Even when tantrums abound and any our houses resemble war zones made of spaghetti, most of us are acutely aware of how lucky we are to have our children. Personally, it takes approximately five minutes of my children being asleep for me to pull out my iPhotos to gaze at them again.
But I have perhaps never felt more grateful to have my children than in listening to the remarkable story of Anna Buxton and her incredible children. While very few of us have a straightforward path to motherhood, there are few stories that would be as winding and spectacular as Anna's.
We were delighted to speak to Anna about everything from IVF, to surrogacy, to needing to travel across the world to bring her three children into the world.
Grab a cup of tea and get ready to dive into the wild, beautiful ride of Anna Buxton …
For those of us who aren’t familiar, can you please explain what surrogacy is? And in particular, the two different types of surrogacy?
Surrogacy is where a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another couple or a single person.
There are two types of surrogacy, gestational and traditional. Gestational surrogacy, most commonly what people are referring to today when talking about surrogacy, is when the egg comes from either the intended mother or an egg donor, and the sperm is from the intended father, or a sperm donor. There is no genetic link to the surrogate. Traditional or straight surrogacy is the use of the surrogates' egg and the sperm from the intended father, or donor. So, there is a genetic link to the surrogate.
In any surrogacy arrangement, as prospective parents, you are always referred to as the "intended parents".
Can you share the journey that led you to explore surrogacy as an option? Particularly your health diagnosis and the operations you had to undergo?
Like all women who turn to surrogacy, it was after a long, painful and complex gynaecological and obstetric history. Ed and I got married in December 2011, I was 32 and Ed, 34. We both wanted to try for a family straight away, and so set to it! Three months later, I was pregnant and we were thrilled. At that point, I didn't have many friends who had struggled with conception but none the less, we felt lucky that it had all seemed so easy. At about six weeks, I had some bleeding and cramping and so went for an early scan. The doctor told me that we were still pregnant and they detected a heartbeat. I was asked to return two weeks later for another scan to check the heartbeat. I can still see the change in the look on the doctor's face as she performed the scan. The heartbeat was no longer detectable, I had had a miscarriage, specifically a missed miscarriage because my body had not miscarried the pregnancy. I had to return the next morning to have an ERPC (Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception) under general anaesthetic. The procedure was painful and upsetting but it was over quickly and I could return home knowing that I could look forward. A week later I was still in terrible pain and knew something was not right. I returned to the hospital and a scan revealed that the surgical procedure had not removed all the pregnancy tissue and that it would have to be repeated. Another general anaesthetic, another upsetting procedure but finally it was done. We were told that as soon as I my period started we could try again. The next month we were pregnant. It was the same month that we moved into the house we had bought after getting married and it all just felt right. We put the miscarriage behind us and excitedly looked forward to a new home and a new pregnancy. Given my history, I decided to have an early scan at eight weeks. Once you have miscarried, that fear of losing a pregnancy never leaves you. I lay on the bed looking at the doctor's face as she started the scan and I saw that look again. I knew there was no heartbeat. We were devastated. 24 hours later I was back in the compression tights and backless hospital gown being put under general. A week later, I recognised the same pain as I had previously and again another operation was required. In only four months, I had conceived two pregnancies, had two miscarriages and had four surgical procedures. Ed and I were exhausted.
Although two miscarriages, under NHS Guidance, is not considered recurrent miscarriage, we knew that we couldn't risk getting pregnant again and having the whole process repeat. We wanted to know if there was something, either me, or Ed, or the combination of the two of us, that was making us prone to miscarriage. We went to a specialist in recurrent miscarriage and had the usual tests that might indicate why we were miscarrying. Everything came back normal but the consultant was concerned about me having four ERPCs in such quick succession and so wanted to perform a hysteroscopy. This is a procedure whereby a doctor uses a small camera, past through the cervix, to view the uterus. I was diagnosed with Ashmerman's Syndrome. The formation of adhesions, or scarring, in the uterus which meant that my periods stopped because the scarring prevented the lining of my womb from developing each month. Left untreated, it can be very difficult to get pregnant because an embryo does not have a healthy lining in which to implant. Over the course of 16 months, I had five more operations to remove the scarring from my uterus. It was a very difficult period because we were in this awful cycle of operation, wait three months to see if there was any improvement, operation, wait, repeat. Having a baby had once felt so normal and achievable. It now felt a very long way away.
After each operation, the scarring would reform and after the fifth procedure, my surgeon said that he could not operate again. The damage to the lining of my womb had been too severe and he felt it wrong to put me through any more surgeries. Our only hope was to do a round of IVF. The theory being that the extra hormones of the IVF might stimulate my lining to develop and if that was the case we could transfer an embryo to my uterus with the hope that I'd be able to carry a pregnancy. We started IVF but my lining never grew to more than 1mm (doctors like to see a minimum of 7/8mm) and we were informed that it would be a waste of an embryo to transfer it back to me. The embryos were frozen and the doctor told us that the only way we could use our embryos was with the help of a surrogate.
What about your experience with IVF?
IVF is hard. Ed and I did six rounds of IVF to have our three children. We did rounds in London, India, London again and shipped embryos to Canada and then finally the US. The needles, the appointments, the blood tests, the internal scans are all unpleasant but for me I found the loneliness of IVF the most difficult part. Every round I did, I did without telling me colleagues at work. For two weeks, I would have to pretend that everything was normal despite the daily surge of hormones coursing through me. After the collection, I jumped every time the phone rang thinking it might be the embryologist with news of my precious embryos.
I think one of the cruellest but equally remarkable parts of infertility and IVF, is that the more negatives you have, the more failed IVF rounds, the more negative pregnancy test results, or miscarriages, the less you can ever believe is going to happen for you yet you do find the strength to keep trying. I cherish that strength and reserve I found during this journey and when something isn't going quite right now, I remember I'm capable of more than I think.
How did your mental - and indeed your physical - health struggle in this time?
Physically it was a very challenging time. The endless procedures and hormones meant that I never felt like myself. Mentally, it was a battle. Some days I felt like I was winning but others I lost. For a period of time, I suffered from panic attacks. I just didn't know how I could continue to get up each day and be a wife, a friend, a colleague, a sister, a daughter when I was carrying so much pain and disappointment.
I was also angry. During this time, all my friends and my sister were also trying to have children. As the years went on, friends became pregnant, bumps appeared and blossomed, babies arrived and second pregnancies quickly followed. I remember that look on friends' faces when they awkwardly and apologetically would tell me they were pregnant. Friends didn't want to share their concerns about their pregnancy or their excitement about their babies. I was angry, angry for me and Ed that were weren't pregnant, and angry that this thing was not allowing me to the friend I wanted to be.
What kept me going was my relationship with Ed. Infertility of any kind changes you as a couple. That level of pain and anxiety can never be forgotten but the resilience, the patience and the strength you find together ends up defining your relationship.
Was surrogacy immediately a consideration? Or did it take some soul-searching to arrive at that point?
The conversation around surrogacy started with our doctor. Given that we had viable embryos and that I had been categorically been told I could not carry a pregnancy, surrogacy was the next natural step for us. For any women, surrogacy is not a choice, a luxury or the easy option. We felt very lucky to live in a time and a country where surrogacy is an option and that there are women in the world who want to be surrogates.
It sounds strange but we were lucky in that we were told 100% I could not carry. For lots of couples, turning to surrogacy can be a much longer and harder decision. If you aren't told definitively that you can't carry a pregnancy, rather that you may not be able to, and given that surrogacy is still shrouded in misinformation, it can just be a much more difficult decision. The reason I speak so openly about my experience is to make that decision-making process just a little easier for others.
What are some of the reasons that an individual or a couple might start to explore surrogacy?
For heterosexual couples, there are many medical reasons that mean surrogacy is necessary such as cancer, uterine issues, unsuccessful surgeries, multiple IVF failures, early menopause or genetic disorders. A single person might use a surrogate if they want to have a baby but don't have a partner. And for male same-sex couples, surrogacy is the only option for a baby that is biologically linked to them.
Can you share a little bit about the legal implications of surrogacy in the UK, and why this led you to India?
In the UK, it is legal to have a child through surrogacy, but, you can't advertise for a surrogate and a surrogate can't advertise to be a surrogate; also, there can be no commercial brokering, i.e. a third party cannot provide a matching service for-profit and thirdly, you cannot pay a surrogate a fee (over and above any expenses she will have incurred during pregnancy) to be a surrogate.
Also in the UK, a surrogacy agreement, or contract is unenforceable by UK law. And, at birth UK law treats your surrogate as the child's legal mother; if she is married or in a civil partnership, her husband or partner, is your child's other parent. If she is not married, your husband or partner, can be a legal parent. Essentially the law is very complicated but who the biological parents are plays no part. Both the surrogate and intended parents can feel exposed.
The result of these two issues is that in the UK there are many more intended parents than surrogates. There are two main charities, Surrogacy UK and COTS, who help intended parents and surrogates meet, and Brilliant Beginnings, a not-for-profit organisation. These are three wonderful organisations who have helped many couples but the waiting times to find a surrogate can be very long. When we started looking in the UK, we were told that we would wait between 18 months – 3 years to find a surrogate and then would need to spend 1 year to 18 months getting to know each other before we could go ahead with any arrangement. We didn't have a friend or a family member we could ask and after everything we had been through, and I was 34 and being reminded by doctors of my ever-increasing age, we decided to look at our options abroad.
The US is the most well-established destination for surrogacy. Surrogacy in the US is regulated by state law, which means it differs state by state. Some states, such as California, have fully-fledged surrogacy friendly laws offering an airtight legal framework. Before a baby is born, the intended parents are named as the legal parents and the intended parents are named on the original birth certificate. Combined with the fact that agencies can match surrogates and intended parents, and that surrogates can be paid a fee, in addition to expenses, means there are many more surrogates within a more regulated environment. Given all of this, the costs in the US are very high which meant that it was not an option for us.
India was a good option because surrogacy was legal, regulated and well established. However, I had read both positive and negative press about surrogacy in India. Ed and I agreed that no matter how much we wanted a family, that could never be at the expense of another woman's well-being. So, we researched and researched. We spoke to lawyers and charities here in the UK, we found couples who had done it and we went to India and visited 10 clinics in three cities, as well as more charities and lawyers. We found a doctor and a charity in Delhi that were doing amazing work in terms of supporting surrogates and their families, it was a holistic programme centred around bettering women's lives. We returned home happy and excited about India and decided to go for it.
We’d love you to tell us about your surrogacy experience in India, and ultimately, the arrival of your daughter, Isla.
We were matched with our surrogate Chaphala by an agency and doctor and were then introduced via Skype. Once we had all decided we were happy to move forward and had finalised the legal requirements, we started the IVF stimulation process in the UK, and then flew out to India to have my eggs collected and the embryos created. It was at this time that we first met Chaphala in person. I remember our first meeting, we were both so nervous! I was so worried that she wouldn't like us and she felt exactly the same. But as soon as we started talking about families, about her children and about our want to build a family, we chatted happily and it felt right.
We flew home after the transfer and all we could do was wait for the blood test two weeks later. For two long weeks, you can't do anything but just wait and wonder if another woman thousands of miles away is pregnant with your baby. Then the call came… Congratulations!
We received weekly updates from the doctor and Chaphala via email and every two weeks, Chaphala would have a scan and the results were again emailed. Because the communication was so regimented, I realise now with hindsight, that it made the pregnancy easier. I still worried every minute of every day but I knew that I just had to get through each week and wait for my updates. Thankfully, the pregnancy was uneventful and at 38 weeks we fly to Delhi for Chaphala's final scans, appointments and then of course to be there for the birth.
After Isla was born, we had to live in Delhi for six months while we waited for her UK passport. Delhi is not an easy place to live, let alone with your first baby, but we were finally a family.
We are so intrigued to know about the level of involvement you can have/wish to have in your surrogates’ pregnancies. How much of a ’say’ can you have in what they do? Their environmental factors, their food, their lifestyle, and so on?
I always tell people that you should only consider surrogacy if you think you can put all your trust in another woman. I don't think it is appropriate or respectful to try and stipulate how your surrogate looks after herself during the pregnancy. I have met many surrogates over the years and what they have all had in common is that they are dedicated mothers. I believed that both our surrogates would care for our pregnancy in the same way they cared for their own, and that they did.
Pregnancy is such a time of immense worry for women. How did you manage this when it was somewhat out of your own hands?
I didn't! Having never been pregnant, I can't compare that worry but for me our two pregnancies were tough. Knowing that your baby, or babies, are in this world, albeit in utero, and that you aren't there for them, that you are thousands of miles away is a very difficult concept to describe. I would never downplay how hard a surrogacy pregnancy is. The highs are so high, your first scan, hearing that heartbeat, getting to each milestone is immense. You are 100% emotionally attached to that baby yet physically you are totally removed. Yes, you can do everything you can to support your surrogate but tangibly you have no role, or control, in the pregnancy. It is hard.
When did you decide you wanted to give Isla a sibling, and what led you to the USA?
When we started to think about a sibling for Isla, India had stopped allowing foreigners to have children through surrogacy. The UK was not an option because one charity had closed their books to intended parents and another was only taking on intended parents who didn't have children. We felt that the US was our only option and we specifically wanted to go to California – largely regarded at the most surrogacy friendly state in the US and therefore the world.
In the US, you need an IVF clinic and separately a Surrogacy Agency, as in the US it is legal for an agency to match surrogates with Intended Parents. We were recommended a wonderful IVF clinic in San Diego and so also looked at Surrogacy Agencies in that area as well. Finding a surrogate in the US is a bit like dating! Surrogates write a profile, you write a profile, and if you match, you go for it! Obviously, it is much more complicated than that – much of the profiles are about finding someone who is aligned with you on pregnancy-related factors such as do you share the same views on invasive tests if deemed necessary by a doctor or views on terminating if advised. And then also, your expectations for your relationship during the pregnancy and after the birth of your babies. All these are really important, but the most important factor is ultimately respecting each other. Once you've seen a profile, if the surrogate agrees you meet over Skype. We spoke to a number of women but when I first met Holly, I knew she was the one. You can't tell from one phone call if someone is perfect, but I knew I liked her, I liked her reason for doing surrogacy, her husband joined the call and was supportive, and her children knew – for them, it was a family affair. She had a large support network of friends and family who all supported her. Given how far apart we were, that support network was really important to me.
On our trip to San Diego to create and freeze our embryos, we were able to meet Holly and her family. We had arranged to meet for brunch between our hotel and were they lived. And so one Sunday morning, we turned up at a diner off the 805, me, Ed and Isla and there was Holly, her husband and their three children. On the surface, we didn't have much in common but once we got chatting – family, food, the weather – we didn't stop for hours!
After that first meeting, we were all excited to move forward and committed to doing so. It is a complex process but we were surrounded by highly experienced medical and legal professionals in surrogacy and about six months later our embryos were transferred to Holly.
What was the experience like in the USA, throughout the pregnancy and then ultimately the birth?
People often talk about the two-week IVF wait, from transfer to the blood test to find out if you are pregnant. It is very hard, and with surrogacy, you have two couples waiting for that result and your friends and family who are also waiting. Day of the test result, the email came through to me and Holly – congratulations we are pregnant! A few more blood tests all of which were looking very positive and then at eight weeks we had our first scan, two babies and two heartbeats!
The pregnancy was relatively uncomplicated in terms of medical issues, although given that it was a twin pregnancy Holly had many more scans that we had experienced with Isla's pregnancy. For most appointments, the doctors were happy for Holly to call me during the scan so that I could hear what was happening in the appointment, hear the heartbeats and just feel connected throughout. Compared to our pregnancy with Isla, in the US it felt closer because we had more means of communication but this also meant more stress! Because California is eight hours behind the UK, Holly knew to WhatsApp as soon as she woke up so that I wouldn't worry. She was amazing at managing me and my need for constant updates and reassurance.
One of the things that Holly and I loved to talk about was our birth plan. We had it all agreed and worked out. Holly and I would be together, Ed and Isla would be waiting next door and Holly's husband and children would be nearby. As soon as the babies arrived, me, Ed and Isla would get to spend time with the babies, Holly could be with her family and then as soon as she was ready we would bring the babies back to her to meet her and her family. It would be the two complete families of five in one room! Then at 34 weeks, the day I'd stopped working and a week before we were due to fly, Holly went into labour. I got a call from the doctor saying, "Anna I don't want to alarm you but we are doing a C-section in 20 minutes". An hour later, two nurses called to say they were the NICU nurses responsible for our babies that night and did they have names. I managed to get a flight out to San Diego the next morning and was with Olive and Art about 18 hours after they were born. It was so far removed from what Holly and I wanted, but both the babies and Holly were healthy, and for that, we will be forever grateful.
As a new family of five, we stayed in San Diego for two months and enjoyed life in Southern California. Although surrogacy is a well-trodden path in California, the paperwork is still very complicated, from agreeing on the medical insurance to applying for American passports. The stay also gave us the opportunity to spend time with Holly and her family. We all felt it important for her children to see us with the babies, the family they created, and appreciate the magnitude of what their mum had done.
How did it feel when you first held your babies in your arms?
I'm not sure I have the words. It felt like every dream I have ever had had come true. It felt magical.
Tell us about life now with Isla, Art and Olive.
Hectic, noisy, messy and truly wonderful. I still pinch myself every single day that we have Isla, Olive and Art. That we were fortunate enough to have found two remarkable women to help us create our family feels like a miracle. Surrogacy reminds me every day how good people can be.
Do you feel that the fact your children were born through surrogacy changes the relationship you have with your children at all?
No! However your children are brought into this world, whether you are genetically linked on or not, I believe has no impact on your relationship. When you finally have your children, however you do, you realise that the ones you have are the ones you were meant to have and the journey to get there finally makes sense.
Of course, honesty is key. From before Isla could understand it, we have talked about how she came into this world and continue to do so proudly, repeatedly and consistently. She knows that my tummy is broken and so another mummy helped us by growing Isla in her tummy. And, we are doing the same for Olive and Art.
What do you wish you’d known when you first started the process of trying for a family?
Never did anyone suggest it was my fault but I went through this whole journey feeling like it was my fault because it was my body which had failed. I always felt guilty and sad that Ed would never see me pregnant and that I was less of a woman because of it.
If I knew then what I know now about what it means to be a mother, I don't think I would have felt like that. To me being a mother is about being there every day for my children, doing the best I can every day, probably making mistakes every day, but being there for them. I wish I hadn't carried that guilt for such a long time.
What advice would you provide to individuals or to couples who may be thinking about surrogacy?
Being a surrogate is an extraordinary gift and sacrifice. Whether you are doing surrogacy with a friend, independently or with the help of a charity or agency, you cannot short cut the process. Everyone needs to be emotionally, medically and legally informed. Spend the time to get to know each other, talk about all your expectations and surround yourself with experienced professionals who can help guide you through the process.
Surrogacy has given me the family I always dreamed of, profound respect for my relationship that I will always cherish and I have come face-to-face with the generosity of women that makes me smile every day.
Anna has given up her 20-year career in investment management to help others on their journey to parenthood. Working with the San Diego Fertility Center, the clinic where her twins were conceived, Anna supports couples navigating surrogacy. For more information, you can reach Anna on Instagram @anna3buxton or email directly at email@example.com.
The inspiration behind Tegan Murdock's brand Love Yourself Sister goes way back to her childhood. She's a proud Aboriginal woman from the Barkindji nation in far west NSW. She was born in Albury, and moved between here and Dareton throughout her childhood, and now considers both her home.
You are from the Barkindji nation in far west NSW - can you tell me about your childhood, where you grew up and what some of your most vivid memories of your childhood are?<p>I was never bored because there were always fun things to explore. Sitting around the fire while Mum and Nan cooked yummy food was always nice, I was always surrounded by family – Mum, Dad, Nan and Pop would ration what we had so that they made sure that no one missed out on food.<br></p><p>The red dirt and bush is a part of me and will always be who I am. Lake Mungo, Lake Victoria and the Perry sandhills were my playgrounds growing up. Mum and Dad ran youth groups where they would take kids out on country to sit, listen and learn about culture. My fondest memories were out Lake Mungo where I first learnt about the Emu in the milky way from my late uncle Roddy, he was known as the 'king of the bush' he held knowledge passed down for generations and generations. I cherish moments like these where you sit and listen to elders telling stories.</p>
What did your parents teach you about racism growing up?<p>We never really spoke about it, we would just see the impact and that's how I came to know about it.<br></p><p>I would face it when I would go into town from the mission. We wouldn't be served at shops and you learnt to wait a long time for your turn. Living on the mission, Mum told me that almost every weekend they would be living in fear from the KKK coming into their homes and running riot amongst everyone. I remember when I was around 6 or 7, we had to all gather at a family member's house because the KKK were running through our homes burning, smashing everything and hurting family. They would hide in the surrounding bushes and just put fear into us all. I would have nightmares, and I would always struggle to leave my family because that fear was built in that I could be hurt.</p><p>We would always fear white people, and we would never feel comfortable due to the trauma that was caused.</p><p>I would see racism all around me, comments like Abo, coon, boong and gin were always thrown around. As I got older Mum and Dad would tell us to ignore the comments and be the bigger person but sometimes it would get too much and you would just break. </p><p>I was a very good netball and basketball player, and this is where the opponent would make racist comments to try and put me off my game. Most of the time I would dread going to play another game but the love of it was too strong, so I kept persisting. Eventually they just saw us as normal people and the comments stopped. My brothers, however, would face it more than what I had.</p>
Tell me about the move to Sydney... was it an adjustment and what challenges did you face and how did you overcome any challenges?<p>Moving to Sydney was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, even at the age of 22.<br></p><p>I would never go on school camps, let alone move away from my family. I had separation anxiety so being away from family was hard. I'm pretty sure I cried every day for the first six months. I'm not sure how my husband put up with me. </p><p>I adjusted by making sure I had regular visits back home and made sure Mum and Dad would visit me. Starting work in Sydney was huge and a hard adjustment. My husband had to drive me to work as I worked in Chatswood close to his work. I was too scared to drive myself, coming from a small town with little traffic to the city life was very daunting. </p><p>I had numerous jobs when I first moved, but would only ever last in the job for a few months or so, being black and going into an all-white workplace was so hard. I had racism at an engineering company where I worked, I had a degrading feeling from a workplace where I worked in Mosman and faced racism in a workplace in Frenchs Forest. You would get uneducated people telling jokes and talking down to Aboriginal people, while I was sitting at my desk working. It was hurtful and would make you feel like you amounted to nothing.</p>
Your brand is about empowering women to embrace their own unique beauty, to help them understand that they are here for a reason, they are to live life to the fullest and not be caged in. Where did this inspiration come from? And can you share your experience with depression and anxiety?<p>This is where my brand 'Love Yourself sister' came from. Growing up I faced too many cruel situations and saw my family go through too much hurt. I wanted to create a movement where I could empower my people to really love and embrace who we are. We are not defined by other people's opinions, we are not defined by our past, we are all uniquely beautiful, brave and strong enough to stand tall and honour our paths, we don't need to have validation from anyone else. </p><p>I came up with the name while sitting in a personal development course – I had just uncovered a whole heap of things for myself and I just remember sitting there telling myself that I need to spread this message of self love. I wanted to spread that self love is how we can save ourselves – no one else can come to save us until we can recognise it in ourselves. After the course had ended, I created my Instagram page originally just as a reminder for myself. When I opened it up to the public, I started getting messages saying thank you for what you're doing, you're helping me on my journey to healing.</p>
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions around depression and anxiety?<p>I think the biggest misconceptions are that medication will cure you, keep busy and it'll pass.<span></span><br></p>
How old were you when you had children, and looking back, is there anything you wish you did differently?<p>I had Mia my first daughter when I was 24 and then my second 18 months after. Living away from my family as a firsttime mum was so hard, but I struggled through and from that had postnatal depression. I was alone and had no real support. If there's anything I could have done differently, it's chosen to move back with my mum! <br></p>
What have you learnt about happiness? What is happiness?<p>I've learnt that happiness doesn't come from anyone else, it's all within. Once you realise that you are worthy and enough within, then that's when your happiness will shine through. You won't need to seek it from anyone else because you are happiness.<span></span><br></p>
Can you take us through your career path, your days modelling, and how you came to found your own brand Love Yourself Sister?<p>Growing up I just wanted to work and start a family. I didn't have a career in mind, I wasn't interested in university or even owning a business. My first job was picking grapes with my Dad, Pop and brothers on a grape block in Coomealla. Then once I started year 7, I worked at the local IGA supermarket stocking the shelves. Once I had finished year 11, I started working at a bakery in Albury and then from there I got into office administration. I loved working with computers so really enjoyed this job. I've worked in administration for as long as I can remember until I had my kids and then I stopped working for six years while being a stay at home mum. My husband worked hard for us so that I could stay home and be here for our girls. But then, a few years ago my mum taught me how to weave baskets, and this is what I do to this day. I run weaving workshops, do weaving in schools and businesses. I love the idea of bringing this healing element to communities and also to sharing culture.<br></p><p>I've done a few small photoshoots for my modelling and one fun runway last year. It's not something that has been a big part of me but I have wanted to do it since I was little and I thought it would be a nice way to be a role model for my people. I realise now that I am a role model without being a model. </p>
Your mother taught you how to weave - can you share how it helped you to heal? And how did you come up with the name Ngumpie Weaving?<p>My beautiful mum taught me how to weave a few years ago. She had tried prior to this, but it just wasn't my time to learn. I learnt after getting off a family cruise and from that day I haven't stopped. It has allowed me to feel connected to culture whilst living away from home and it has allowed me to slow down and be grounded amongst the craziness of the world. Weaving to me is medicine. You zone out while creating and forgetting all the troubles of the day. I guess this is something my ancestors used for healing and connection to country.<br></p><p>The name Ngumpie Weaving came from my Nanna Shirl, she used to call me Ngumpie when I was growing up, and Ngumpie in our Language means "beautiful", so when I decided to create a weaving business, this was the only name that stuck out for me. My Nan is no longer with us, but I feel her presence with me all the time.</p>
How has your life changed since becoming a mother? What has been the greatest challenge, and the greatest joy?<p>Life has changed so much. The strength and courage I have found since becoming a Mum is next level amazing. I love being a mum and I love learning from them. The greatest joy of motherhood is having two little best friends. I love the fact that I get to watch them grow into beautiful, caring, strong little girls. They teach me how to be a better person every day. <br></p>
How can we talk to our children about what being anti-racist means?<p>I would say just simply teaching them to love and respect all human beings and that because someone looks different to us, they still breathe the same air and share this land. Love wins every time. We need to encourage our children to learn about all cultures and people.</p>
A year from now, what changes do you want to see in the world around anti-racism?<p><strong> </strong>I'd like to see more love, understanding and kindness being spread. I'd love to see more Aboriginal culture being highlighted and showcased in businesses. I'd love to see more Aboriginal representation in the media. I would love to see the Aboriginal flag on top of the Harbour Bridge.<span></span></p>
"I ended up tandem feeding my two children until my daughter turned 4.5 years old," says British mother of two and model Jess Bowen.
As it happened, tandem feeding was never part of the plan and it was only after reading about it online that she knew it was possible. Jess now shares her story online too, through her blog and Instagram account @modelmother, in the hope that it'll inspire others, just as she was once inspired. "I'm still breastfeeding my son who has recently turned two and we are both happy with how it's going although the plan is to night wean him as soon as his final tooth is through because mama needs some rest!"
Tell me about your breastfeeding journey and where you are up to now...<p>I started breastfeeding in February 2015 and haven't stopped since! My labour with my first child, Eliana was a long one, lasting a few days and although it was a very positive, natural and well supported experience, by the time she arrived we were both so exhausted that it took us a while to get to that first feed. The midwives let us sleep for a couple of hours before coming to tell me that it's important she had her first feed. It wasn't until much later that day that Eliana latched when my mum came to visit and confidently showed me what to do. There was no going back from there. Bar the initial cracked nipples and blocked ducts I was very lucky that it was plain sailing. I fell pregnant with my son 2.5 years later when my daughter was still a feeding machine and so I just carried on. I remembered reading one small caption about tandem feeding online and it opened up a whole new thing that I didn't even know was a possibility. I find it amazing that one small drop of experience shared by a stranger had such a huge impact on me so that's why I share my story online too. I ended up tandem feeding my two children until my daughter turned 4.5 years old at which point, I gently weaned her because I had nursing aversion that repelled me every time I fed her, even when it was only her latched. I can only assume that was my body sending me the signal to say time's up. I'm still breastfeeding my son who has recently turned 2 and we are both happy with how it's going although the plan is to night wean him as soon as his final tooth is through because mama needs some rest!<br></p>
How has breastfeeding enriched your life? And also your children's lives?<p>I find it almost impossible to capture the sense of enrichment in words. It just makes me feel in tune, with the kids and with myself. It's been such a visceral and instinctive experience and somehow that's enough to deflect all the knocks that come with continuing to breastfeed beyond the 'normal' age. It puts a fire in my belly and it brings out the lioness in me when anyone contests the way I feed my children because it is so evident to me how much goodness it has brought to our family life. It soothes wounds, reduces teething pain, gets them through illnesses, helps with transitions, gives me some quiet time, releases the pressure valve of life for us all and brings a closeness that has continued beyond breastfeeding with my eldest. <br></p>
What are your thoughts on the attitude towards mums breast-feeding in public and the reservations some mums have about feeding in public?<p>I believe mums should be allowed to feed their children wherever and whenever they want and need, without feeling they have to be discreet or cover up if they don't want to and without fear of judgement. I know reservations come in all shapes and forms and from a deep-rooted place that is hard to override but in my experience, the fear is worse than the fact. Most people won't even notice what's happening if you breastfeed your baby in public. What they will notice is a screaming, hungry baby (especially those newborn cries that pierce the heart!) so feeding them is by far the less offensive action. Also, if you just do it like it's the most normal thing in the world then people will trust your confidence and be more likely to accept it. They're often more afraid of you making them feel uncomfortable than the other way around. The more you do it, the more normal it will feel and the more confidence you will gain.<br></p>
You were a pregnant, breastfeeding mum of a three-year-old and have said you were "well outside of most people's version of 'normal' when they think of a breastfeeding mum". How did that make you feel? How do we shift our mindset on what normal is/looks like?<p>As a person who has always been quite prone to people pleasing, not rocking the boat and fitting the mould, especially within my working life, I've often wondered where my resilience, courage and confidence stems from when it comes to challenging the norms of breastfeeding. I can only assume it's me reverting to my default setting; my natural instinct to do what's right by my kids overrides whatever anyone else thinks on this matter. I just have this really strong sense of knowing it's the right thing for me and I've been so lucky to have the support needed to see it through. I wish this confidence extended to all aspects of parenting for me but unfortunately, I'm as guilty of second guessing myself as the next mother.<br></p>
You've said that breastfeeding a baby in public was never something that bothered you - why was this?<p>I think it was the influence of my mum. I come from a line of breastfeeding (and breadwinning) women who have fed beyond one year, some for several years. I saw my mum breastfeed my sister, who was 12 years younger, in public and she now recounts the criticism she used to receive but I didn't see that at the time. I just saw my mum doing her thing. When it came to breastfeeding outside of home for me, I remember her being almost forceful in her encouragement and absolutely adamant that it was no-one else's business. I think that I was so used to being undressed in front of strangers with my modelling work that I had no fear of exposing a very small amount of flesh, even in the early days when my daughter would only feed if I was reclined back and she could lie down the length of my tummy. She was also quite noisy about it which wasn't ideal but it was what it was and she needed her milk! Thankfully I was also fortunate in having an antenatal group that included women who also breastfed beyond two years who made it a very enjoyable experience in the early days. We spent hours in coffee shops laughing and feeding and making sense of it all.<br></p>
What are a few tips for anyone struggling with the idea of feeding in public?<p>* Start small - go somewhere familiar, friendly, somewhere where nursing is actively encouraged or if it's nice weather, in an open space outside.</p><p>* Look into your baby's eyes - it's a great way to tune out the outside world and avoid observing any unwanted attention and it gets the oxytocin flowing when under pressure. Maybe even quietly hum a tune to yourself to block out any noise.</p><p>* Know that a lot of the looks come from genuine human curiosity or an appreciation for the act of breastfeeding and not from criticism or disgust. I find if you smile at someone who looks at you while breastfeeding then they often smile back or at worst, look a little embarrassed that you caught them at it!</p><p>* Make sure you're in good, supportive company the first few times</p><p>* Wear something that is easy to breastfeed in and take any equipment that you might need like a feeding cushion. </p><p>* Arm yourself a one line retort for anyone who actively criticises. I've yet to master this but I'd love to deliver a perfectly timed shot to give the recipient something to think about!</p>
You work in a very image-based industry. How did your respect for your body change after you had children? Did you feel more or less self-love?<p>I have spent my whole working life, from 17-years-old onwards, making sure my body is looking as it 'should' be, making it look polished and presentable and always shoot-ready. I hadn't realised how exhausting and time-consuming that constant upkeep was until I had a baby and all of that slipped far, far down the priority list. While I've always had a good relationship with my body I realised after having a baby that I had always been assessing whether it would meet outside approval because that's par for the course in the modelling industry. I usually thought that it would and so I was confident in it but now I realise that was still an unhealthy way of seeing myself. Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding have been such positive experiences for me because I went in believing my body was capable and that they were all natural processes that didn't need any undue intervention. But I hadn't anticipated how those things would also make me feel so much more rooted and empowered, physically and mentally and I'm still genuinely in awe of what my body has been capable of. I really have absolutely no interest in what other people think of my body now because I love it more than I ever have, despite it looking different to before, and in fact, if anything it improved the scope of my modelling work as suddenly my body and face looked more lived in, opening up opportunities to work with a more diverse range of brands. </p>
What would you say to women about body love after babies?<p>It's so hard to comment here because so many women come to parenthood with body issues that have been a constant presence throughout their life. Pregnancy, birth and motherhood only exacerbate those anxieties which is understandable when you've spent your lifetime seeing celebs' postpartum bodies pulled apart by the media. </p><p>I spent my pregnancies fascinated by what my body was doing and read as much as I could to fully understand the process. There is something so wild and raw and feminine about it that I felt like a warrior. Reading books like Ina May Gaskill's Guide to Childbirth connected with that feeling and gave me so much appreciation for my body which definitely carried through to the postnatal period. </p><p>I would also say that your babies think your body is the most wonderful thing - their first home and their safe place - and I only wish that more women were able to see themselves through their child's eyes. </p>
How have comments such as "Oh, you're still breastfeeding" or "When are you planning to stop" made you feel and how do you respond?<p>It has taken me a while but I am now able to understand that these comments come from a place of ignorance and ingrained prejudice that stems from living in a patriarchal society and until confronted with an alternative view people will accept their beliefs as truths. I am also conscious that language can be a fickle thing and that word, 'still', isn't always intended as a criticism. Sometimes it can reveal admiration or curiosity which then allows me to open up the conversation. I have an opportunity to challenge the status quo by showcasing an alternative way of doing things. I don't do it to push breastfeeding down people's throats but simply to show that continuing to breastfeed for as long as you and your child want it is an option. </p>
What have been the ups and downs of motherhood for you?<p>I really had no clue how demanding, all consuming and relentless motherhood would be. The shift in gear came as such a shock and it took me several years to adjust and to feel full acceptance of my new version of normal. I've read a lot on matrescence since having my second baby and particularly love Dr Oscar Serrallach and his work on postnatal depletion because it made me feel seen and heard and I realised everything I felt was perfectly normal and part of the process. I really feel like I'm into my stride with it now though and we've reached a place that my friend describes as 'the promised land' where we feel like a proper unit and the kids will play happily together while I get to enjoy a hot coffee!</p>
What was your experience of lockdown - how did you manage it as a family?<p>In all honesty, I loved lockdown. At the beginning it was a strange thing to acknowledge that life under lockdown was remarkably similar to my normal life in a small, rural village as a mostly stay at home mum but as soon as everyone else in the country (keyworkers excepted) were willingly incarcerated I suddenly felt much more at peace, less like I was missing out or that the world was carrying on at a pace while I was at a standstill. Staying at home with the kids felt proactive and a more valuable contribution to society than it is usually deemed to be and the slowness offered up a wonderful opportunity for reconnection. Having my husband there for every meal which we mostly ate outside and for bath and bedtime removed so much of the daunting loneliness that comes with motherhood. I understand all of this comes from a place of great privilege and good health, but I can honestly say it was one of the happiest periods of parenthood for me. </p>
If you could go back to before you became a mother, what would you tell yourself?<p>If you take the time to tune into yourself, you will find you know how to do this. It will take time to process and learn, but the love and the strength is there for you and it's limitless. I would also say it is really, really hard work, unfathomably so in the early days, but there is a direct correlation between the work you put in and the benefits you reap so hang in there. Work out what self care really looks like for you and don't compromise on it, even if it's as little as brushing your teeth twice a day which can feel like a mini win with a newborn. And one thing that I've learned with my second child is that they will teach themselves. They are hardwired to learn through play so just wait and watch and resist the urge to step in to complete something for them or push them towards the next milestone, because they will get there in their own sweet time. </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>
From rubber rings to earth-shattering epiphanies
Ever since my son was five weeks old, when I felt like I had just woken up from a very long and very intense dream involving repeatedly putting cold cabbage leaves on my nipples (nature's balm for that brutal early breastfeeding soreness), I have been mentally amassing a list of all the things that really, really made a difference. The moments that, whether psychologically or physically, gave me the fresh legs I needed to keep on going on my own new-baby marathon. Or the things I didn't do, that I would have done, had I known about them ahead of time.
1) It's impossible to ever be truly prepped for the arrival of a fresh, entirely unpredictable baby human<p>And so, finally, I've begun to write them down. Next up…</p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
2. Before you have the baby, laser all the hair off your body<p>Okay, so this is extreme, and just the ideal – and needs to be done before you get pregnant. And, I hasten to add, that doesn't include the hair on your head, unless you want to be really efficient with your shower time. But shaving my legs was the one bit of self-care I didn't have time for until around the nine-week mark, which wasn't ideal for my general feeling of self-worth. Alternatively, you could decide not to care ahead of time and make peace with your temporarily 'different' pins – the less painful solution. Then celebrate when you find you do have a window to deal with them, and see that as a success milestone (which I did. And which I wish I'd shared with my new new-mum mates, instead of thinking twice and feeling too embarrassed to). </p>
3. Laser your eyes<p>If you can't afford or aren't feeling brave enough to get your vision fixed, just make sure you have a pair of glasses that actually fit your face and aren't at risk of falling straight into a dirty nappy in the middle of the night (his father's top tip). </p>
4. Get long-term with your beauty treatments<p>If you highlight or dye your hair, switch to a look that doesn't require an expensive and lengthy stylist appointment every three months. For me, balayage chose me during lockdown. Similarly, get a shellac pedicure in a colour that won't look terrible when it chips, and invest in some sort of teeth-whitening, whether it be strips, those magical gum shields or via treatment at the dentist – because you are likely to be drinking a gallon of coffee each day, once your real taste for it returns. </p>
Before you go into the hospital:
5. As mentioned, get your baby's clothes into age, or even better, size order<p>This is partly because all baby brands are in a conspiracy to keep their sizing completely inconsistent, and partly to avoid finding yourself weeping while holding tiny socks in a few weeks' time. <strong></strong></p>
6. Buy a rubber ring<p>Need I say more? You don't need to have it blown up and squeezed into your weekend bag, it's just good to know you have one if you need it. Hospitals seem to have forgotten that rubber rings are good for a certain something that happens whenever you put the most pressure physically possible on your back passage (i.e., to every woman who has a vaginal birth, surely?). </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
7. Take earplugs, an eye mask and a neck pillow...<p>Because you might find yourself in induced-labour-limbo-land for several days, with your partner creased up like a pug's face beside you in a plastic chair and a snorer sleep-roaring somewhere close to the other side of your curtain. </p>
After you've had the baby:
8. ... then have plastic gloves to hand when you get home<p>(If there are any left in the world by that point) so you can fill them with ice and hold them wherever you need them during those initial 'sensitive' few weeks. <br></p>
9. This has probably become clear from the points preceding this one, but remember that there weeks after the birth might be tougher than the birth itself<p>Because – if you gave birth in a hospital – you're no longer in a building filled with hundreds of people who just want to help you and your family. Now it's just you, your partner, your new baby and a whole lot of nipple cream. So pace yourself as much as you can, and keep popping those painkillers. </p>
10, If you can, arrange for someone to assist with the home-work<p>Having some help with the maintenance of your living space, even if only every other week for those early few months, is such a morale-booster. Mentally, seeing your home back in order occasionally helps to relieve the sense that you've totally lost control of your life. Then decide not to worry about the mess you simply can't clear up. Alternatively, venture out so you can't physically see it until you stop feeling the urge to throw dirty crockery plates against the wall. </p>
11. Some of the best, and truest, things people have said to me are...<p>'Your nipples "adapt", so that breastfeeding really does stop hurting.' (It did.) </p><p>'Four weeks will feel like a milestone, then three months, then you're off on and running.' (We were.) </p><p>'See breastfeeding as your me-time – to watch TV, have a snack, sit back…' (Now I don't really want to stop breastfeeding.)</p><p>'Keep your phone, various remotes and whatever you want to eat near your breastfeeding "station" so you don't need to struggle to reach them with a hangry human being clamped to your nipple, or to have to ask someone – who's fast running out of patience – to hand them to you.' (Funnily enough, it was my husband's idea to get a little trolley for this very purpose.)</p><p>'Lean on visitors as much as you can. Get them to do the washing up as a trade off for seeing your baby.' (We probably should have done more of that.) </p>
12. Remember that cabbage leaves may ease the nipple pain?<p>… but they reduce milk production too (your boobs will stop hurting in a few weeks, I promise). And shields aren't the end of the world during a nipple crisis. </p>
13. As soon as you can bear it, put him or her down when they're still a tiny bit awake<p>This is so that they are aware they are sleeping in their Moses basket or sleep pod rather than in your arms, and therefore may not freak out quite as much when they wake up. Or at least, be brave and try it a few times before you totally give up on this extremely un-intuitive strategy. </p>
14. Have your Sleepyhead to hand from the outset<p>For the ultimate arms-free 'hug in a pillow', that will probably help him or her sleep more contentedly for longer. </p>
15. Phone anyone who has ever suggested that you shouldn't use a dummy while your baby screams and make them listen<p>And just remember that the dummy fairy will have no problem ejecting all the pseudo-nipples from your child's life when the time is right. </p>
16. Once they reach six months and are okay to sleep in a seperate room, make sure it's dark<p>Because sleeping with a bedside light on is annoying for them too. </p>
17. Nap when they nap, but only if you want to<p>Alternatively, enjoy the buzz and stay awake if you like. It was a shock to realise what a huge social occasion having a newborn is. If you don't want to miss a moment of loved ones cooing at your baby for the first time, that's okay too. Some new parents need less sleep than others, and some new babies need more than others too, if you're lucky. When he or she gets to around nine months and, hopefully, starts combining all their naps into one three-hour stretch, plan what you want to do with that part of your day in advance. Don't waste time faffing – just do, do, do and you'll feel a little bump of satisfaction before they wake up each time. </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
18. Plan ahead and a shower can always be possible<p>Ideally, have your partner do the morning nappy change – especially if you're doing all the night feeds – and you can get washed and dressed then. Alternatively, if your baby isn't rolling yet, plonk them down in the bathroom naked and label it their daily dose of nappy-free time. They love it. Or, dash off to get ready whenever they eventually go down for their first nap. If you're anything like me, you'll feel at least 50 per cent stronger post-shower. </p>
19. Use a baby carrier around the house<p>Babies generally love watching your hands do whatever you're doing with them around the house, or will pass out if they're at all sleepy if you wear them facing forwards (advised for babies under five months). It's an excellent work out for you too, so there's no need to force yourself to do much other exercise during that first year. If you have a Bjorn, you may well need a thinner one for summer days. My baby was born during the hottest UK heatwave since recordings began and I did not quite have the brain-width to both order a cooler wrap-style carrier and learn how to tie it. </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
20. Save answering Whatsapps for the endless breastfeeding sessions<p>Don't respond to the many messages you'll likely receive as a new parent if you've just yourself you're going to try and have a nap. Have a blanket 'Love your message – I'll respond properly when I can' kind of 'Whatsapp Out of Office', ready to cut and paste so you never need feel any nagging guilt about ignoring anyone. </p>
21. Don't be afraid of your baby<p>I realised I was a little bit scared of my son about six weeks in. But then I realised: he's a baby. I'm a grown-up. (Exactly what I tell myself when I see a big spider, and they're far less cute – in my eyes, anyway). He's more scared to be alive than I am about keeping him that way. And then all the rest felt infinitely easier. </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.