s favourite meals are “I best not tell the truth, as my mother might read it!” laughs Pixie. “Ah ok so…sausages, chips and beans!”
And Pixie’s biggest lessons learned so far as a parent. “The day you think is the worst day in life isn’t, that’s yet to come. Parenting is a test, take the exam slowly, set your own pace, don’t copy others and learn from your mistakes. You are just as able as any other parent in the pack, don’t be put off!”
When she does take time off from her hectic schedule, Pixie and her family are often to be seen in West Cork, which she says is her favourite place in the world.
“We have been going to Baltimore for nearly 40 years so I love spending time there. I love sitting outside Bushes watching the world go by, sailing across to Sherkin and swimming in The Cove. I enjoy shopping in Fields, breakfasting in The Church and generally enjoying the fresh air and friendly atmosphere. That is West Cork. The Skibbereen Market is also a very special place…I could go on and on but suffice it to say I won’t be holidaying anywhere else for the foreseeable future.”