It’s been a year since Kiwi Baby Whisperer Sharlene Poole stunned New Zealand’s parenting world by having a baby at 40 by donor sperm – and announcing she would be raising her baby alone.
For someone with a Mary Poppins-like reputation, it took many by surprise. But it screamed modern motherhood and we loved the idea. We were also braced to see how the postnatal adviser would actually find motherhood, after helping so many new mothers when she was not one herself.
Would our Heaven-sent Mother Angel prove mere mortal after all and crumble at some point like the rest of us? Would she, too, feel overwhelmed by sleep deprivation or the relentlessness of caring for a newborn baby?
Baby George Francis Poole was born on 14 July 2017 and in an interview with Now To Love seven weeks after his birth Poole told us she was loving motherhood and finding it a breeze.
Today (Saturday July 14) her little boy turns one so we caught up with Sharlene again, to find out how the pair are doing.
It’s a phone interview arranged for 1pm Thursday, a time when Sharlene knows little George will be asleep. I ring at one on the dot and Sharlene answers the phone with the greeting, “Put the phone down and pick the phone up,” followed by a giggle.
She has literally just got off the phone from a consultation with a client. Yes, George is still asleep so we’re okay to talk, she assures me. Timing is everything in Sharlene’s world. Life is “good but manic”, she explains.
So how has the past year gone?, I ask her. With speed, she tells me.
“Everybody seems to know that the year passes you fast, but I think it’s been particularly fast for me because of balancing work and George. There’s definitely no down time, let’s just say that.”
Motherhood, she tells me, just feels “normal”.
“There’s no surprises, it’s not a challenge. But I know everybody thinks that it must feel a bit different. Everyone wants to see me struggle.”
Not struggle, I suggest. We just want to know if it’s as easy to be so calm and confident when the baby is yours and you’re juggling the stresses of work and running a house on top of caring for him.
“I wouldn’t say that motherhood is challenging but earning enough money and balancing being the mother I want to be is the hard one,” she volunteers.
Being a self-employed single mother has had its challenges, Sharlene admits. She moved back to her mum’s house in January and stayed four and a half months, renting out her little place in Raglan so that there would be less pressure on her financially.
“And that was really, really hard – going back as a 41-year-old woman. But it was financially a great decision.”
Now back home, Sharlene and George are enjoying their own space again and Sharlene has gone back to consulting regularly for clients.
But even the consultations are now quite different.
It’s not uncommon for Sharlene, who is still breastfeeding, to pump breast milk while she’s working with clients in their homes. She has also had to occasionally take George with her when babysitting plans have fallen through.
“There was one client who was absolutely desperate for me and I said ‘I haven’t got anyone to look after my baby so I’ll have to bring him.’ She was like ‘that’s fine’ and it turned out to be hilarious. If you could have videoed it…
“George must have been four or five months old, and so her husband was there and I’d say ‘Okay, can you hold George while the mum and I go do this’. And then George needed a sleep so I put his mattress on the floor and put him to bed in their room.
“It was chaotic but we did it and what I find now is when I go to jobs I’m in the perfect industry to say, ‘Look while we’re talking do you mind if I pump?'”
What Sharlene has found “really tricky” is working when George is transitioning between normal developmental stages.
When George was dropping down from two naps to one a day, Sharlene struggled to get anything done.
“I had to push him to be in a certain routine to meet my work needs which I didn’t like. And that made me feel a bit stink for a few days.”
She has just started George in home-based care for one and a half days a week. She has also joined an international service called Workaway, where you can have travelers stay in your home to help you with babysitting and work around the house, in exchange for free board and food.
“It’s hard. You know, when you’re pregnant everyone says ‘we’ll help you, we’ll rally round’. But the reality is you might have a couple of friends who help but you can’t rely on them always being avaiable.
“Even Mum – as it turned out her partner became unwell and she wasn’t able to do the days I had her booked in to look after George. I’ve just had to not go to certain things; I missed a wedding. It’s hard when you don’t have that reliable back-up.”
Sharlene is currently writing a book about what to expect from age one to four, as a follow-up to her book, Baby Whispering, about the first year of a baby’s life.
She is also doing up her house as a retreat so that she can host and advise new mothers in her own home.
She has given talks to women who are thinking about taking the same journey as her.
What do you tell them?, I ask.
“Make sure that you’re financially secure because, for me, if I didn’t find motherhood easy then oh my god I wouldn’t recommend it at all. You’ve got to have one or the other.”
There are many, many more positives than there are hurdles, though. First and foremost, Sharlene gets to be what she has always wanted to be – a mum.
She talks about George with pride. He is almost walking, she tells me. He’s stubborn. He has a real little engineer’s mind, she says.
“He’s very visual , he loves fine detail and tracks birds as they fly around in the trees.”
He’s a sensitive soul, she shares. But he’s confident with strangers and loves to kiss and cuddle everyone.
All three of Sharlene’s brothers have become or are about to become dads this year, with one brother having just had a baby seven weeks ago. Her second brother’s partner is due in August and the third brother’s partner, in November.
George will have a whole tribe of cousins to play with when the family, who is spread between Auckland and the Waikato, get together.
“There is no such thing as a small family gathering in our family!” Sharlene jokes – as George is about to find out at his first birthday party today.