“I like to be very open about my IVF. Infertility is one of the hardest things people can go through. It is heartbreaking, it breaks marriages up, and it consumes you. I feel like infertility has this stigma and couples often don’t seem to want to talk about it, like it is some kind of shameful secret… don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with keeping it private, it's a personal choice, but I am an open person and it's my nature so I freely tell people our girls are IVF.”
Meet London mama Hannah Strafford-Taylor. Yes, the blonde beauty looks like she just walked off the runway (there’s some serious fashion inspiration below) but there’s far more to Strafford-Taylor than great style. She’s one of the most honest, kind women you’ll ever come across and boy does she have a tale to tell. “Becoming a mummy was a dream come true, of course, the initial tiredness was a massive shock, when they say no one can prepare you for that they are damn right! But I had three years of total bliss, hard work bliss, but life was perfect, so perfect in fact that I used to say something has to go wrong, life can’t be this perfect,” she says. When Strafford-Taylor’s daughter was three-years-old, she fell ill with chronic vestibular migraine (“this gives you a multitude of daily symptoms including migraines, neck pain, visual problems, nausea and vertigo. It affects daily life as your balance affects everything you do”). After a long journey and learning how best to live with her illness, she fell pregnant again and is now a very happy mother of two girls – Soleil and Winter – and along with openness, she’s positive, uplifting and, basically, an extraordinary woman. Read on for her inspiring journey to motherhood, fashion tips and more.
Photography: Lauren Michelle
How did you meet your husband?
My husband and I got together 14 years ago, and he loves to tell the story that I broke up with him after just six months because I “wanted a baby”. The reality is after six months, I found out he had had a vasectomy years before and didn’t want any more children! Here I was madly in love with someone but knew we wanted different things. I had dreamed of being a mother since I was a child! So I ended it as there was no future! Another six months later he came back and said that if we were together in another few years he would consider having a baby. It was enough, so we got back together.
Talk us through your journey to motherhood and your experience with IVF…
Roll on five years and a vasectomy reversal later and I still wasn’t getting pregnant. It isn’t unusual, it can be hard to get pregnant after a reversal but it was eating me up. All I could think about was getting pregnant. I constantly worried I would never get pregnant and after a year or so of trying I literally couldn’t get to the IVF clinic fast enough, I was desperate to have a baby.
I think that by a few people being open it can help hundreds of others in similar situations and give them hope. I cannot tell you the relief I used to feel hearing positive stories and it’s because of that I am as open as I can be about our story.
I was lucky enough to go to a superb IVF clinic, the ARGC and all the months I hadn’t got pregnant I had thought that IVF was going the answer to my prayers, that it would just “work”. I was young, 29 at the time, and just presumed that it would work the first time. Although I didn’t find the actual process of the IVF, the injections, the drips the daily blood tests and scans difficult, I found the emotional stress of it incredibly tough. You are so desperate for it to work, and you know that getting pregnant is going to change your life forever and you hope beyond hope it will work and give you a family. My first IVF failed, I had a chemical pregnancy where the embryo takes but in my case only stuck for a day or so.
NOTHING could have prepared me for that heartache. I cried and wailed like I had never cried before, the only time I have ever cried more was when my father died. Everything was invested in it being successful and suddenly I felt I had nothing. It didn’t help that out of the 10 girls I was cycling with, I was the only one who didn’t get pregnant. Of course then came the irrational thoughts. What if I could never get pregnant? What if I never had a family? How was I going to live without children? I then, like many people with failed cycles, spent the next two weeks submerged on google looking at surrogacy, adoption and egg donors. I was terrified of the worst-case scenario.
Also, when you are struggling with infertility I swear babies are everywhere, and every second person you see seems to be pregnant! Plus, your best friends seem to just sneeze and get pregnant and as overjoyed as you are for them, you wonder if it will ever be you. It’s a horrific situation to be in.
But, as I am quite a positive person I picked myself up and started again. I was luckily modelling every day for Net-A-Porter as one of those headless models! It was probably one of my favourite jobs ever as a model. The team were hilarious and it was a routine modelling job and helped me to bounce back.
Luckily from my first round, we had 11 frozen blastocysts which are the best quality embryos and we had been incredibly lucky that nine were good enough to freeze. By the September I felt mentally ready to try again and was so incredibly lucky that we transferred two frozen embryos and one stuck. I still cry when I think of that phone call when they called to say I was pregnant, I was shaking euphorically that I was finally going to be a mummy. I then spent the next nine months paranoid that I was going to lose her! I honestly ran off every week for a scan. I had morning sickness, or more accurately morning noon and night sickness, for the entire 39 weeks. However, I literally used to throw up saying “don’t worry, it’s fine, it means I am still pregnant”!
Can you talk us through the time when you fell ill with chronic vestibular migraine…
What came next was my illness, chronic vestibular migraine. Nearly four years ago I was hit on the head. People presume I had a major car accident or something similarly as gory. It wasn’t that, but it has altered my life probably forever. I went for acupuncture for a cold spot in my leg, I will add that what caused this was not acupuncture, which I am still a great believer in, but the crazy guy I went to see for some reason pretty much assaulted me during his assessment! The guy asked if I had headaches and neck pain to which I answered no as he said he thought it was a nerve problem. He then hit me hard directly down on the top of my head to see if it hurt! Oh yes, it hurt and I ended up in the hospital with a concussion, damage to my neck and severe damage to my vestibular system.
Your vestibular system is what you balance with and if it is compromised your brain has to work overtime to balance using other stimuli. To put it simply, my brain can’t seem to readjust to the damage that was done to the vestibular system. Every time I move or do something, all the brain signals that are normally second nature now disagree with each other when they cross-check which makes the brain “irritable”. Every movement is unnatural, you put your feet down and you feel like Alice in Wonderland falling, like walking on marshmallows! Daily tasks like supermarkets and driving and department stores are difficult. There is too much visual input for your brain to handle and it makes you feel dizzy and nauseous.
At my worst, I could barely get out of bed, but I had to as I had a three-year-old child to look after. I lay in bed for nights on-end feeling nauseous and with rocking sensations like I was on a boat. I have spent several long periods sleeping sitting upright in bed for weeks on end as laying flat made me feel sick. I still get these symptoms now, but fingers crossed this intensity only lasts a few days. It’s not endless, like it was. I’ve also learned the hard way how to manage the illness better. At my best now I am about 80% normal, sometimes I just have a mild headache or a bit of ringing in one ear, at my worst I can’t function at all.
I got sick when Soleil was just three and starting nursery. For an entire year, I felt nauseous and incredibly discombobulated. I had thought my morning sickness was bad when I was pregnant with Soleil but that was NOTHING compared to the nausea I had when I first got ill – gut wrenching, spinning feeling and nausea. My illness was still new to me, I didn’t know how to manage it, and the most difficult part of it was that I wasn’t able to be the mother I wanted to be. I had gone from being super mum, running around all day organising play dates, tea parties and baking cakes with Soleil, to barely being able to get through the day without feeling uneasy and nauseous and there was no relief.
Simple things you take for granted like taking your child to school on a scooter were impossible for me as I couldn’t turn around back and forth to look at Soleil and check for traffic – my brain could not cope with it. Children’s birthdays were, and still are, a nightmare for me, lots and lots of tiny children darting back and forth, all too much for my brain to comprehend. Every tiny job felt like an incredible effort. I would stare out the window and just cry at people walking normally down the road, it wasn’t that I couldn’t walk but I just felt so sickly and nauseous doing it, and I wanted to be able to run down the road, skip with my daughter. Then I would be angry at myself, I didn’t have cancer, I wasn’t dying and there were thousands of people worse off than me.
People would say to me, ‘oh I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to do it,’ but honestly, I had and continue as I had a three-year-old daughter that needed a mother. What do you do? Give up and go to bed for the rest of your life, or push onwards? I did vestibular rehabilitation (essentially learning to rebalance) and eventually found myself the best neurologist there is in this field. I also got better at spotting the warning signs and got to the point I had as many goodish days than bad. I had to learn how to manage everything and accept that I simply cannot overdo, it’s all about pacing.
The worst is, as it is an invisible illness, you simply don’t look ill. You are still up and about, you can still function and look fairly “normal” but inside you feel just shocking. People see my Instagram and wouldn’t know I am quite often feeling nauseous and dizzy, they assume because you are out and about you are well, which is often not the case. Sometimes I feel that people almost don’t believe me, it’s very frustrating. Especially as the illness doesn’t go away and I’ve had it now for years and I worry that I am boring everyone talking about it.
When did you decide to try for another baby?
We had been about to try for another baby before I got ill, but once my illness started I simply could not contemplate it at all and the doctors said it was a no-no. But after the initial two years when I had started to come to terms with the condition I allowed myself to start thinking about another baby but I was terrified. I was just about coping with one child – how would I cope with being pregnant and then coping with a newborn? I was so torn because I love being a mother and was desperate for another baby but I also wanted to be the best mummy I can be so I was wracked with indecision and worry. Finally with advice from my neurologist I decided to let fate take a hand and see if I fell pregnant naturally. Needless to say, this didn’t work and I was peeing on sticks every month getting more and more depressed that it wasn’t working. The penny finally dropped for me when I had a visit to one of my wonderful doctors and she said to me that if I looked back on my life when I was 90 would I want to have had two children or one. I accepted that it was crazy to ignore the fact that I still had seven really good quality blastocysts at ARGC and that I should properly go for it with IVF cycle and have another baby.
It again took a few frozen cycles but then when I finally fell pregnant I was just as ecstatic as the first time. It was amazing. I was terribly ill during the pregnancy, my head and vertigo was off the charts and as the brain regulates your autonomic system that all went crazy and I had tachycardia, breathing issues and hypoglycemia, but I was pregnant and that was all that mattered. I tried not to go on and on about how I felt, in fact not many people knew how sick I was, if you looked at Instagram you wouldn’t have known, I was still there, feeling somewhat shocking but there all the same!
Winter is truly my miracle baby, she was frozen for six years, she is from the same batch of embryos as Soleil. If they had put them both in together they would be twins! How crazy is that… I feel like this tiny little girl was sitting waiting to come and join our family. I am now almost thankful of the failures as, without them, they wouldn’t have been “them”
All the trepidation I felt in my decision to have another baby seems silly now. It is the single best decision I have ever made. I was so terrified that I was going to have this beautiful baby that I just couldn’t look after – as I had struggled for the past few years looking after myself and Soleil and had been terrified I would never be able to cope.
From the moment she was born I have felt so much better, I have had periods of being well-ish and a few periods of being ill, but the fear has gone, I will be able to cope somehow with a little help from my wonderful husband and fabulous mother, and even despite the bad patches, I am still the happiest I have ever been; now I have my little Winter to add to my perfect little Soleil. I look at my little miracles and just want to burst with pride. I am truly beyond happy. Am I completely recovered from my illness? No, but it doesn’t matter so much because I have these wonderful gifts of these two girls. It’s like I’ve had an epiphany that I’ve realised that despite being ill, I can be truly and wonderfully the happiest ever. I am so excited to go through every stage with Winter. I literally can’t wait to do with Winter all the things I did with Soleil – but with Soleil helping too! The age gap is working out perfectly for us – Soleil was asking for a little sister and is the most doting and loving big sister EVER and to watching them together is just magical.
Two children in, what advice would you give to new mothers?
I think the most important thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself or set ridiculous standards. You are going to be exhausted and not every day is going to be perfect. Perfection is not realistic – it’s ok if the bed isn’t made. When I had Soleil, the second she would nap I would be hand-washing baby clothes, washing the pump, cooking dinner. I had zero help and I literally never sat down. The problem is when you set yourself unattainable standards, you are only ever going to be disappointed. I would also say it’s obviously fine to take advice, but everyone has an opinion about everything and at the end of the day, it’s probably you who knows what’s best. Don’t doubt yourself. Your incredible body grew this little human so go with your gut… this is your child and your story.
Lastly, never compare yourself and your baby to others. It’s not realistic as babies are all different. I spent hours and hours worrying about Soleil as she didn’t crawl until she was a year and walk until she was 18 months, granted very late, but I drove myself mad with worry, and what a waste of precious time that was.
Take us back to your modelling days - what was the best and hardest part of modelling?
I’m not the most naturally self-confident person in the world and in the modelling world, rejection isn’t just a once a day occurrence. You are going on up to 10 castings a day alongside maybe a hundred girls or more, so pretty much as many times, times a day you are going to be rejected. I liked to do any job that didn’t require castings. I would rather do showroom or “fit” modelling, which isn’t as well paid, but meant I could avoid going on castings! Modelling isn’t as glamorous as it looks, pins getting stuck in you, being burnt by clothes steamers, trying to walk not shuffle while wearing size eight shoes (when I am a five).
Of course, there were great jobs. I got to travel and meet some fabulous people, I did some great shows in my time and I feel honoured that I did fittings for Alexander Mcqueen and Richard Nicoll and got to meet them.
Talk us through how motherhood changed your career?
After I had Soleil, I didn’t want any help. It had been a struggle to get pregnant, and I never thought we would have any other children so I wanted to relish every moment. I was fortunate in that I didn’t financially have to go back to work, and was so desperate to create that immense bond that I had felt with my mother that I never went back to modelling. However, despite my love of motherhood, I would have gone insane if I didn’t always have some kind of side project. I had always loved interiors and had previously travelled to Bali, designed all our furniture and shipped back everything for our first apartment in London. We had a new house in St Tropez, so I went to Morocco and found pieces I loved and imported a load of furniture, rugs etc to our villa in St Tropez. Later when Soleil was a year and a half, we moved to the countryside and I renovated a big Georgian house, which took a year. We then sold it and moved back to London. But when I got sick, the only thing I could really still manage was buying hard to get fashion items such as Chanel and Hermès handbags etc for a few clients I had abroad from my eBay days.
BUT… I now have a new project, inspired by the above, my love of interiors and love of anything aesthetically beautiful from fashion to cushions. I am currently having a website built, where you will be able to shop a curated list of the things I love for me, baby, interiors and beyond, direct from the retailers. But I am also having a small section of the one off things people always ask me about in my home, like the kilim rugs, liberty bespoke cushions, vases and small children’s pieces of rattan furniture (all one off pieces) that I have sourced. And lastly, fingers crossed, I am having a very small capsule collection made of summer dresses. It is all in the very early stages but I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am be “working” on a project again.
Did motherhood change the way you approach fashion?
I don’t know whether it’s motherhood or age that has changed my approach to fashion, but it has definitely changed since becoming a mum. I guess your day-to-day situation changes and you dress for this. I am all about the comfort nowadays, no more towering in high heels. It’s tiring enough running around after two little ones, so it’s essential, for me that I am at least comfortable. I pretty much only wear flats. In the winter, I want to wear jeans, a jumper a beautiful Chanel jacket or oversized coat and in the summer a long dress, a kaftan a pair of sandals. Comfort is key.
Talk us through a typical morning in your home…
Like every mum our mornings are hectic. I wake up around 6.45am, jump in the shower and brush my teeth, as otherwise I don’t get a chance until 9am when Winter naps! I then dash into Soleil’s room, and try to throw on her uniform before Soleil goes charging in to wake Winter up. She insists on being the first face Winter sees in the morning and Winter loves it! The next hour is a combination of breastfeeding, doing Soleil’s breakfast, getting her hair brushed and pumping milk, usually with spelling practice thrown in! My husband takes Soleil to school on his way to work as I am still pumping milk when they need to leave (with Soleil my milk dried up around 8 months when I stopped pumping, so this time around I still do one pump in the morning and again at night). While Winter naps at 9am, I try to make the beds, do the dishwasher, make myself something to eat and get dressed if I didn’t manage it before 7am! I then go with Winter to get my dirty Starbucks habit fix, that I just can’t quit and then we go off to buy food for the day. I love cooking and love to wander around our area looking at the produce in the stores and like to buy fresh, organic produce in season.
How do you unwind at night?
My husband bathes Winter at 6pm every night. He is devoted to doing this as he also bathed Soleil every night when she was little. Sometimes Soleil also jumps in, but as soon as Winter gets out of the bath we go into her room and shut the door. There are no phones, no TV, just pure silence. I breastfeed her for about an hour. It is the only feed of the day when she goes into that newborn trancelike state and it feels like we are the only two people in the world for this hour. I adore it, it’s pure bliss – if this doesn’t unwind me nothing will! At 7pm, I go into Soleil’s room and I read to her for 15 minutes or so, and then believe it or not we do a meditation. I guide her through it. It’s something they introduced at school last year and she loved it so much, maybe as she had seen me meditate since my illness, but whatever the reason she loves to meditate before sleep!
What are the time management tips you swear by for an organised household?
PREPARATION: I always prepare Soleil’s drink and snack for school the night before and leave it in the fridge, there is never enough time in the morning. Soleil gets her homework for the following week on a Friday… I try to get it all done over the weekend, otherwise 10 minutes homework a day ends up being more like a combined torturous hour trying to persuade her to do it. PRE-COOK DINNER: I always cook our dinner while Winter has her lunch time nap. I am way too tired to do it after I put the girls to bed.
How much time do you spend on social media – do you ever detox and do you think it can be a negative thing to spend too much time on social media?
Because of my illness I can’t spent much time on screens anyway, the conflicting information of a screen moving and me “not moving” gives me horrendous nausea, so it’s self-limiting anyway. I try and dedicate 1-2 hours to computers/phones in the evening or during Winter’s lunch time nap, and then when I am with the children, I am fully with them. I detox every night when I get into bed at the breathtakingly late hour of 9.30pm! I turn my phone onto airplane mode… I have this weird obsession with phone signals. I worry what they are doing to you, I also make my husband also put his phone onto airplane mode. If it’s anything urgent, someone would call the house phone!
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I am pretty healthy, I eat well and I like to eat fresh produce that is in season and organic wherever possible. However, I also have two ice creams every night! I am pretty lucky with a fast metabolism, but that does mean that I also do eat too many sweet things as I can get away with it! I am unable to exercise after my illness, which really upsets me. I have tried everything, with the best trainers, building it up slowly etc, but any exertion just sets me back. I can however walk, so I walk EVERYWHERE.
“ Winter is truly my miracle baby, she was frozen for six years, she is from the same batch of embryos as Soleil. If they had put them both in together they would be twins! How crazy is that… I feel like this tiny little girl was sitting waiting to come and join our family ”
What are your beauty essentials/regular treatments?
I am pretty low maintenance, other than my shellac, a pedicure once in a while and highlights I don’t really do any treatments, who has time with children? I have had less than five facials in my life! I had terrible pigmentation after Soleil, so I had IPL, which was fabulous, and I need to seriously look into some form of cellulite treatment as the cellulite that was taking over my thighs is now spreading to my arms!
Hannah’s little list of loves:
The simple things – being a mummy of two and everything it encompasses.
Feeling so much better – after four years you cannot comprehend how good this feels.
Pippa Holt Kaftans.
Statement earrings (you cannot have enough).
Turquoise and pink hues – think summer, summer, summer!
All things bohemian.
Watching my tomatoes grow.
Liberty print everything.