Mum of six Vanessa Alexander says she has a PhD in dysfunctional working mother stories.

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She is in the throes of starting up her own childcare centre.

She is completing a PhD.

And she is a mother of six.

The 44-year-old has a 22-year-old daughter, two 18-year-old son’s (not twins, one is a foster child), a 10-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl and a one-year-old daughter. Phew!

“My oldest daughter and my youngest daughter are accidents, so my life is bookended by being on one end, well, kind of perceived as the young slapper solo mother and now I’m sort of vaguely looked at disapprovingly as the 44-year-old geriatric primagravida in the high-risk clinic,” Vanessa tells Sarah MacDonald on the latest episode of the I Don’t Know How She Does It podcast.

She says her last pregnancy was such a surprise that she thought the pain in her side was a symptom of ovarian cancer. It turned out she was 18 weeks pregnant.

“I thought I was practically peri-menopausal,” she said.

“So then we had to send (her husband) for a vasectomy.

“I actually think I suffered depression during the pregnancy just from the shock of it. I was super worried actually that I was going to have post-natal depression.”

Fortunately, that was a battle she was lucky to avoid. But she is in the midst of another with a local council over the red tape involved in opening up her own childcare centre.

Having lived all over the world, Vanessa says childcare in Australia is the worst – so bad, in fact, that it prompted the Newcastle mother to take action.

“There’s kind of a national childcare crisis so I thought I should do something about this,” she said.

She says, like many mothers, she employs a variety of tactics to entertain her younger kids so she can get some work done.

“I don’t think there’s a mother on the planet that doesn’t use a bath occasionally, because kids love a bath,” she says.

“And how did we live before the generation of screens? That’s something that I’m sort of caught between utilising for my benefit and feeling racked with guilt over.”

And, having run the gamut, she says the teenage years – especially with girls – are the hardest as a parent.

Vanessa says you get better with experience for babies but “that’s harder to do with teenagers because the individuality of the child is very prominent at that point and managing that for each child is so hard”.

She says she was determined to impart some kind of feminist values to her teen daughter, but being on the same wave length was difficult.

“The world has changed so much,” she says.

“What they’re exposed to know, and what they read, and the pressures on them, and how they look, and everything from the exposure to porn and all of that kind of stuff, is so different that it was hard for us to get on the same page.”

She knew she’d had some degree of success though when her daughter, now a law student, gave her a mug for Christmas with some advice she had passed on printed on it. It read: “Stay calm, grow back your bush and tell him to you know in his own face”.

A life lesson for one and all.

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