Maia Dunphy is one of those ‘one-off’ women – loved equally by both men and women for her direct approach to life that never forgets to throw in a dose of humour. MM meets the dynamo from Dalkey….
Definitely mention The ‘M’ word!
Having seen Maia Dunphy on numerous occasions on TV, I’d kind of thought I knew what to expect when I met up with her recently in a Dublin hotel. But nothing – nothing – could prepare me for the sheer dynamism and energy from the petite 40-year-old writer and producer; particularly since she’s not only combining ‘late motherhood’ with exciting career moves and regular travel between her home in London, which she shares with husband, comedian Johnny Vegas, and her family home back in Dublin.
Needless to say, the subject of becoming a mum at 39 is one of the first subjects that’s up for discussion….
‘I really think that having a baby when you’re older is a real shock to the system,’ Maia tells me from the outset. ‘At 21, you’re full of ideas about what you’ll do and where you’ll go. You go off to university, you travel the world, you just….know how to do things. You make a plan and you do it. Simple.
‘I also think that the older you are when you become a mum, the more pressure you put on yourself. When I had Tom at 39, for example, I decided that now was the time to fulfil my ambition to write a book. No problem, I thought. I’ll write it while Tom is asleep. How long should it take me? What? About three weeks? How naïve was I?’ she laughs. ‘I decided I’d write it between September and December and then get it published in the January. By the November I’d just about managed to get dressed by lunchtime!’
The great thing about Maia Dunphy is that, while she takes motherhood and her work very seriously, she doesn’t take herself seriously. Her zest for life – and all that it brings – is palpable and, while she’s a devoted, hands-on mum, she’s still full of plans for the future.
‘There’s no doubt that Johnny and I have a very non-conformist lifestyle,’ she says honestly. ‘We were together for three years before we got married six years ago and so we knew what we were getting into. We’ve always been used to travelling for our work and, with Johnny away a lot, I’ve been able to devote myself to my career probably more than a lot of women. But, there’s no doubt that, while a hectic lifestyle with all that it encompasses can sound glamorous, like any couple we have to work hard at it. The great thing is though that Johnny is a very hands-on dad when he’s home and we enjoy every moment we have with Tom.
‘There’s no doubt that, during my 30s, I was increasingly aware of the old ‘ticking clock’, but I think I was about 35 before a doctor first said to me about getting older and putting having a baby off until later. I have to say though that I’m glad I waited. I was able to do all of my travelling and studying without worrying about dragging a baby about with me but, having said that, with us living in London and my parents living in Ireland, I’m still on the go a lot and Tom has to sleep in different places. Fortunately he’s a very flexible and adaptable child and for that I’m very grateful. He just gets on with it and sleeps peacefully no matter where he is. I’m the one who doesn’t sleep now,’ she laughs. ‘I waken at the slightest noise – but I think that’s just par for the course when you have a baby.’
Maia hasn’t decided yet whether or not to give Tom a little brother or sister but, while she and Johnny enjoy this first year with their son, Maia has certainly not been sitting about twiddling her thumbs!
Not only has she launched her new website – ‘The M Word’ – a fresh new venture that is giving a platform to mums who write with more than a sense of humour, she’s also aiming to write a book to accompany it.
‘I absolutely love the writers who are joining me in writing for The M Word,’ she says. ‘The strapline for the website is ‘Because it’s not all it’s cracked up to be’ and that’s very much the idea behind the site. Sometimes motherhood isn’t all babies rolling about with puppies and toilet rolls, it’s icky for want of a better word and my site simply acknowledges that. The women who are writing for the site and I want to address such issues – hopefully in a humorous way – to let other mums see that it’s OK to have concerns about things and to help them through the less appealing aspects of motherhood.’
In addition to The M Word, Maia has recently been the public face of an awareness campaign that is very close to her heart.
‘I was delighted recently to front an awareness campaign which was run by Alflorex for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, particularly because I’ve suffered from the condition for years,’ she says.
‘At 16, I was just your average teenager. I had the typically unhealthy teenage diet and I spent many days doubled up with cramps and crippling pain in my stomach. Fortunately, thanks to the strenuous efforts of a good doctor, my pain was diagnosed as IBS, which actually affects up to fifteen per cent of the Irish population. That’s why, when I was thinking about getting pregnant, I immediately Googled ‘IBS and pregnancy’ and discovered that it would either get worse during the pregnancy or get better. Fortunately for me, it cleared completely and for the whole of my pregnancy – and for that entire year in fact – it hardly bothered me. But then it slowly started to come back.
‘People think that IBS is just a bit of pain in your tummy, but it’s so much worse than that. It can be extremely debilitating and life limiting, and I’m so glad that – through this campaign -I was able to raise awareness for people to know that there are ways in which you can help to help yourself.’