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HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: I'm about to turn 50. Here's a list of things I didn't expect to happen in my 40s.

Every birthday ending in zero looms like an ugly deadline.

We can't help it. We've been built that way. 

We know we should be grateful, that so many would trade anything for just another turn of the sun - and on our best days, we don't just know that, we feel it. But we have been marinating in anti-ageing culture for too long not to be freaked out by big birthdays.

At 30 there's an existential panic at no longer being the young gun, brimming with infinite possibility. At 40 there's a resignation that some decisions, deliberate or not, may truly be irreversible. 

At 50? Well, for women, it can feel like that "tick-tock" that's been yelled at us since puberty is slowing down to an inaudible sputter. It can feel like our desirability and relevance is leaching away, leaving a faded version of what we used to be. One that's literally hard to see in certain lights.  

Watch: The best bit about being in your 40s. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia.

It's nonsense, of course. But we can't help it. We've been built that way. 

Women have spent decades swimming in internalised ageism, consciously or otherwise. Combine that with a big slug of capitalist competition and, as every decade birthday approaches, rather than celebrate our resilient insistence on still being around, we tick off all the ways we're failing at being whatever age we are. And how everyone else is doing it better.

The truth is, women get stronger as they age, not weaker. We become more vibrant, not faded. There is nothing like seeing a lot of s**t going down - and even the most #blessed life has had its fair share as the zeros tick over - to reshuffle priorities, to crystalise opinions, to bring what matters into sharp focus. 

But we don't do a good job of selling that idea.


I see 30-year-olds panicking that nothing interesting is ever going to happen to them again, and that there's a whole pile of shamefully neglected things they've left too late.

To that I say, it's time we said pish. Pish. 

Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud: 'Tis the season of lying to everyone you love. Post continues after audio.

My 40s have been my most interesting decade yet, in all kinds of ways. Not all of them good, admittedly, but none of them staid or stale. None of them boring. And none of them expected. Especially not by 20, 30 or even 40-year-old me. So what might happen in my 50s remains unwritten and perhaps, even, thrilling. 

Zero birthdays are not deadlines, they're milestones. 

Here are some surprising things that happened in my 40s. And look, it's not over yet. I have one week to go...

I had a baby.

Image: Supplied. Here's a picture of the dinner I had for my 40th birthday. You can see me, my partner Brent, my big brother Tom. and some of my oldest and closest friends. 

We were visiting Manchester, my hometown, and are at a 'Chop House' restaurant, which is as good a place as any to celebrate the end of your 30s with carbs and mulled drinks. It's slushy and freezing in Manchester in December, dark by 3pm, so you can see why mashed potato is very necessary, and that's what I was eating on my birthday. 


What you can't see is that I am wearing a loose, sheer dress from Seed, and that I am five months pregnant.

Image: Supplied. At 40-and-a-half, I gave birth to my son, Billy. 

Did I ever expect to be an "old" mum, having my first child at 38? No. Is that just the way my world turned out? Yes. Was it a problem? Only when my midwife called me when I was a week past my due date to tell me she wasn't meant to "let" over-40s go overdue, and that I'd better get my old arse into the hospital to be induced, stat. 

That morning signalled the beginning of the least relaxing Sunday I've ever had, but at the end of it, I got my son. There are so many ways that he's not what I expected. But every single one of them is a small, creatively-wrapped gift.

Motherhood kicked my arse.

And it continues to do so every single day. But the early years of parenting are brutal on the body and the brain. 

Sometimes, when the kids are loud and the house is chaos and every request needs to be repeated five times and unanswerable questions just keep coming, my partner Brent and I look at each other and ask if this would all be easier if we'd started breeding in our 20s. Answers welcome, my young parent friends.


I started running.

I've always lived alongside an imaginary version of myself. She does yoga and lengthy ocean-swims and can drink whiskey and wear wide-leg pants and play pool and whip up a photogenic meal when 10 friends drop in (when do 10 friends ever drop in?). Her kids don't play video games or have any sanctioned screen time and they ask their imaginary mother questions like, "Mum, can we go and volunteer at the homeless shelter this Saturday? I really want to pay it forward." The other thing my imaginary self does is say "I'm just going out for a run."

And when I was 42, I joined a half-marathon training group and became that person. Yes, I did.

I stopped running.

I ran two half-marathons. And then I never ran again. 

I didn't like running. I never enjoyed it while I was doing it, not once. But I loved how it felt when it was finished. 

So now I do other things that give me that finished feel without the actual, you know, running. Like... jump around embarrassingly in front of a dance-workout video on YouTube in the privacy of my own home. Or an early-morning bootcamp where I am always, always the slowest on ground. 


I took a big risk: and changed career.

At 40, I was doing okay. I had spent a long time working in magazines for companies of various sizes that had taken me on lots of adventures and by that birthday I was the Deputy Editor of a glossy celebrity weekly. I enjoyed it. Until I didn’t. 

It was a time when my colleagues and I spent large portions of our day dissecting women’s bodies - sometimes literally, in photoshop - shaving this, swapping that - as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world. Sometimes, because the celebrities we’d shot had asked us to. Sometimes, to make our pap covers “pop”. 

As magazine sales dropped, the desperation for every few dollars handed over a newsagent’s counter grew, “the gossip mags” got meaner. Especially about women, their relationships and their bodies. All the things I’d loved about the weekly mags - the humour, the irreverence, the sparkle and yes, the gossip - was wearing so thin it was translucent. 

I wanted to jump. But digital media didn’t pay well. I had two kids and a mortgage and a partner working part time. After some (cough) very difficult domestic conversations, I followed my gut and took a significant pay-cut to, basically, retrain.

I'm not going to pretend that the decision didn't lead to some difficult years, but every fibre of my being knows it was the right call. I was 'too old' to take a risk, but I did it anyway. 

Working here at Mamamia, I've done about six distinct jobs. Every one of them has taught me something different, I’ve collected skills and failures and scars and trophies. But in my 40s, a decade so “over the hill” the young people whisper about it, I have had the professional ride of my life. And I've reinvented the rest of my career, whatever that looks like. 

And I don’t chop women up for my paycheck anymore, either. For me, it took age and perspective to make such a clear call. 

And then I added another career into the mix:


I wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pen. At high school I used to write serialised stories in a stack of blue notebooks that featured all my friends and I, dating our favourite pop-stars. I think now you might call it fan fiction. 

I would read aloud to my mates in the mornings, crouched on the parquet floor of our ordinary comprehensive school, and I always knew that writing was what I loved doing, and what made the most sense to me. 

But I didn't become an "author" until my 40s, when I wrote The Mummy Bloggers and it got published. 

Now I've written three (almost, almost four) novels in the past five years. Like motherhood, do I wish I'd done it sooner? Some days, yes. But that wasn't my story. I didn't have the confidence to believe I could do it before my 40s. Or the perspective. Or the sheer bloody-minded self-discipline to sit down and write. And write. And write. 


I had a bit of a breakdown.

Is it called a breakdown? When life becomes so overwhelming that you're just underwater, swimming for a surface you never break? When you can no longer pretend you're functioning normally because what that requires is suddenly out of reach. When your mind is racing and your heart is pounding and simple everyday tasks seem so incomprehensively complex, so impossible, that focussing on any particular one - like brushing your teeth - is unachievable. For days. And weeks. 

That happened to me in my 40s, something I never expected. I have always been a coper, a do-er, a stoic, "stick on a smile and deal with it" type. There's only ever been one other time in my life when that facade completely crumbled, and I didn't expect it to happen again in my 40s. 

But a combination of mothering two tiny children - one of whom would not sleep and would hardly eat - a demanding new job and financial pressure? Cue: crash. 

I can admit now that I lost it there for a while. It's not possible to be superhuman, whether you're 20 or 50 or 80. We are only ever less-than-super and extremely human. 

The lesson I learned after permanently crying for three months was one you've heard before but is the one that matters - ask for help. You are not weak for doing that. You are strong. And you are never old enough to know better than a trained professional.


I became a "Pea".

If you know, you know. Too Peas In A Podcast is the brainchild of two remarkable Melbourne mothers - Mandy Hose and Kate Jones, both of whom have kids with additional needs. They made a show, and then a community, for parents like them with kids like theirs - less likely to get an achievement award at school, more likely to have a roll-call of medical appointments week-to-week. 

A Pea is a parent of a non-typical child, and I am one. And the massive change for me this decade was learning that and embracing it. 

I have a child who experiences the world differently. Sometimes, his challenges make my family life difficult. Most of the time, they make it more interesting. And Mandy and Kate have helped me, and thousands of other mothers, not feel entirely unhinged for struggling, some days, to know the difference. 

I did this:

Image: Supplied. 


See above, where I say my professional life in my 40s has been... interesting. Twenty-year-old me would never have stood up on a stage with two of my great friends in front of hundreds of Outlouders - the fans of Mamamia Out Loud and the world's best women - and make a complete tit of herself in the name of entertainment. 

I would have been mortified. And I would have missed out. Excuse me while you vomit, but the surprises life can have up its sequined sleeve for you if you say yes... that's the good stuff.  

I found out what the most important thing in the world is. 

Yes, I did. I know you've been wondering. 

It's time. Time with your people. Time spent doing things that enrich you. Time to think. Time to rest. Time to work. Time to give to others. Time to sit on a balcony and talk to your best friend. Time to go for a walk with your mum through an icy wood. Or to swim laps with your dad in an ocean pool. Time to lie on the bed with your daughter and read to your son. Time to sit still and listen when your partner is wrestling with loss and grief. 

The most privileged people in the world get to choose how they spend their time. It's the thing money can buy that's truly worth it (I've been told, I'm certainly not there yet). And it's the thing we have the least of, in so many ways. 

"The older you get, the older you want to get," is a quote improbably attributed to old-dude rock-monster Keith Richards. I get that now. I want to get old. I want every minute I can have with the people I love. 

It would be so rude to see every passing year as anything less than a big, messy blessing. Full of surprises. 

It's not over yet. 

Feature Image: Instagram/ @wainwrightholly.

You can check out Holly's books, here.

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