Maya Angelou once wrote: "When you know you are of worth, you don't have to raise your voice, you don't have to become rude, you don't have to become vulgar; you just are. And you are like the sky is, as the air is, the same way water is wet. It doesn't have to protest."
In the brief exchange I had with Africa Daley-Clarke, and reading back her interview for The Grace Tales, it is uplifting to discover such principles, poise and gentle power springing from the page.
Without the privilege of time – Africa works as a showroom and design manager and is mother to two little girls, Israel, three, and Ezra, one. Early last year she began to use her voice to open up the dialogue surrounding postnatal depression on her blog The Vitamin D Project. She has also been championing the lack of representation and diversity in children's books and brands.
"Being a black woman in the UK today is a political act in itself," she says. "Knowing that your existence, by default, is more likely to intimidate, you seek solace in the few safe spaces where you can be your true, authentic self. A common analogy of returning home each day is removing your physical armour at the door, [a] false exterior that serves as a thin protection – that generates a lot of emotional baggage also. I have spent much of my working life code-switching to assimilate, down-playing painful micro-aggressions in professional settings and being wrongly accused of [being] aggressive where 'assertive' would be better placed."
And the lesson that she hopes to instil in her daughters is one we could all do with telling ourselves.
"It's a contradiction, but we don't want them to ever hold anyone else's opinion of themselves in higher regard than their own, while realising there is greater joy in putting other people first," she says. "Having a healthy sense of self-worth is important but it shouldn't ever be confused with the importance of being kind."
On The Grace Tales, we aspire to bring you snapshots of motherhood that inspire and resonate – the 'grace' is the dignity with which we all wish to raise our families, the 'tale' reveals the day-to-day struggles in getting there.
So many of Africa's words have inspired us – her desire for greater racial equality, her approach to raising girls and her healthy handling of social media. If you read only one 'Grace Tale' this year – make it this one.
Tell us about your childhood...
I grew up in Camden Town, a third generation immigrant, raised by my single mum in a time where having little economic security meant you were at least part of a strong community fuelled by a desire to provide. My dad, despite not living with us, was a huge part of my life growing up and I have fond memories of weekends spent with him and my extended siblings in Ealing and Summers in West Yorkshire with my Grandma.
Who had the biggest influence on you?
Despite working 14 hour shifts, 6 days a week, my dad always displayed this youthful exuberance when it came to his kids. There was never a time when he wasn't approachable and he played a huge part in empowering me to carve out my own narrative as a Black woman in the face of adversity.
Tell us about your fight for greater racial equality? What personal experiences do you draw upon?
Being a black woman in the UK today, is a political act in itself. Knowing that your existence, by default, is more likely to intimidate, you seek solace in the few safe spaces where you can be your true authentic self. A common analogy of returning home each day is removing your physical armour at the door, your false exterior that serves as a thin protection – that generates a lot of emotional baggage also. I have spent much of my working life, code-switching to assimilate, down-playing painful micro-aggressions in professional settings and being wrongly accused of aggressive where "assertive" would be better placed. I have recently had the challenge of putting my money where my mouth is, by standing up against a long drawn out, racially motivated personal tirade in my place of work. Pre-children I would have taken that mental trauma home, unloaded it onto my loved ones and allowed it to continue daily, putting my salary above my sanity. Raising black girls, I constantly sense check situations I face by thinking on the advice I'd give my children in similar instances.
My fight for greater racial equality primarily starts at home – carving out safe spaces for my children, countering a white-washed narrative in their books and toys with an abundance of healthy representation and breaking generational curses by working through any possible unpacked issues my husband and I may have to ensure we don't unknowingly offload them on our children.
How are you taking a stand against the lack of representation and diversity in children's books and brands?
I spent much of last year somewhat of a broken record, very vocal about the shocking under representation of BAME children in the #shopsmall community. Despite a very modest following, I built a significant amount of traction, as this was clearly on the minds of many, but rather than real change, I was met with blatant tokenism by most brands. I took a stand with my hard earned money. I stopped buying from any brands I no longer believed were ethical (you can not be a tokenistic or whitewashed brand and refer to yourself as ethical) and actually sold or donated any clothing from them. Rather than speak negatively about those brands, I started to shout about the few that were doing really great and I have found that although a small action, it had a great impact.
Is it possible to make money and make a difference?
I don't think it's sustainable to attempt to make a difference without being paid. Time is money afterall. There will be countless opportunities that arise such as this one, that are unpaid, despite requiring huge amounts of emotional labour. Whilst it frustrates me to my core that white women are continuously paid higher rates for the same work, I find it more problematic, that even when they also accept unpaid projects, they are much less likely to be required to lean on emotionally traumatic experiences for content.
Before accepting this particular unpaid piece, I leaned on my network of content creators from BAME backgrounds to ask for their advice. The group was founded by a leader in this industry to ensure that creators from a minority background had a safe space to sound-check projects and cross reference pay offers reducing the chances of being underpaid. It's been a real support to me this year. The general consensus was that unfortunately, sometimes, in order to be the change that we want to see, some projects are worth taking on to simply spread our message to a wider audience.
Tell us about your different work roles and how you juggle them, and which do you find the most rewarding?
Up until recently, I was working a 40 hour week in a dynamic role managing Interior Design Showrooms. I was in a fortunate position to be able to write my own schedule and on returning from my second Mat Leave, we decided as a family that four long shifts were more beneficial to us than 5 regular ones. This allowed me one day off during the week with both children in full time childcare to dedicate to housekeeping and personal social projects. As I also worked Saturday's, my family were able to create a really special ritual of a fun day with daddy (without me in tow). The girls have the most special relationship with their dad and I think having that one day where they don't have to follow a routine and can just have fun plays a crucial part in the relationship they enjoy today.
Having a working structure is integral to my personality type. I thrive on routine (as long as I'm in control of it!) so it will never be an option for me to give up work entirely. I credit my previous role for reigniting my fire with Interior Design -working in a furniture heavy environment also kept me very grounded when making decisions in our recent move.
What does being a good mother mean to you?
Being able to leave your feelings at the door and adapt to the vulnerabilities of your child in the moment. Granted, that becomes a lot harder when you have more than one child to care for.
What kind of a mother do you aspire to be?
Whatever my children need from me.
When did you realise you were suffering from post-natal depression? How did it affect you?
I've blogged a lot about those early days suffering from PND and while it was very cathartic at the time, I also find it quite triggering dipping back into those feelings again. It's important to note, neither my husband or I realised what I was going through was post-natal depression. I was at least 4 months deep in a very dark place before my health visitor made the call and acknowledged it for what it was.
Did you feel supported as a mother? Who did you turn to for support?
I used to snort at those "It takes a village" type comments. What village? Where? I also think there is a huge assumption that because the Western World prides itself on being so self-sufficient, people often assume that those from minority backgrounds are more likely to have an extended family support. In the early days, I certainly didn't feel supported as a mother – at least not by anyone other than my husband who as you know was integral to getting me through PND. However, 3.5 years on, I'm very happy to say we have a great support network of close friends and particularly family that go above and beyond to support not only me as a mother, but my husband and children too. In hindsight, it's important for me to acknowledge that forging these important bonds is a 2-way street and these relationships are not always natural and require mutual work from all involved. Several months ago I wrote a blog post outlining a toxic relationship I had with my mother. That caused huge rifts. But in the aftermath, the most beautiful thing came from it, my mother and I, for the first time in our lives, were able to work on building a healthy relationship. We all benefit from this, most of all my children. I've learned that to be supported you have to be willing to let go of barriers and a huge part of me writing that post was about choosing to let go of old emotions.
Have there been times when you have felt isolated?
Absolutely, but again, I have to acknowledge how unapproachable I may have been in those times and I'm grateful to be in a different place now.
How did The Vitamin D Project help you to heal?
It gave me the opportunity to share my truth with all my loved ones at the same time. I must acknowledge that this was also a huge weight off Jermel's shoulders. In the wake of my first post I had some of his colleagues reach out to me to share their struggles with depression and many of his friends too, I think it was important to illustrate how and why Jermel had been absent from social settings for so long too.
It also goes without saying that The Vitamin D Project has allowed me to forge some great relationships in real life via people I've met online. I'll forever be grateful for that.
And how has it helped others?
I know that some may feel I've done a disservice, by speaking openly about PND issues, then choosing not to continue to discuss it regularly. I personally think it's important for people to be able to see that it's possible to lead a fulfilling life while dealing with depression. I try not to ever sugar coat issues, I actively refrain from dulling down my emotions and whilst I don't believe in providing Trauma Porn for viewing, I always try to do a helpful post when I've managed to pull myself out of a deep rut.
How did you feel about returning to work after the birth of your children?
After Israel, I had a really negative experience with my first company that ultimately led to me leaving and not working again for some time. After Ezra was born, despite being new in my company, I felt very confident in returning as I had established my value to the company before leaving. It was really important to me having that second experience to outline just how isolated (and unjust) my first experience was.
How old are Israel and Ezra now? They are so beautiful btw!
(Thank you!) My girls are 25 months apart, approaching 4 and 2. Israel towers over her classmates so a lot of people assume there's a bigger age gap (she wears age 5-6!) whilst Ezra has always been quite true to size.
How would you describe your relationship with your girls?
Me and Jermel try to have conversations about our parenting styles often so that we can talk about any concerns or changes in how we want to raise them. Just last week, I said to Jermel, I finally feel like I've nailed creating a safe space and displaying natural affection. That might read strange to most mums but we didn't come from an environment where we hugged/kissed/verbalised our love. I spent a long time working on myself ensuring I went out of my way to flood Israel and Ezra with this "norm" and I'm glad to say that now it's second nature. I grew up with a handful of friends that had really affectionate parents and I always thought it was super weird but I think I secretly coveted it. We have that now. There is no doubt in my mind that both girls feel safe and loved. But, working on that actually consumed so much of my time that I failed to juggle that with other "norms" like taking the lead of the bedtime routine or cooking their meals etc. I'm really working hard on that next part of our relationship -it may seem trivial to others – but my goal is that they no longer associate mum or dad with any specific duties.
How would you describe them?
They certainly don't conform to any gender norms. Whilst they have entirely different personalities, they are both so head-strong, full of life and one trait that's shining through so much in Israel at the moment is her kind and caring nature.
Having an older sibling has meant that Ezra has an unrivalled confidence that's quite uncommon in children of her age. You will find her front and centre of any activity and she never lets the bigger kids get in her way.
What is the most important lesson you want them to learn?
It's a contradiction, but we don't want them to ever hold anyone else's opinion of themselves in higher regard than their own, but also realise there is greater joy in putting other people first. Having a healthy sense of self-worth is important and shouldn't ever be confused for the importance of being kind.
You and your daughters have incredible style - how do you like to dress the girls – and are there any brands you love for childrenswear? And do you have any brands or pieces that you rely on for yourself for work/family time etc?
I have an unhealthy passion for quality design. True craftsmanship, be it interiors or clothing, has always made my heart sing. I like to dress our girls in a way that compliments both their skin tone, their personalities and their activities. All of their clothing should allow for a full range of free movement – it's so important to me that clothing doesn't inhibit play but actually makes it easier. Whilst their personalities continue to form, I think it's important that I don't subject them to slogans reflecting my thoughts – for this reason I avoid all logos and slogans. Lastly, I just really love choosing colours that compliment their skin tones. I love choosing a range of colours that work together beautifully.
As for brands, my go to will always be vintage followed by small ethical brands and where that's not possible, I buy smart from the high street, favouring natural fibres, in tonal colours that can form core staples in our wardrobes rather than end up in land-fill after the season.
What has been the most surprising part of motherhood for you? And what has been the hardest?
I think I've been most surprised by how little they've "taken over" our lives and rather how much direction they've provided. I like to refer to them as "anchors", keeping us grounded, rather than a ball and chain.
Tell us about your new approach to social media and how you occupy the space and manage the time it takes up in your life? Why have you decided to change your approach?
The deeper my captions became, it no longer felt appropriate to attach them to images of the children. I have always been extremely present on stories and I think my visibility is one of the things that allowed followers to feel it was a safe enough space to engage on such important topics discussed. I now plan to take a much more structured approach to my feed, scheduling posts and putting in the work in advance rather than throwing together a quick caption in the morning. I hope it will allow me to enforce boundaries and reduce time spent on the app, but also, the new routine should provide a lot more beneficial to my followers also, as I'm going to have to be a lot more present on the days that I do post.
Do you consider it a healthy space especially for mums and why?
That is a subjective question. I am very conscious of who I follow and as a result, I find instagram to be an uplifting space. I have no qualms in muting or unfollowing regular content that encourages me to spend money or feel inferior and I think that plays a large part in it.
What are your thoughts on Clemmie Hooper and how it has affected her? Have you ever been trolled?
An interesting phrase of question as there is no reference to her actions, rather an emphasis on her feelings. I have no opinion on her feelings, given her actions. I think Clemmie's actions in private were the perfect example of what can happen when society holds individuals on such a high pedestal that they no longer hold them self accountable to the same moral codes they enforce.
I had to quickly check the definition of trolling as I know it is so often confused for bullying. "A Social Media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users, often posting inflammatory or off-topic messages". There are times when followers seek to play Devil's Advocate when I post about my feelings following personal experiences. I often wonder why my experiences can't be taken on face value and instead a user feels motivated to question me further or worse disprove my feelings. By definition, that is trolling – but given the fact that so many marginalised women in particular face so much worse (often relentless personal trolling attacks), I don't think it would be fair to say I've suffered.
Do you think Instagram feeds a pressure on mothers in particular to be perfect supermums?
As mentioned previously, it is all about who you follow. By consciously being selective on who I follow, I have used instagram to my favour and have found it to be a very inspiring place. I search hashtags for play hacks and recipe ideas without actually following individuals so that rather than an onslaught of perfect meals flooded in my face daily, I find them only when I need them.
Finally - what do you love about living in London and raising your children here?
There is nowhere else in the world that my daughter could sit in a nursery surrounded by classmates of so many ethnicities. We don't teach tolerance, we teach love and I think London is a very complimenrary setting for that.
What are your favourite things to do on the weekend as a family?
My anxiety has prevented me from attending any baby groups, however we visit an outdoor free play session in our old neighbourhood of Kings Cross that is a firm family favourite of ours called PlayKX. Each weekend we arrive, my children run up to the playworkers shrieking before indulging in a beautiful session of unscripted play -they have alternative soft play, mixed media and dressing up clothing. I really recommend it to anyone in the area.
On Sunday's we spend the day with 5 of my siblings, our partners and our children. We have a cooking rota and spend a good chunk of the day in each others company, catching up on life and off-loading in a really lovely, safe environment.
And what is the best life advice you have been given?
"We are our ancestors wildest dreams". Don't waste opportunities our ancestors could have only dreamed of.
Just over a week ago, I stumbled across a piece on childfree women in The Guardian, after a couple of women I follow on Twitter were sharing it, outraged by its contents. The piece, part of a 'Childfree' series, was essentially a conversation between Guardian editors Summer Sewell and Jessica Reed, who, having read Sheila Heti's Motherhood, discussed their own personal reasons for not having children over drinks.
Culture influences birth on so many levels, through beliefs we hold about our bodies, our sexuality and our innate power for example
Byron Bay-based doula and mother of two boys – Dei, 10 weeks, and Pablo, 6 - Nathalie Solis Pérez had an incredibly eclectic childhood. She was born in Lübeck, raised in Germany, Guatemala and Spain, before she began her adult life in the USA and Australia. She now lives between the hinterlands of Byron Bay and before COVID-19, Berlin.
You were born in Lübeck, raised in Germany, Guatemala and Spain, and later moved to the US and Australia, and now live between Byron Bay and Berlin. What was your childhood like?<p>My childhood was spent growing up in northern Germany (which is where my Mum is from). What I loved about growing up there was the mild summers we spent swimming in the Baltic Sea and going for long walks through ancient lush green forests. The city I grew up in always felt very cozy to me due to its narrow cobble stone streets, buildings dating back a thousand years and old ships along the port.<br></p><p>Every year we would fly to see our family in Guatemala and my time there was spent playing with wild animals and absorbing all the tropical sights and sounds of parrots and monkeys, the smells of tortillas and black beans always on the stove. I loved the social gatherings and feasts my grandmother would put on and everything seemed to have a different kind of magic over there. </p><p>I went to primary school in Barcelona and have strong memories of the hustle of that city, summers spent in swimming pools, weekend drives into the Pyrenees to collect fresh spring water and visiting little Mediterranean villages for lunch. </p><p>These places I grew up in really couldn't have been more different to each other but as a child I just thought that was completely normal. My childhood is an eclectic mix of places, people, languages and cultures.</p>
Do you see lots of differences in the maternity systems here and in Europe?<p>I think overall the birth systems are quite similar. In Germany you have better access to birth centres and midwifery care. Hospital midwives often also offer acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy, all of which provide additional pain relief for labouring mums. In Berlin we even have an Anthroposophic labour ward where women have access to both conventional medicine and naturopathy. They even make an effort to move all technology into the background so that mother and baby are really in the centre of attention. <br></p><p>Germany has slightly lower intervention rates than Australia, but both birth systems suffer from similar problems. High-intervention births are financially 'rewarded' which makes it less likely that a wait-and-see approach is adopted where labour can unfold on its own. Labour wards are often already under-staffed and lack funding, so this system makes it difficult to support physiological birth. Care by independent midwives (in the home birth and birth centre setting) is also under threat due to rising insurance rates.</p>
You have a background as a cultural anthropologist and you've said that in your work as a doula you "derive inspiration from many different cultures and traditions". In what ways do you think culture influences birth and the postpartum period?<p>Culture influences birth on so many levels, through beliefs we hold about our bodies, our sexuality and our innate power for example. The language we use to talk about birth also affects how we perceive and experience it. Take the word 'delivery' for example. It's surprising that this term is still in use as it suggests that women are not active birth-givers but someone else 'delivers' their baby. Babies are not delivered - mothers give birth to them!<br></p><p>Culture also influences the way we perceive the postpartum period. In Western societies this time is seen as a time of transition, but it does not have the same significance for the woman's future health, strength and wellbeing as it does in countries such as China, Japan or Latin America for example. These cultures have more practices in place to honour the 'First Forty Days' after birth. We can learn so much from them in this regard and I think it's important for mums to know that their need for rest, recovery, healing and nurturing after birth is so valid. It's hard to live in a culture that does not fully acknowledge this as it makes us feel as if this adjustment should be easy, but without the support of our community and culture it certainly is not.</p>
Your first birth inspired your transition to becoming a doula. What was that birth like?<p>I gave birth to my first son Pablo at home after a beautiful and calm five hour labour. It was beyond anything I had ever hoped for at the time and that sense of empowerment I felt after birth has stayed with me ever since. I loved how labour and birth was simply a natural part of our day together at home. This feeling of homeliness made me feel safe and enabled me to find my way of coping with the rising intensity and pain of the surges. I love thinking back of the moment where I talked to my unborn baby assuring him I was ready and would follow him wherever he'd lead me. I knew I had to give myself over completely to this process so that labour could unfold smoothly and quickly. An hour later he was born and to this day I feel so grateful to my midwives for creating the safe space for me to do the work I needed to do.<br></p>
Did you choose to do anything differently for your second birth? Why or why not?<p>During my pregnancy with Dei I invested a lot more time preparing for breastfeeding and postpartum as I knew this would be challenging again for me. With my first I had such a hard time breastfeeding and was in tears and ready to give up on day three after birth. At the time I didn't know that lactation consultants existed which would have really helped me as I was trying to breastfeed a tongue-tied baby which caused so much pain and lead to recurring mastitis infections. I did not want to go through months of pain again with my second so I started preparing for breastfeeding in late pregnancy by working with a lactation consultant and coming up with a plan. It was so worth it and although breastfeeding has been difficult again I was able to push through all these challenges with the help of my support team. To prepare for the postnatal period my partner André and I had a postpartum planning session in pregnancy with one of our doulas which was amazing. Having a plan for this period is a great way to make this transition as smooth and enjoyable as possible for your family.<br></p>
You've referred to the mother's partner as the 'postpartum manager'. Tell us about the importance of this role?<p>After birth the partner's role is to keep something cooking on the stove, put the phones on silent, ward off or let in visitors, look after older children, put on the laundry and bring the mother water, food and snacks or whatever she might need. Keeping everything running smoothly and freeing the mother from all her usual chores is key to ensuring she can fully recover from pregnancy and birth, learn how to breastfeed and bond with her baby.<br></p><p>Traditionally a female relative would have moved in to provide this type of support but nowadays the partner often needs to fulfil this role whether by choice or necessity. </p>
When it comes to birthing and postpartum, do you follow your own advice? And do you hire a doula?<p>Yes, absolutely. Everything I teach I also applied to my own pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. André and I had several doulas and midwives supporting us through our journey this time around which has been wonderful. <br></p><p>In pregnancy and birth, we are all equal and even though I am a birth doula I need as much support as any other mum going through this life transition. </p><p>I realised that as birth professionals we sometimes need to work even harder to get out of our head and back to a place of trust and surrender as we embark on this journey ourselves. Because I'd been to so many births and seen so many things, I constantly needed my doula's and midwife's reassurance that everything was ok and would be fine, and that other people's experiences had nothing to do with my own. It was a really beautiful experience to be on the receiving end of this type of support and just reaffirmed its value to me.</p>
What do you think we could learn from traditional 'village' models when it comes to the postpartum period?<p>We could learn the importance of surrounding the newborn family with community support in the first forty days after birth. Organising a 'meal train' or some sort of meal delivery, or for someone to come in and cook is so helpful. Looking after the mother is looking after the baby. She is giving to her baby 24/7 so she needs to be cared for too. The newborn mother might need a shoulder to cry on, nourishing and warming foods and drinks, a massage, a chat, someone to tend to her older children, someone to hold the baby so she can rest or have a shower. No traditional culture would <em>ever</em> leave a mother with a newborn baby alone, but in our Western culture this is considered normal once the partner needs to return to work (which is often after two weeks). In the 'Fourth Trimester' (the first three months after birth) no mother should be without the support of her community. It's a very vulnerable and significant time for the future of this family. So, we can learn a lot from traditional cultures who have always known this and put practices into place to ensure there is a circle of support around the mother and baby in the first forty and sometimes even the first hundred days after birth.<br></p>
What's the number one thing you think women can do to prepare for birth?<p>Understanding the concept of <a href="https://spinningbabies.com/" target="_blank">Spinning Babies </a>and Optimal Fetal Positioning during pregnancy. If we want an optimal birth experience we need to become proactive about ensuring our body is in an optimal state of health, balance and alignment. Gail Tully introduced this paradigm into the birth world to teach mothers how to create balance in their body to bring comfort and ease to their pregnancy and birth. Simple exercises and techniques can be applied to create more space in the pelvis and lower uterine segment so baby can settle into an optimal position for labour. Many issues in childbirth are due to fetal malposition, so this knowledge is vital to have during pregnancy but not something that is commonly shared by our care-providers. Many interventions and Cesarean births can be prevented by applying this knowledge in pregnancy. This approach is all about using balance before force and while there is no magic formula to help all women to have a physiological birth this has been helping many women. Optimal Fetal Positioning is enhanced by receiving regular osteopathic care throughout pregnancy and research has shown that this has benefits for all pregnant mums, not only the mums with posterior or breech babies.<br></p>
What's been a career highlight or a favourite birth you've attended?<p>Every birth I attend is a highlight. I mean how could it not be? Seeing parents meet their baby for the first time always makes me cry, every single time. It's always an absolute miracle and something so special and powerful to witness. I feel incredibly privileged to be invited into the birth room by my clients and feel honoured to serve them during this most pivotal time in their life.<br></p><p>My career highlight was to learn from Dr Michel Odent and Liliana Lammers, his doula friend of 20 years. They embody such a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, inspiration and their candid humour is refreshing. I have learnt more by spending time with them than I have in any other training. They instilled in me an unwavering faith in our bodies, the birth process, and our sovereignty as birthing mothers. I feel so grateful to have been able to spend time with these luminaries of the birth world.</p>
What's the most challenging thing about your work?<p>Definitely the night shifts, and the unpredictable working hours. Especially while also juggling family responsibilities. I couldn't be a doula without the full support of my partner, as I might head to my client at an hour's notice at any time of the day or night, so both of us need to be organised. We've become an amazing team over time, but it's challenging to not know whether I'll be home in three hours, or two days<u>.</u><br></p>
If you could change one thing about the Australian maternity care model, what would it be?<p>It would be for all women to have a primary midwife who cares for them during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Being able to establish a relationship with your care provider is so important, and research has shown that midwifery-led continuity of care is the safest type of care for most mothers and babies. Women who receive this need less interventions at birth, less pain relief and are more satisfied with their birth experience. It's frustrating, exhausting and carries more risk if women receive so-called fragmented care and see different clinicians at each prenatal visit and don't know who will care for them during labour. We are not meant to give birth surrounded by strangers, but instead with a team of respectful, caring, nurturing and supportive people which we have built a relationship with.<br></p>
The story we are told of motherhood is one of lightness that leans into the beautiful, the incredible and the magical. However, for all the lightness there is shade, and in the shadows lies a rollercoaster which pushes you to your limits and at times breaks you. Both sides are important for open, real dialogue around motherhood. As a health professional I entered motherhood confident. I had all the resources at my fingers tips as a women's health physiotherapist. Despite this, my journey was far from smooth. Even though I was well informed, it didn't make me immune to the real emotional and physical challenges of motherhood that are still so rarely discussed.
My Motherhood Journey<p>When I first fell pregnant, I was blissfully happy. I felt I had realistic expectations of what motherhood was going to be like. I was also very aware of the high rates of mental health conditions that come up during the perinatal period and knew what to look out for. I was primed and ready to be the earth mumma I was destined to be.<br></p><p>Then my pregnancy had a slight curve ball, I had placenta previa which meant many unsettling vaginal bleeds, no exercise, and the very real threat of complete bed rest. Thankfully, my placenta lifted around 35 weeks, and I was able to have a vaginal delivery. I was induced, the birth was fast and intense, and I needed a ventouse and an episiotomy. Despite this, I felt very positive about my birth mainly because I was informed, supported and respected through the journey. We had a healthy little girl, and I was in absolute awe. Pure. Magic.</p><p>And then the post-natal period began. I had feeding issues, my baby wasn't gaining weight, she had blood in her stool, and chronic vomiting. Paediatricians prescribed various medications and prescription formula, but the constant crying from my bub and the sleep deprivation for all of us continued. For many years. </p><p>Bit by bit my confidence began to crumble. I was anxious that she wasn't getting enough nourishment, I felt guilt that this was all my fault and I started to doubt myself and believe I was a bad mother. This was not the motherhood I had pictured. But as all 'good' mothers do, I put on a brave face and pushed on. I continued to run my business, treated patients, and carried on with life. Under the surface, I was utterly depleted and hanging on by a thread. </p><p>And then we fell pregnant with our second baby. During this pregnancy my level of exhaustion hit a new low. I was still getting up through the night, working and studying, and I became highly anxious about how I was going to care for another baby.</p>
There's a calm self-assurance to Lucy Zelic. It's likely been cultivated through her years of being in front of the camera as a presenter on SBS, notably hosting both the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups. Sport is in her blood – born into a traditional Croatian family, she was raised playing and watching football, and her two older brothers went on to play professionally. But as a woman, she tells us, "I've copped a hell of a lot over the years"...
There was the bizarre 'scandal', for example, over her correctly pronouncing players names during the 2018 World Cup. "While it was upsetting at first, I've realised that staying true to myself is the only way I can handle it because I'd rather go to sleep at night believing in the woman I am, rather than pretending to be someone that I am not."
Since becoming a mother to one-year-old daughter Mila, though, the unshakeable Zelic has discovered a new vulnerability within herself. Some of it is born from the struggle most working mothers grapple with – "there are still times where I get in the car and cry all the way to work", she says, "but I now recognise that I am doing this for my daughter and her future." Even since the pandemic hit and she's been largely working from home, the guilt is inescapable. "I can be stationed in one room, interviewing the coach of the Australian men's national team while Mila is yelling 'mama!' at the top of her lungs just a few rooms away…my mum guilt is through the roof."
Tell us about your childhood. What are some of your most vivid memories?<p>I truly had the most pure and happy childhood. Most of my memories involve my brother Ivan and I playing football in the backyard and going exploring on his bike. I had such a wild imagination so it wasn't uncommon for me to run out to the front yard, stand on our concrete letter box and belt out a song, or build a fort with the next door neighbour's kids in their garden. I was always on the go, looking for the next adventure - whether it was real or imaginary - and I genuinely enjoyed being active.</p><p>I grew up in a very traditional Croatian household so it always smelled of my mum's cooking and on Sundays we'd go to church, then come home for lunch and watch the football on SBS. I have a sister and two brothers plus a host of extended family members, so there was always someone around or we were visiting them which I loved. Growing up, I wanted to be so many different things from a lawyer to a storm chaser, a photographer and an actress - you name it! It wasn't until I was 21 that I chose to study a Bachelor of Journalism and Sports Business and settle on something that truly felt like 'home' to me. </p>
Growing up in an avid sporting family, and with brothers, was there a particular moment or experience in which you realised that girls or women face discrimination in sport?<p>The beauty of my household was that there were never any limits to what we could do or be. My dad and brothers always encouraged me to get involved in their sporting activities and never told me I couldn't compete because I was a girl. It was only really once I started studying at University that I realised how limited the opportunities were for women in sport, both in front of the camera and as athletes. I wouldn't understand the true extent of those limitations until I fully broke into the television scene and started speaking to women who had been grafting for years to gain some kind of recognition as athletes, and not just as 'women who play sport'. Then the 'what do you know about football, you're just a woman…' comments started rolling in on social media. Can you imagine women asking male makeup artists what they know about makeup? It's just absurd. My theory is, it shouldn't matter what your gender is - as long as there is genuine passion and commitment there, everyone deserves a seat at the table.</p>
Tell me about some of the changes you've seen in the women's sporting landscape?<p>All considered, I am really pleased to say that there has been a positive shift and we're seeing so many improvements across the women's sporting landscape. A lot more women are involved in sports broadcasting now than ever before and they've proven that they add tremendous value. I stand on the shoulders of giants like Debbie Spillane who carved out an incredible career at the ABC, and worked through a time where the discrimination of women in sport was at its most abhorrent. I am forever grateful to women like her because they never gave up and paved the way for passionate football fans like myself. </p>
You're an accomplished journalist and awarded presenter, and you were also a Miss Universe Australia finalist in 2007. Do you ever feel that there's pressure for you to be a certain 'type' of woman - either the serious journalist or the charismatic entertainer?<p>I can honestly say that I never tried to fit a particular mould or stereotype when I came into the role. I always knew that I wanted to be myself and to not shy away from having an opinion, even though it might not be the populists' view. Arriving on the scene can be really daunting for any young woman because there's this fear that you're going to rock the boat or that you're going to cop a lot of grief on social media for stepping outside of the norm. Take it from me, I've copped a hell of a lot over the years and while it was upsetting at first, I've realised that staying true to myself is the only way I can handle it because I'd rather go to sleep at night believing in the woman I am, rather than pretending to be someone that I am not. A common myth is that women have just been placed in these roles to 'look at' or to tick a box, and while it may have been the motivation many years ago, there are a host of exceptionally talented women dispelling that theory. I am a journalist yes, but I also have a cheeky and sarcastic side to me and I think there's a time and a place for both because it's true to who I am. </p>
Family is obviously very important to you and you've spoken about your close relationship with your nieces. Did you always know you wanted to be a mother?<p>I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but the desire really took over about three years ago. I had reached a point in my life where I felt really satisfied with where I was at in my career, my relationships with family and friends were flourishing, but there was something missing and I knew that it was a family of my own. I felt this palpable loneliness and this longing to explore the next phase of my life because I had already given so much to my work. For a long time, I put a lot of pressure on meeting someone and trying to make that happen and it was emotionally exhausting. I still remember calling my mum one day crying and saying 'I might just have to have a baby on my own' because it wasn't happening, and there was no way in hell I was going to get on Tinder or date online. It didn't help that all I did was work, work, work and had no interest in going to pubs or clubs either! It wasn't until I decided to let go of all the angst and just have faith that it would happen for me that Corey came along. We were both on the same page about life and wanting a family so for things to progress quickly for us wasn't frightening, it was a welcome step because now we have everything we've ever wanted.</p>
How did you find managing work during your pregnancy? Was there pressure to prove it wouldn't affect you, or did you feel supported by your industry?<p>Two weeks prior to falling pregnant, I had just returned from the World Cup in Russia and moved from Sydney to the Central Coast to join Corey, who relocated there for football. The plan was to commute to work in Sydney which plenty of friends of mine had said wasn't a problem. Well, try doing it when you're heavily pregnant and coming off-air at 3:30 in the morning! It was crazy when I think back to that time. I was falling asleep on the studio couch while we were covering games towards the latter stages of my pregnancy, and when I wasn't up to the drive, I'd stay at a friend's place. I was lucky that I had a great pregnancy and I'm grateful that I was able to stop working six weeks prior to my due date. I felt my own internal pressure to carry on working as though everything was normal, but SBS were very good at reigning my schedule in and looking out for me.</p>
What's been your greatest joy of motherhood so far?<p>Seeing my beautiful baby grow into this sweet, funny and feisty little person. It's just been so incredible to watch her personality develop, and see the world through her eyes, because I feel like I am on this road of discovery all over again. I've also really enjoyed breastfeeding and it's why almost 14 months on, I am still going. I had initially made a promise to myself to breastfeed until Mila turned one, but as we got to the 10 month mark I said to Corey "I can't stop now!" I've been very lucky that it's been a pleasant journey for me and it's such a wonderful bonding experience between Mila and I. I know the day will come when it will have to end but I am dreading it already. I feel for all the mums out there who have tried and haven't been able to for whatever reason. I just hope they know that 'fed is best' and that there is no such thing as a 'failure' in this department, only what's right for you and your baby.</p><p>Seeing Corey become a father and how much it has softened him has also been really special for me. One of the other great pleasures has been letting go of all the things that used to trouble me in the past. Nothing outside our little bubble of three really matters anymore and it's such a liberating and heartwarming feeling. </p>
And the biggest challenge?<p>The biggest challenge by far was returning to work. Mila was five months old and I cried uncontrollably for hours the night before my first day back. I can honestly say it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. I remember thinking 'it's just not natural for a mother to be away from her baby like this'. Eight months on from that day and there are still times where I get in the car and cry all the way to work, but I now recognise that I am doing this for my daughter and her future. I know of many women who have said that they really looked forward to going back but for me, I had already dedicated so much of my heart and soul to my career that I just wanted all of that energy to go to Mila. A few months prior to this, Corey had come off contract with his football club and made the decision to stay out of the game for a year, which I fully supported, but it meant that I had to go back. The greatest upside to all this was that he could be at home with Mila and he is the most wonderful papa. She is just crazy about him and nobody makes her laugh the way that he does.</p><p>Another challenge is that we don't have our families here in Sydney. My parents are in Canberra and Corey's are in Wollongong so everything is on our shoulders, which can make things a little tricky every now and again. That said, SBS have always been incredibly supportive, particularly my Head of Sport, Ken Shipp. He kept reminding me from day one not to rush back to work, and to take as much time as I needed. He has a family first policy and I am very lucky to have someone like that in my corner, particularly in an industry like this. </p>
How has your life had to shift since Mila was born? How do you and your partner negotiate the juggle with your careers?<p>It's shifted enormously, but in the best possible ways. Everything we do is geared around Mila. A big priority for me is making sure that I am there in the mornings when she wakes up and that I am there to put her to sleep at night. I still haven't had a night away from her since she was born and I don't think I'll be ready for that for quite some time, because I just love being her mum and don't want to miss a thing. Corey and I have developed a great system where he will take care of Mila while I am working and when he has to be out a few nights a week coaching, I am always home with her. Mila will always be at the forefront of our decision making when it comes to careers, and not the other way around. </p>
You faced some heated backlash over correctly pronouncing players' names during your coverage of the 2018 World Cup. Do you think that speaks to Australia's issues with racism, cultural cringe, or something else?<p>This is a really tough question to answer because it's something I grappled with when it all blew up, but I haven't been able to settle on any one thing. What's really strange is that I haven't changed my presenting style in the seven years that I've been in the role, including while I was hosting the 2014 World Cup, yet it became a big story for the 2018 tournament. Both myself and Craig Foster saw it as an opportunity to educate the wider audience on why we do what we do at SBS, and that includes taking the time to pronounce players names correctly. We do it out of respect for the nation that we're covering because Australia is so beautifully multi-cultural and at SBS, we're all about servicing those communities and making them feel like they have a safe place to come to. The one thing we also have to factor into all this is that not everyone is going to like you and the reality is, they don't have to. I am not a wallflower by any stretch of the imagination and some people will love you for it and others will hate you for it. It's just the way the world works and I am ok with that. It's just what you do with those feelings and sentiments that's up for contention in my view. </p>
You've recently fought back against online abuse after receiving a comment on a photo of your daughter that read “Burn, you fucking witch, and your child too.” Why is the #BeAccountable movement so important to you?<p>Reading that particular comment triggered such an irrepressible rage in me because it disturbed me to think that someone could say that about a five month old baby. Irrespective of what they think of me, it's downright sickening. Before I gave birth to Mila, I had already decided not to share many photos of her on social media and of the few I have, none show her face because she's entitled to her privacy and when she is old enough, she can make that decision for herself. I used to have so much fun on social media but it's become such a nasty, toxic place and I feel like it's only getting worse. The online world is starting to effect everyday life and I feel for teenagers growing up in an era where there's already so much pressure on you to find yourself, but now you have to do it in front of your peers and the world via a social media account. When I looked at the escalating statistics for suicide amongst young children, and that they were linked to social media use, it terrified me. I don't want social media to potentially have that type of impact on my child or anyone else's which is why #BeAccountable was born. Its objective is to call on everyone that owns a social media account to be responsible for their behaviour online, just as much as they are in the real world. The COVID-19 outbreak has pushed my targets for the launch back but I have been holding discussions with Members of Parliament and other important figures in the background to work on ways we can ensure everyone is safe online.</p>
What does a typical day in your life look like?<p>It's certainly changed since the pandemic struck! I've been working from home for the last 14 weeks and it's hard not to feel torn between your work and family life. I can be stationed in one room, interviewing the coach of the Australian men's national team while Mila is yelling "mama" at the top of her lungs just a few rooms away. It's been tough to find a balance and switch from work mode to mum mode because you always feel like you're 'on', or should be doing something, and my mum guilt is through the roof. A typical work day involves waking up with Mila and breastfeeding her before we make our way down for breakfast. From there, we usually go for a walk to the nearest park or oval and have a good run around. Once we get home, Corey whisks Mila off for playtime while I start on my emails and take phone meetings. I usually conduct a string of Zoom interviews with various football identities, write blogs or host a weekly program called 'TWG LIVE'. In between all that, I still make time to stop for lunch and put Mila down for her afternoon nap, which is really important to me. Once the working day winds down and Mila wakes up, we go out into the backyard for more playtime before I get dinner started. I really love to cook for my family and see it as a chance to unwind. After dinner, it's bath time and then I breastfeed Mila before putting her down to sleep. Some nights I can be up late interviewing talent in the UK, USA, Switzerland or Germany, so keeping on top of the time zones can be challenging, but no two weeks are the same. When the weekend rolls around, that's my opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with Mila and Corey and catch-up with my lovely girlfriends.</p>
You've recently celebrated Mila's first birthday. What advice would you give to a new mother about that first year?<p>For goodness sake be kind to yourself mama bear! As women, I feel like it's written in our DNA to put enormous pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone so don't strive for superhero status, just try to be the best mama to your baby, because you're already Wonder Woman. Don't ever feel guilty when you ask for help, delegate duties or take some time out for yourself, because you're no good to your baby or your loved ones if you're strung out from trying to get on top of the laundry or write thank you notes. Everyone is going to try to give you unsolicited advice about how to raise your baby but here's the amazing truth: no-one, and I mean no-one, will know your precious little one better than you, so trust your instincts and just smile when someone thinks they know better. The rough days won't last forever and neither will the newborn phase so be as present as you can because it goes by oh-so-quickly. I was so consumed with Mila that I didn't want to spend my days looking at her through a phone, but I wish that I had taken a few more videos and photos of her while she was that teeny tiny. Finally, you're going to be vulnerable but it's such a beautiful thing. I cry at just about everything now, and feel things much more deeply than I ever did before - it's been a terrifying but magical side effect. In order to feel the kind of love you have for your baby, your heart has to expand and with it, so do your emotions. Feel them, don't hide them, and remember in the eyes of your divine little boy or girl you are their whole world. To me, there is no job or role in this life more important than that.</p>
What are you loving at the moment?<p>I've been hiding a dirty secret for years and it's that I have this shameless penchant for bad reality television. At the moment I am watching the Real Housewives of Beverley Hills and the New York City version too. I spend so much of my days watching football and talking about it that it's nice to have mindless pleasures to get into. I also got into Stranger Things recently (I know, I am behind) and watched all three seasons in two weeks. It's bloody epic.</p><p>My makeup routine has changed a lot since having Mila so when I want to try and look like I've had eight hours of sleep and not been up with a teething baby, I indulge with La Mer's <em><u><a href="https://www.cremedelamer.com.au/product/20180/26248/cleansers-and-toners/the-mist#/sku/49000" target="_blank">The Mist</a></u></em>, Kevyn Aucoin's <em><u><a href="https://www.mecca.com.au/kevyn-aucoin/the-sensual-skin-enhancer/V-026606.html" target="_blank">The Sensual Skin Enhancer</a></u></em> and Chanel's <em><u><a href="https://www.chanel.com/au/makeup/p/185390/healthy-glow-bronzing-cream-cream-gel-bronzer-for-a-healthy-sun-kissed-glow/" target="_blank">Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream</a></u></em>. It's nice to feel human every now and again, right mamas?</p>
The Grace Tales is a global lifestyle platform for mothers searching for style, substance, and solidarity. Driven by creating content, community and connection, we celebrate the paradox of modern motherhood; the struggle and the beauty, the joy and the relentlessness.
Sophie Harris-Taylor captures something we often try so hard to hide: our vulnerability. As mothers, we're supposed to be strong and powerful, yet what is often overlooked is that our transition into becoming a mother is the most vulnerable period of our lives...
"I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities," agrees London-based Harris-Taylor. "Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation."
You’ve said: “I think most importantly that looks don’t define who you are, and in the end don’t really matter.” Why do some of us take so long to come to this realisation? And tell me your thoughts on beauty and how it led you to create Epidermis?<p>I think when we're younger we get so caught up on our looks, perhaps before we know where we're headed in life, it can seem like the be-all and end-all. And sometimes it comes from a place where you just want to fit in. And perhaps it just comes from life experience that you start to realise other things matter more.<br> <br>It sounds cliché but beauty is of course so subjective yet in the mainstream media we are often not exposed to this kind of diversity. Epidermis for me was a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen. Most of my personal projects seem to come from my own life experiences and throughout there is always some element of my own vulnerability – I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin, I'd suffered from severe acne. Back then, there were no idols, role models and people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin. Which obviously meant I struggled with my own self-image. We've come a long way since then, what with body positivity and generally people speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity. However, I still felt that there was a lack in representing skin in an honest and open way. </p>
Your work captures a character’s vulnerabilities – why do you think we sometimes hide our vulnerabilities and what have you learnt about being vulnerable through your work?<p>I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities. Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation.</p>
For your series Sisters, you photographed and interviewed over 70 sets of sisters, of all ages and backgrounds – and have said that it was a way of reflecting on the difficulties of her own relationship with her sister. Can you describe this relationship?<p>At the time I created the work, there wasn't much of a relationship there if I'm honest, we'd not really been able to see past our teenage years and sisterly disputes. Since then we've started to rebuild our relationship as adults. I think I tried to understand a bit more about the complexities of sisterhood and the journeys of this kind of lifelong relationship.</p>
You’ve described mastitis as more painful than childbirth – tell us about your experience with breastfeeding?<p>Yes looking back I really did! It was very much a love/hate relationship. In some ways I was lucky, my son latched on quickly in the hospital and fed well. But getting mastitis early on meant it became very difficult and painful to feed him at times. I seemed to always be overproducing which led to the ducts becoming completely blocked and then getting infected. The pain combined with sleep deprivation was pretty exhausting. My son used the breast as a comfort a lot so for months I felt like he was completely attached to me, but never that full. I started mixed feeding after about 4 or 5 months.. this helped him sleep through the night. Once he started weening there wasn't much milk left and in one breast my supply had pretty much dried up all together. As soon as I stopped, I missed it.</p>
How would you describe the intimacy or closeness of breastfeeding and how did it make you feel?<p>It's pretty magical. I loved the intimacy, the comfort it gave him which in turn it gave me.</p>
There’s sometimes a longing for personal space, as mothers feel they have a baby constantly attached to them. Did you ever feel this?<p>Absolutely I felt constantly clinged too. Being pulled and tugged whilst covered in milk really did make me long for personal space. Then again, I felt this huge guilt, because I'd met so many mums that couldn't for various reasons breastfeed and there I was complaining about it.</p>
You’ve always had a complicated relationship with your body. Can you tell me about this relationship – and how did breastfeeding change the way you felt about your body?<p>Having had an eating disorder since my early teens, it's been an ongoing battle really. I don't know if breastfeeding really changed the way I felt towards by body but certainly postpartum I was desperate to get back to my old body. And having never had large breasts before, this made me feel pretty uncomfortable, physically and mentally, and it was weirdly unfamiliar.</p>
You felt lost after you gave birth – can you take us back to this period of your life and how you felt?<p>I did, I think because you've got this new identity suddenly as a 'new mum' and your life as what you knew it has completely changed overnight. But you know deep down, you're still you and your identity hasn't really changed at all. Don't get me wrong, I actually loved becoming a mum, but I found the day to day, the monotony of it all at the very beginning pretty boring. My friends were working, and I felt in some ways a bit bored and not that stimulated. When I started to make work again felt like I got a bit more of myself back.</p>
What were some of the most vivid memories you have of shooting MILK?<p>Zenon my son, was there for most of my shoots. This was in some ways really fun and a real bonding experiences between me and the Mum. But looking back a complete nightmare. Logistically. At the beginning when I started shooting, he couldn't even sit up by himself so he'd often be just out of shot, lying on the bed next to the other Mum feeding. Then towards the end, he was running all over the place, pretty much destroying the house..</p>
What messages do you hope women will take away from MILK?<p>It'd be nice for other women, to feel they can relate to the images and experiences of the other mums a bit more, than the typical nursing Madonna-like images we are used to seeing. For a lot of people and not just men, they find it kind of gross. Even though we've all seen a cow being milked, I guess women's breasts have become so sexualised, that actually what they are originally for has almost been forgotten. I think the more we talk about these things and make them more publicly seen, the less taboo they become. At least, that's the hope.</p>
"I know that abandoned is a word that has been used in telling that story, but I actually don't want to use that word anymore," Zoe Hendrix tells me, when we go back to the beginning of her life, when she was born amidst the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war...
When she was five years old, she went to live at an Ethiopian orphanage with her twin brother. In her own words, "It sounds like you abandon an old tire on the road or something, and to me, it's more that she surrendered us because she was very unwell. I only learned this recently as well, so that's why I want to correct the wording I have used previously." Hendrix and her brother were later adopted by a Tasmanian couple and moved to Australia. Fast forward to 2015, and the country watched Zoe marry Alex Garner on the very first season of Married at First Sight. The couple went onto have a beautiful daughter Harper-Rose, but have since separated.