Maya Angelou once wrote: "When you know you are of worth, you don't have to raise your voice, you don't have to become rude, you don't have to become vulgar; you just are. And you are like the sky is, as the air is, the same way water is wet. It doesn't have to protest."
In the brief exchange I had with Africa Daley-Clarke, and reading back her interview for The Grace Tales, it is uplifting to discover such principles, poise and gentle power springing from the page.
Without the privilege of time – Africa works as a showroom and design manager and is mother to two little girls, Israel, three, and Ezra, one. Early last year she began to use her voice to open up the dialogue surrounding postnatal depression on her blog The Vitamin D Project. She has also been championing the lack of representation and diversity in children's books and brands.
"Being a black woman in the UK today is a political act in itself," she says. "Knowing that your existence, by default, is more likely to intimidate, you seek solace in the few safe spaces where you can be your true, authentic self. A common analogy of returning home each day is removing your physical armour at the door, [a] false exterior that serves as a thin protection – that generates a lot of emotional baggage also. I have spent much of my working life code-switching to assimilate, down-playing painful micro-aggressions in professional settings and being wrongly accused of [being] aggressive where 'assertive' would be better placed."
And the lesson that she hopes to instil in her daughters is one we could all do with telling ourselves.
"It's a contradiction, but we don't want them to ever hold anyone else's opinion of themselves in higher regard than their own, while realising there is greater joy in putting other people first," she says. "Having a healthy sense of self-worth is important but it shouldn't ever be confused with the importance of being kind."
On The Grace Tales, we aspire to bring you snapshots of motherhood that inspire and resonate – the 'grace' is the dignity with which we all wish to raise our families, the 'tale' reveals the day-to-day struggles in getting there.
So many of Africa's words have inspired us – her desire for greater racial equality, her approach to raising girls and her healthy handling of social media. If you read only one 'Grace Tale' this year – make it this one.
Tell us about your childhood...
I grew up in Camden Town, a third generation immigrant, raised by my single mum in a time where having little economic security meant you were at least part of a strong community fuelled by a desire to provide. My dad, despite not living with us, was a huge part of my life growing up and I have fond memories of weekends spent with him and my extended siblings in Ealing and Summers in West Yorkshire with my Grandma.
Who had the biggest influence on you?
Despite working 14 hour shifts, 6 days a week, my dad always displayed this youthful exuberance when it came to his kids. There was never a time when he wasn't approachable and he played a huge part in empowering me to carve out my own narrative as a Black woman in the face of adversity.
Tell us about your fight for greater racial equality? What personal experiences do you draw upon?
Being a black woman in the UK today, is a political act in itself. Knowing that your existence, by default, is more likely to intimidate, you seek solace in the few safe spaces where you can be your true authentic self. A common analogy of returning home each day is removing your physical armour at the door, your false exterior that serves as a thin protection – that generates a lot of emotional baggage also. I have spent much of my working life, code-switching to assimilate, down-playing painful micro-aggressions in professional settings and being wrongly accused of aggressive where "assertive" would be better placed. I have recently had the challenge of putting my money where my mouth is, by standing up against a long drawn out, racially motivated personal tirade in my place of work. Pre-children I would have taken that mental trauma home, unloaded it onto my loved ones and allowed it to continue daily, putting my salary above my sanity. Raising black girls, I constantly sense check situations I face by thinking on the advice I'd give my children in similar instances.
My fight for greater racial equality primarily starts at home – carving out safe spaces for my children, countering a white-washed narrative in their books and toys with an abundance of healthy representation and breaking generational curses by working through any possible unpacked issues my husband and I may have to ensure we don't unknowingly offload them on our children.
How are you taking a stand against the lack of representation and diversity in children’s books and brands?
I spent much of last year somewhat of a broken record, very vocal about the shocking under representation of BAME children in the #shopsmall community. Despite a very modest following, I built a significant amount of traction, as this was clearly on the minds of many, but rather than real change, I was met with blatant tokenism by most brands. I took a stand with my hard earned money. I stopped buying from any brands I no longer believed were ethical (you can not be a tokenistic or whitewashed brand and refer to yourself as ethical) and actually sold or donated any clothing from them. Rather than speak negatively about those brands, I started to shout about the few that were doing really great and I have found that although a small action, it had a great impact.
Is it possible to make money and make a difference?
I don't think it's sustainable to attempt to make a difference without being paid. Time is money afterall. There will be countless opportunities that arise such as this one, that are unpaid, despite requiring huge amounts of emotional labour. Whilst it frustrates me to my core that white women are continuously paid higher rates for the same work, I find it more problematic, that even when they also accept unpaid projects, they are much less likely to be required to lean on emotionally traumatic experiences for content.
Before accepting this particular unpaid piece, I leaned on my network of content creators from BAME backgrounds to ask for their advice. The group was founded by a leader in this industry to ensure that creators from a minority background had a safe space to sound-check projects and cross reference pay offers reducing the chances of being underpaid. It's been a real support to me this year. The general consensus was that unfortunately, sometimes, in order to be the change that we want to see, some projects are worth taking on to simply spread our message to a wider audience.
Tell us about your different work roles and how you juggle them, and which do you find the most rewarding?
Up until recently, I was working a 40 hour week in a dynamic role managing Interior Design Showrooms. I was in a fortunate position to be able to write my own schedule and on returning from my second Mat Leave, we decided as a family that four long shifts were more beneficial to us than 5 regular ones. This allowed me one day off during the week with both children in full time childcare to dedicate to housekeeping and personal social projects. As I also worked Saturday's, my family were able to create a really special ritual of a fun day with daddy (without me in tow). The girls have the most special relationship with their dad and I think having that one day where they don't have to follow a routine and can just have fun plays a crucial part in the relationship they enjoy today.
Having a working structure is integral to my personality type. I thrive on routine (as long as I'm in control of it!) so it will never be an option for me to give up work entirely. I credit my previous role for reigniting my fire with Interior Design -working in a furniture heavy environment also kept me very grounded when making decisions in our recent move.
What does being a good mother mean to you?
Being able to leave your feelings at the door and adapt to the vulnerabilities of your child in the moment. Granted, that becomes a lot harder when you have more than one child to care for.
What kind of a mother do you aspire to be?
Whatever my children need from me.
When did you realise you were suffering from post-natal depression? How did it affect you?
I've blogged a lot about those early days suffering from PND and while it was very cathartic at the time, I also find it quite triggering dipping back into those feelings again. It's important to note, neither my husband or I realised what I was going through was post-natal depression. I was at least 4 months deep in a very dark place before my health visitor made the call and acknowledged it for what it was.
Did you feel supported as a mother? Who did you turn to for support?
I used to snort at those "It takes a village" type comments. What village? Where? I also think there is a huge assumption that because the Western World prides itself on being so self-sufficient, people often assume that those from minority backgrounds are more likely to have an extended family support. In the early days, I certainly didn't feel supported as a mother – at least not by anyone other than my husband who as you know was integral to getting me through PND. However, 3.5 years on, I'm very happy to say we have a great support network of close friends and particularly family that go above and beyond to support not only me as a mother, but my husband and children too. In hindsight, it's important for me to acknowledge that forging these important bonds is a 2-way street and these relationships are not always natural and require mutual work from all involved. Several months ago I wrote a blog post outlining a toxic relationship I had with my mother. That caused huge rifts. But in the aftermath, the most beautiful thing came from it, my mother and I, for the first time in our lives, were able to work on building a healthy relationship. We all benefit from this, most of all my children. I've learned that to be supported you have to be willing to let go of barriers and a huge part of me writing that post was about choosing to let go of old emotions.
Have there been times when you have felt isolated?
Absolutely, but again, I have to acknowledge how unapproachable I may have been in those times and I'm grateful to be in a different place now.
How did The Vitamin D Project help you to heal?
It gave me the opportunity to share my truth with all my loved ones at the same time. I must acknowledge that this was also a huge weight off Jermel's shoulders. In the wake of my first post I had some of his colleagues reach out to me to share their struggles with depression and many of his friends too, I think it was important to illustrate how and why Jermel had been absent from social settings for so long too.
It also goes without saying that The Vitamin D Project has allowed me to forge some great relationships in real life via people I've met online. I'll forever be grateful for that.
And how has it helped others?
I know that some may feel I've done a disservice, by speaking openly about PND issues, then choosing not to continue to discuss it regularly. I personally think it's important for people to be able to see that it's possible to lead a fulfilling life while dealing with depression. I try not to ever sugar coat issues, I actively refrain from dulling down my emotions and whilst I don't believe in providing Trauma Porn for viewing, I always try to do a helpful post when I've managed to pull myself out of a deep rut.
How did you feel about returning to work after the birth of your children?
After Israel, I had a really negative experience with my first company that ultimately led to me leaving and not working again for some time. After Ezra was born, despite being new in my company, I felt very confident in returning as I had established my value to the company before leaving. It was really important to me having that second experience to outline just how isolated (and unjust) my first experience was.
How old are Israel and Ezra now? They are so beautiful btw!
(Thank you!) My girls are 25 months apart, approaching 4 and 2. Israel towers over her classmates so a lot of people assume there's a bigger age gap (she wears age 5-6!) whilst Ezra has always been quite true to size.
How would you describe your relationship with your girls?
Me and Jermel try to have conversations about our parenting styles often so that we can talk about any concerns or changes in how we want to raise them. Just last week, I said to Jermel, I finally feel like I've nailed creating a safe space and displaying natural affection. That might read strange to most mums but we didn't come from an environment where we hugged/kissed/verbalised our love. I spent a long time working on myself ensuring I went out of my way to flood Israel and Ezra with this "norm" and I'm glad to say that now it's second nature. I grew up with a handful of friends that had really affectionate parents and I always thought it was super weird but I think I secretly coveted it. We have that now. There is no doubt in my mind that both girls feel safe and loved. But, working on that actually consumed so much of my time that I failed to juggle that with other "norms" like taking the lead of the bedtime routine or cooking their meals etc. I'm really working hard on that next part of our relationship -it may seem trivial to others – but my goal is that they no longer associate mum or dad with any specific duties.
How would you describe them?
They certainly don't conform to any gender norms. Whilst they have entirely different personalities, they are both so head-strong, full of life and one trait that's shining through so much in Israel at the moment is her kind and caring nature.
Having an older sibling has meant that Ezra has an unrivalled confidence that's quite uncommon in children of her age. You will find her front and centre of any activity and she never lets the bigger kids get in her way.
What is the most important lesson you want them to learn?
It's a contradiction, but we don't want them to ever hold anyone else's opinion of themselves in higher regard than their own, but also realise there is greater joy in putting other people first. Having a healthy sense of self-worth is important and shouldn't ever be confused for the importance of being kind.
You and your daughters have incredible style - how do you like to dress the girls – and are there any brands you love for childrenswear? And do you have any brands or pieces that you rely on for yourself for work/family time etc?
I have an unhealthy passion for quality design. True craftsmanship, be it interiors or clothing, has always made my heart sing. I like to dress our girls in a way that compliments both their skin tone, their personalities and their activities. All of their clothing should allow for a full range of free movement – it's so important to me that clothing doesn't inhibit play but actually makes it easier. Whilst their personalities continue to form, I think it's important that I don't subject them to slogans reflecting my thoughts – for this reason I avoid all logos and slogans. Lastly, I just really love choosing colours that compliment their skin tones. I love choosing a range of colours that work together beautifully.
As for brands, my go to will always be vintage followed by small ethical brands and where that's not possible, I buy smart from the high street, favouring natural fibres, in tonal colours that can form core staples in our wardrobes rather than end up in land-fill after the season.
What has been the most surprising part of motherhood for you? And what has been the hardest?
I think I've been most surprised by how little they've "taken over" our lives and rather how much direction they've provided. I like to refer to them as "anchors", keeping us grounded, rather than a ball and chain.
Tell us about your new approach to social media and how you occupy the space and manage the time it takes up in your life? Why have you decided to change your approach?
The deeper my captions became, it no longer felt appropriate to attach them to images of the children. I have always been extremely present on stories and I think my visibility is one of the things that allowed followers to feel it was a safe enough space to engage on such important topics discussed. I now plan to take a much more structured approach to my feed, scheduling posts and putting in the work in advance rather than throwing together a quick caption in the morning. I hope it will allow me to enforce boundaries and reduce time spent on the app, but also, the new routine should provide a lot more beneficial to my followers also, as I'm going to have to be a lot more present on the days that I do post.
Do you consider it a healthy space especially for mums and why?
That is a subjective question. I am very conscious of who I follow and as a result, I find instagram to be an uplifting space. I have no qualms in muting or unfollowing regular content that encourages me to spend money or feel inferior and I think that plays a large part in it.
What are your thoughts on Clemmie Hooper and how it has affected her? Have you ever been trolled?
An interesting phrase of question as there is no reference to her actions, rather an emphasis on her feelings. I have no opinion on her feelings, given her actions. I think Clemmie's actions in private were the perfect example of what can happen when society holds individuals on such a high pedestal that they no longer hold them self accountable to the same moral codes they enforce.
I had to quickly check the definition of trolling as I know it is so often confused for bullying. "A Social Media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users, often posting inflammatory or off-topic messages". There are times when followers seek to play Devil's Advocate when I post about my feelings following personal experiences. I often wonder why my experiences can't be taken on face value and instead a user feels motivated to question me further or worse disprove my feelings. By definition, that is trolling – but given the fact that so many marginalised women in particular face so much worse (often relentless personal trolling attacks), I don't think it would be fair to say I've suffered.
Do you think Instagram feeds a pressure on mothers in particular to be perfect supermums?
As mentioned previously, it is all about who you follow. By consciously being selective on who I follow, I have used instagram to my favour and have found it to be a very inspiring place. I search hashtags for play hacks and recipe ideas without actually following individuals so that rather than an onslaught of perfect meals flooded in my face daily, I find them only when I need them.
Finally - what do you love about living in London and raising your children here?
There is nowhere else in the world that my daughter could sit in a nursery surrounded by classmates of so many ethnicities. We don't teach tolerance, we teach love and I think London is a very complimenrary setting for that.
What are your favourite things to do on the weekend as a family?
My anxiety has prevented me from attending any baby groups, however we visit an outdoor free play session in our old neighbourhood of Kings Cross that is a firm family favourite of ours called PlayKX. Each weekend we arrive, my children run up to the playworkers shrieking before indulging in a beautiful session of unscripted play -they have alternative soft play, mixed media and dressing up clothing. I really recommend it to anyone in the area.
On Sunday's we spend the day with 5 of my siblings, our partners and our children. We have a cooking rota and spend a good chunk of the day in each others company, catching up on life and off-loading in a really lovely, safe environment.
And what is the best life advice you have been given?
"We are our ancestors wildest dreams". Don't waste opportunities our ancestors could have only dreamed of.
It's no secret we adore Ashley Graham, and just when we couldn't love her more, she has posed nude in Elle US's August issue, alongside her son Isaac, 6 months, and husband Justin Ervin, photographed by Ervin himself.
Ashley Graham with her son Isaac
Ashley Graham stars alongside son Isaac, 6 months, and husband Justin Ervin in Elle's August issue, with photos by Ervin
By the time you finish this story on Auguste founder Ebony Eagle, you'll want to move to Byron Bay, own a couple of horses and dress exclusively in Auguste. At least, I did. She's the type of woman who spreads positive energy and this energy trickles down to the clothes she designs. Ebony has created a fashion brand for women and children that's driven by sustainability and giving back.
Take us back to your childhood. What was it like and what are some of your most vivid memories?<p>There are so many magical memories, particularly of summers spent at our beach house in Rosebud, Victoria – days that seemed to go on forever in a world that felt so big spent with my brothers and sisters, aunties, grandparents. Lots of sand, sun and banana paddle pops on the beach. We still own this beach house and boat shed and I now take my children there to do the exact same thing. It's so unbelievably nostalgic for all of us. It's the most at ease any of us ever feel. My childhood also wasn't without adversity, but children are incredibly resilient and you learn to deal with the situation you are in as best you can. These things shape who you are. I'm from a big family of four children and we moved around a fair bit so, affectionately, home was always where the chaos was! </p>
What was your career path like prior to starting Auguste?<p>I've worked since the day I turned 13, starting with an after school job at the fruit shop, into weekend jobs at cafes and then when I finished school at 17 I was a nanny for a travelling family and spent two years hopping all over Europe… This was where the fire in my belly grew for travelling and I believe it's where my perspective on more of an entrepreneurial career took shape. When I landed back in Australia at 19 I waitressed for a few years until I got poached for a styling/production job at a studio in Richmond. This is where I learned all about shoot productions, etc, and it was whilst working here that I decided to take the leap and start my own fashion brand at 22. I managed to secure a small loan to start my business while I was working full-time and then resigned to waitress again by night and work on my label by day. I had that brand 'ebonyeve' for ten years before I started Auguste five years ago.<br></p>
Was it always a dream to have your own label, or did that come about organically?<p>Well, my Grandma taught me to sew when I was eight-years-old and I continued sewing my whole life. I've always been a massive vintage and op shop trawler and I'm creative, so the whole design part came quite naturally. The business part I learned on the job!</p>
Did you have your girls prior to starting Auguste, and if so, what was that transition like?<p>I had Coco when I was 28 and then Frankie when I'd just turned 30 so at that time, I was still running my previous label 'ebonyeve', so yes I had a business. I never stop working and throughout pregnancy and when the girls were young this didn't change… I was living in Bali at the time that the girls were young though so I just worked wearing a few less items of clothing! Work-life balance will be my lesson in this life – it's something I'm still trying to master.</p>
What's been the biggest challenge of motherhood? And the biggest blessing?<p>The thing I find most challenging is the work-life balance juggle and the fact that I have missed out on so many precious moments due to my work commitments. The biggest blessing is all of it! The whole apple, even the seeds. </p>
You've lived in Melbourne, Byron, Bali and Sydney. Do you feel that you're settled now that you've moved back to Byron, or do you crave change? What were some of the challenges and joys of living overseas?<p>Yes, I've moved around a lot in my life. Auguste HQ has always been based in Byron so moving home to here made sense for us and we always wanted to bring our children up here. I'm very settled now. I've travelled enough for ten lives! Honestly, we didn't find living overseas challenging, we adore different cultures and the perspective that they give you. We are so grateful that our girls started their life like that. All four of us loved living abroad right up until the very end but you just know in your core when it's time to come home.</p>
Is there something about Byron that called you back? Has moving to Byron influenced your designs or your process?<p>Auguste HQ has always been based in Byron so coming back here was the natural decision. Growing up here as a teen I was super eager to get out and experience the world but after I had my children, I definitely felt a strong pull to bring them up here, but more so to the hinterland where we now call home. I just love being in nature, surrounded by my children and as many animals as I can fit in! My designs have always naturally thrown together bohemian and vintage inspiration so I suppose, yes, growing up here could have been the beginning of that attraction.</p>
What are your time management tips?<p>Oh god, finish emails in your evening bath? Between the kids, the horses, the business and my embarrassing attempt of a social life, there is very little time to stop and try to time manage anything, so I pretty much fail constantly, no tips here!<br></p>
How would you describe the Auguste aesthetic?<p>Classic, bohemian, feminine, timeless.</p>
Who is your ultimate Auguste muse?<p>That's a tricky one. Stylistically, the ever-influential Jane Birkin has always been a huge creative inspiration and a measuring stick for my designs. Would Jane wear it? Yes? Good, let's do it. Her sense of fashion was just so easy going and feminine, it's everything we make Auguste to be. I've also always felt inspired by Brigitte Bardot and her femininity, she just made it so approachable. My main inspiration though is Jane Gooddall. Her connection to nature, work with animals and bravery in her field, particularly as a young woman, have given me so much courage to create, stay true to myself and use my platform to give back to the planet. </p>
Auguste is such an ethical label, from your fabrics and factories to your ongoing charitable initiatives. Is that something that has always been important to you?<p>Absolutely, I always wanted to get to a point in business where I was able to give back. To have a platform and a voice is a gift and one that I believe should be used wisely and for greater good.</p>
Do you think the fashion industry is becoming more conscious?<p>Absolutely and largely that's being driven by consumer demand, which is just awesome. It won't all happen at once, but the fact that more and more consumers are seeking out eco-friendly fashion alternatives means that more brands will follow suit. They're starting to realise that if you're not thinking about your impact on the planet, you're not being competitive, or responsible really, and that's the only real future for fashion. </p>
You regularly design collections in aid of a charitable cause. Tell us about your latest 'Hero' campaign...<p>As a mum and as a member of the global community, I wanted to unite people in recognising the dangers of bullying and how important it is to use your position to stand up for others. We designed a range of Hero slogan tees as a call to action and donated 100% of the sales to the National Centre Against Bullying and the Cybersmile Foundation to continue their work preventing abuse and giving support to sufferers. I'm incredibly proud that our message of solidarity was shared by thousands around the world and we raised more than $85,000 for our partner charities. </p>
Why is charity work so important to you?<p>It's just part of who I am and what I've always believed in, but when I had children it became a larger priority in my life. If we're not working to leave the planet a better place for our little ones, then what are we doing? How can you see what's happening in the world and not respond? I've worked hard and now I'm fortunate enough to have this platform, so I use it. To me that's just good sense, simple as that! </p>
Little August is your childrenswear line. Tell us about the inspiration behind it?<p>My daughters were my inspiration here. I created little Auguste when my girls were little and loved spinning around in full skirts, it was made for princesses – and even though those two princesses now will only wear ripped denim shorts and Auguste tees I'm so happy that there are so many other little angels out there still spinning in our creations.</p>
What's your parenting philosophy?<p>Shower them with so much love and kindness that they don't realise you often forget to do story time. Also I believe in teaching my girls independence – if they are able to do it themselves then they do. Also have fun with them and keep phones down.</p>
One of your most popular charity campaigns was your 'future woman' tee range. What sort of example do you want to set for your daughters?<p>The 'future women' tees were part of our charity campaign raising money for UN Women and promoting female empowerment, and as a mother of two daughters this meant so much to me. A big lesson I hope my daughters learn from me is to not be passive. Make opportunities, don't wait for them. Offer to help, don't wait for someone else to. Use what's at your fingertips, and then reach for more. </p>
How has COVID-19 changed the way you think about your business?<p>Covid brought a lot of perspective for me. It showed us all that everything can literally stop overnight, so for me it was a reminder to make sure that what I was doing was right for me personally and was to the standard that I wanted. We are doing a lot of work on our ethics and sustainability and really our whole brand identity. It's a time to contract and refocus on not necessarily being big but being great… and I am LOVING that.</p>
What changes will you be making?<p>We made the decision around the beginning of Covid to exit from wholesale entirely and focus on our own vertical channels, making Auguste exclusive to our online store <a href="http://augustethelabel.com/" target="_blank">augustethelabel.com</a> and our Brisbane and Byron Bay boutiques. The exit was a huge decision for me, however I know it was the right one. Being a purely vertical business means we can retract and refocus. There were many factors in this decision however the most important was the ability to continue on our journey to being a more ethical and sustainable business, because that is what it is, a journey – it is not about any one decision, it's every decision you make. Being a vertical business means we have the flexibility to make the decisions we feel are right.</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>
Just over a week ago, I stumbled across a piece on childfree women in The Guardian, after a couple of women I follow on Twitter were sharing it, outraged by its contents. The piece, part of a 'Childfree' series, was essentially a conversation between Guardian editors Summer Sewell and Jessica Reed, who, having read Sheila Heti's Motherhood, discussed their own personal reasons for not having children over drinks.
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.