By Liana Jacob
MEET THE MUM OF EIGHT who says that for FIFTEEN YEARS she’s been either pregnant or breastfeeding her babies who are roughly one to two years apart – but despite this she has had no stretch marks.
In September 2004, primary school teacher and business partner, Greta Dench (38) from Melbourne, Australia, and her husband, Simon, welcomed their first child, Jeremiah (now 14) after struggling to conceive for a year due to her having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
While they never planned to have a big family before they were married, once they had their first child they were eager to have another. After discussing it with her husband, they agreed to have three more kids, landing on four children. Over the next five years they had their children; Felix (13), Ezra (11) and Hugo (9).
The satisfaction of being able to raise four children encouraged them to try for a fifth child, Jasper (now 7), who was born in 2012. The same cycle continued for their next three children; Vera (4), Benji (2) and Elsie (five months), who were all born two years apart almost to the day.
Greta says that daily exercise and nutrition has helped her raise her eight kids and despite having that many children, she did not have a single stretch mark. She says that anyone can raise a big family if they are organised enough.
“Having a big family was never part of our discussions when we got married; I knew I loved kids and babies from an early age, I even became a teacher because of my passion,” Greta said.
“Four kids seemed like a big ask so I worked on my husband, who was happy to stop at three. Once our fourth boy came along, we felt like we might be getting the hang of this gig, so we contemplated and prayed.
“We felt like there might be another one out there for us, so along came our fifth boy. The same cycle continued then along came another three – all of them two years apart almost to the day.
“So, for fifteen years I have either been breastfeeding or pregnant. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been the most fulfilling thing in the world.
“I had polycystic ovaries with my first do it took a year to fall pregnant. The rest took three to six months; they were all planned and desperately wanted.
“I am up early at 4:30am to feed the baby and put back to sleep. I then go for a run to be back for six to have a coffee and quiet moment with hubby; the kids are all up by seven in the morning.
“They all have their job or routine. Jobs not done means no screen time later that day. They have to pack their own lunchboxes with pre-made sandwiches and snacks from ‘snack tubs’.
“All beds must be made, music practised, and pets fed before heading out the door. Having them work independently leaves me to focus on the youngest two or three kids.
“I like to leave the house tidy and clean with washing hung or in the dryer so it’s not chaos later that day. Mornings are usually an activity for the three pre-schoolers and afternoons are dinner prep, business paperwork, naptime and washing.
“After school we have a similar routine; unpack bags, snack/homework, dinner time, jobs and at least one or two sport trainings. It is busy but rewarding as we see our kids grow and develop.
“Organisation has been the key to our household running smoothly; everyone has their jobs and take responsibility.
“They have learned to share and have well and truly realised the world cannot revolve around them. It is noisy, expensive, exhausting and we have made many sacrifices but there is also so much love.
“It also can be a lonely place because with so many, dinner invites can be few and far between and life is just so busy we don’t have much time for a social life.”
Greta says that while she has been tired more times than she can count and hasn’t had some time for herself, she wouldn’t trade her life for anything else.
“Every time I question whether we are up for the challenge of parenting so many children, and whether we are short-changing them of time and attention, I think of the bond they have with each other and how many life lessons they learn by just being part of a big crew,” she said.
“We simply wouldn’t change it for the world; the workload is only outweighed by the feeling of fulfilment and reward.
“Having said that, we know we are done; little Elsie is our final puzzle piece and we are finally complete.
“I have learnt ways to cope; daily exercise helps me by keeping happy hormones up. I had a lot of vein damage in pregnancies, so I had to wear a lot of supports and was in a lot of pain.
“That was difficult, but we got through it – just. Breastfeeding has been a great joy and luckily my babies have thrived on my milk.
“I just have to be diligent to drink lots of water and keep the vitamins and good diet up. My body is definitely tired and taken a beating, but eight healthy children is worth it.
“Surprisingly I don’t have one stretch mark despite having big babies. So, I am grateful. I had long labours, but they were all completely natural, so I am thankful for that too.
“I have had the privilege of raising eight extremely different personalities; seeing them all grow and thrive in unique ways. Seeing them bond with each other and have a strong identity as a family unit has been rewarding.
“Most of all, having the privilege of growing life in my womb eight times; the miracle of it still blows me away. I am just so grateful my body could do it and that I have such a supportive husband who was open to the idea.
“Be organised. My mantra is ‘avoid chaos’ at all costs; one slack day can lead to many days of chaos. So, getting into a rhythm and always planning ahead keeps a peaceful environment.
“Also at least one parent needs to be at home. Both juggling work would tip the balance, for us at least. You need to learn that you don’t need everything; we learned very early on to live off one wage and that helped us to not become too indulgent, we have learnt to enjoy the simple things.”