It is not often that a brief conversation - and one inspired by baby food at that - stays with you and changes how you think about parenting, but such was my interview with Natalia Vodianova – supermodel, philanthropist, tech-preneur and mother of five.
Nicknamed Supernova for her tireless worth ethic, the face of Calvin Klein and Guerlain is one of the world's most successful supermodels with nearly 100 Vogue covers and counting.
We meet to talk about Little Tummy, the new cold-pressed organic baby food that she is backing, and she explains both motherhood and her career are approached with the same attitude.
"I have an internal setting," she says. "Where I am tired at work I put on a brave face and make the effort, and I do the same at home. My children deserve no less. Yes I come back and I want to hide, have an hour with my book in bed, disconnect or meditate. But I choose to be there with the same readiness. It means a lot of personal sacrifices – personal space, personal time, things you want to do, but that is what I choose. I chose to be a mum and I chose to work and because of my choices something has to give. I know I will have time later when my children are grown up but I will feel like I have given them everything."
If her status in modelling is big, in philanthropist circles she is a colossus.
Born in the then-Soviet city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) she cared for her disabled younger sister, Oksana, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and sold fruit with her mother aged just 11 – "It was very hard you can be sure – very hard" – she says.
Early modelling success brought with it an unwavering desire to give back, and at 22 she launched the Naked Heart Foundation, which, since its inception has helped more than 10,000 families with children with mental, sensory and physical disabilities, while thousands more have benefitted from the playgrounds built in around 150 Russia towns.
"As soon as I became successful it was clear to me that I left millions of people behind and still many people lived in difficult life situations," says Natalia. "For me it has always been like that, giving back is what drives me forward, it is what drives me to get up in the morning."
She lives in a beautiful apartment in Paris with her partner Antoine Arnault and five children – Lucas, 17, Neva, 13, Viktor, 11 by her first husband Portman – and Maxim, five, and Roman, three, with Arnault.
But work is an important part of who she is.
The serial tech-preneur launched ELBI, a philanthropy platform which monetises social media for charity, and recently became the first female board member at Flo, a women's health tracking app, which has since become the world's largest female community online.
"For me work is really important – to feel self-fulfillment and to be inspired and to meet great people, to realise my ideas and dreams," she says.
"But I also think that is a good lesson for my daughter and my sons."
Her latest venture is as an angel investor and mentor of Little Tummy, the baby meal service delivering dishes like chickpea, kale and cauliflower, and red lentil, mango and sweet potato, to busy weaning mothers in the UK.
Developed by Nadine Hellman and paediatrician Dr Sophie Niedermaier-Patramani the dishes are cold-pressed to ensure freshness, taste and important nutrients as an alternative to traditional, on-the-go heat-processed baby food.
We asked her about being a teenage mum, what lesson she hopes to teach her children and where life might take her next.
What inspires you to invest in the brands you work with?
The impact is really important or the potential for impact. The founders, of course, what it brings and if I can make a difference to the company and if together we can make a difference.
How were you introduced to the founders of Little Tummy?
Nadine sent me a proposal for investment and I actually got really excited. Usually, I invest in tech. As a mother of five, I had been looking into the baby food space myself for a while. I didn't understand how we could feed babies all these very heavily preserved and processed baby foods – you could taste that it tastes like plastic with sugar. I never gave it to my children except if it was an emergency and we were on an aeroplane. But I always found it interesting that there weren't more healthy and nutrition-first baby food brands. I looked at starting something. I was also thinking of busy mums who don't have time to cook but also who want their babies to be getting all the nutrients, tastes and colours. I looked at the frozen food space for a long time and something I wanted to do, especially in Russia where nutrition is still quite a difficult topic – the awareness is growing slowly. But there is a big stigma towards frozen food and it can be super risky. I was looking around and saw Little Tummy and I thought how incredible, how exciting, how perfect. Here is a product, it's not frozen, it has a shorter shelf life but all the nutrients. The presentation really struck me as someone being created out of passion. And now, of course, Sophie is now pregnant and waiting for her first baby – her number one tester.
How did you find weaning your children?
I raised my two little sisters so I knew what to do. I have always put a lot of importance on trying different things, creating diversity in vegetables and different tastes. I remember Maxim when he was trying celery puree for the first time. He was four months old and his little face, his nose… It is so important to give them this experience. I'm not saying he loves celery now but he eats really well. [My children] are very open to different flavours.
What are meal times like in your home?
The elder ones eat later and little ones eat early so it is not altogether. My youngest are five and three they eat proper meals. It's so important to introduce your babies to different tastes. My children are all very adventurous with food in different ways. They have things they don't like and I'm not going to force them, but they all like vegetables, liver and different things that are really adventurous for children.
Is food an important part of your life? Is it one of your passions?
Yes! We all love food. We always joke my eldest son would probably kill for food [laughs]. He is very defensive over his meals – his plate is his kingdom – nobody is allowed to touch it although he is getting a little better. If there is not enough, he is like 'oh my goodness is there no more?' [laughs]. He is a very big boy, he is 195cm so he needs a lot of food.
And are you the same?
I share but if I am hungry it is better not to cross my way. I get hangry! I am a very hangry person [laughs].
How did you view food as a child?
Food, it was really a luxury, meat and of course sweet treats, it was a great luxury.
Can you remember being hungry?
Too many times. We came from a very poor family. When I was 11 I started working in a fruit stand helping my mother but I was at school as well.
What was it like?
It was very hard you can be sure – very hard.
What experiences have you had that you would like your children to have and learn from?
I believe that hard work and the ability to work hard is the toughest lesson to teach someone unless you were forced to do that. So I am focusing a lot on that. Encouraging my children to work hard. They are good, they are quite perseverant.
How do you teach that?
By example. When they see their parents living this life it is easier to encourage them to work hard as well.
How hard do you work? Do you work in the evening?
Yes and more. I travel every week. It is quite hard. I am up at 7am – not crazy early – I go to bed at 12. I need my sleep as well.
Do you ever suffer from mum guilt?
It can be difficult with little children emotionally but I am always there for weekends.
Is there a finish line? What is your one goal in life?
I feel like it is when I am going to hit 50. I will see where I am, make some really important decisions. Hopefully I will have more space in my life as my children will be grown up. I look at that point of my life – I will still be very young, have five children hopefully doing really well and still have a lot going on, but from then on, I will be refocusing on me and doing more things for me. I feel at some point I will need to think about myself more than I do now.
What will you do? Will you travel?
I travel a lot but I don't travel for my own pleasure or for myself. I usually spend all my days inside buildings meeting people. There are definitely places I want to discover and experience.
Are there any skills you want to acquire?
It is not about skills really – more experiences. It's just even more slowing down because I have never slowed down. I started working really young and I have never really stopped.
You are known more now for your philanthropic endeavours than for your modeling career – has that always been your intention?
What has been your proudest achievement? Is it all the playgrounds The Naked Heart Foundation has made for children in Russia?
There are lots of things I am proud of. The playgrounds are great, I cannot underestimate them because they bring joy to children every day, but what we do for children with special needs is much, much more. We have helped more than 10,000 families.
Do you go to meet them?
Of course, I meet them very often. There are a lot of tears. It is so rewarding.
And finally, what does fashion mean to you? Is it purely aesthetic or is its impact more multi-faceted?
It is an incredible platform, without this industry and all the support from all of my collaborators, photographers, designers, fashion brands none of this would be possible. I am so extremely grateful that this industry has allowed me to live the life that I have lived. It has been incredible. The level of creativity that I have experienced as well, the people I have worked with are so inspiring. I appreciate the commitment of those individuals into this industry although I have committed myself elsewhere. Those people like Grace Coddington, seeing the way she gives absolutely everything and the last of herself to a fashion shoot, it is just fascinating and incredibly inspiring to dedicate that much attention to whatever you are passionate about in order to succeed. And all of that with so much humbleness – the greatest people in this industry are so humble. Yes we celebrate them but they are amazingly inspiring. Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Paolo Roversi and so many editors. In a way, we know that because we are the industry, but the level of creativity attention and commitment is unbelievable.
"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>
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 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>
Do you cleanse your face properly?
For so many of us, the answer is probably no (and it doesn't help when you have a small child at your feet trying to get your attention). Which is why we like to keep our skincare regime simple and effective, and also why we opt for oil-based skincare.
Enter Smoosh, a fuss-free, natural skincare range based on the hydrating power of oils, created by Sydney mum of three and teacher Mim Gascoigne.
"Cleansing is such an important step in your routine. If the cleansing step is too harsh and dries out the skin, you are a few steps back and you've only just stepped onto the starting block," she says, referring to that feeling of dryness that can come after cleansing if you've stripped all the hydration out of your skin. She set about solving that skincare dilemma. Smoosh's Silky Cleansing Oil, contains six organic and natural plant oils, including camellia, peach, jojoba, watermelon and passionfruit and leaves your skin feeling soft, supple and hydrated (the opposite to the aforementioned dry, tight state).
Next in the Smoosh skincare regime is a serum, and there are three in the range, so there's something for all skin types. "Pregnancy, menopause, hormonal changes, illness, travelling, seasonal changes, stress, shaving (men love our Soothing Balance oil serum) are just some of the things that can change how skin is behaving and its specific needs," she says. "I wanted to offer three multifaceted organic and natural face oil serums, free from fragrance and essential oils, that would offer nourishment and visible results to skin during the different phases life throws our way." As for what serum actually does (i.e. how it'll help us glow), she explains that a serum is that extra step after you cleanse and before you moisturise, that will deliver a concentrated dose of vitamins, antioxidants and/or actives to your skincare routine. If your skin still feels dry after you apply serum, Mim advises you to keep your skin damp when you apply: "our oil serums absorb quickest when skin is damp. after cleansing or misting is a great time to smoosh. Three to four drops massaged into damp skin should leave skin supple, bouncy and moisturised never greasy."
Her passion for plant-based skincare products came from her mother, who is a GP and studied naturopathy. "She has a real passion for research so was great at teaching me, from a very young age, all about plants, their great benefits as well as their contraindications," says Mim. And as for the name Smoosh, it was inspired by the feeling you get when you see chubby baby thighs. "You really want to 'smoosh' them," says Mim. "Whatever age you are, healthy skin has that beautiful glow and softness that brings about the desire to touch and smoosh it."
Here we talk to Mim about how she got her business off the ground (and the ups and downs of that journey), the key ingredients in her products and why your skin will love them, practical time management tips for the working mother, and most importantly, how to Smoosh.
Go to www.smooshskin.com
Smoosh Silky Cleansing Oil
Smoosh's range of serums
There are so many cleansers in the market, why did you decide to launch an oil cleanser and what are the benefits of oil cleansers?
So many cleansers, yet I still felt like I hadn't found my perfect one. Personally, having such sensitive skin I really wanted to create an oil cleansing blend that was free from essential oils and fragrance, yet was also light and silky enough for all skin types. A cleanser that is gentle yet thorough is crucial. This is where an oil cleanser shines, it has the ability to cleanse away the most stubborn makeup and sunscreen yet leave your skin soft, hydrated and your skin barrier healthy and intact. I also had customers asking for me to create one.
What skin types would this product suit? For example, should oilier skins steer clear?
All skin types can benefit from our Silky Cleansing Oil, each plant oil in the blend has been thoughtfully chosen to provide just the right amount of slip for a beautifully smooth massage and cleansing ritual, without overloading the skin. Once massaged in and gently removed with lukewarm water and a soft cloth, your skin will be perfectly cleansed, super smooth, nourished and glowing. No greasy oil slick in sight.
Smoosh has three different serums. Firstly, what role does serum play in our skincare?
A serum is that little step that will deliver a concentrated dose of vitamins, antioxidants and/or actives to your skincare routine. Our oil serums can be used alone or added to your moisturiser. Luxurious, potent and brimming with goodness each of the three oil serums is loaded with omega fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants to help nurture and bring about healthy and glowing skin.
What is the difference between the three serums you offer - and how did you settle on three?
I settled on three, as I feel within the trilogy, all skin types can find a a blend to support them. Whatever skin season they are having. Pregnancy, menopause, hormonal changes, illness, travelling, seasonal changes, stress, shaving (men love our Soothing Balance oil serum) are just some of the things that can change how skin is behaving and its specific needs. I wanted to offer three multifaceted organic and natural face oil serums, free from fragrance and essential oils, that would offer nourishment and visible results to skin during the different phases life throws our way.
Radiance oil serum is a nectar-like oil serum, deeply moisturising so wonderful for very dry and/or mature skin. It turns around lack lustre skin really quickly and it's also wonderful in cold windy weather. Soothing Balance oil serum is for all skin types, especially those prone to breakouts, it's silky and light yet still provides beautiful moisture. It's calming on inflammation and brings clarity to confused skin. Nourish oil serum is a satiny, berry packed oil serum, it gives dewy hydration, nourishment and is really rejuvenating for normal to dry skin types. It's a bit like a super berry smoothie in a face oil!
Natural skincare has always been part of your life - tell me how your mother influenced your skincare decisions and how you approach your skincare regime?
My mum is a GP and also studied naturopathy so I was surrounded by tinctures and natural skincare products from a very young age. She has a real passion for research so was great at teaching me, from a very young age, all about plants, their great benefits as well as their contraindications. She was also instrumental in teaching me about the benefits of nutritious healthy food, the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle and how both can impact skin health for the better. She was into bone broth long before it was trendy!
Skincare has changed a lot over the years, what are some ingredients or products which have stood the test of time?
I think face oils have been around for a long time but have definitely become more mainstream which is great as I think they are really transformative. Oil and balm cleansers have been used by actors and stage performers for decades to remove heaving makeup so their credentials are pretty good too. Weleda Skin food is a great classic as is Dr Haushka Rose Cream. Lanolin is another ingredient that has stood the test of time, Lanolips 101 ointment, is such a great formula. Glycerin is a bit of an underrated ingredient, it's been around for ages and is so healing for dry skin. It seems to be having a bit of a resurgence though!
The term "clean beauty" is very trendy - how would you define clean beauty?
As there is no official definition for the term, I feel the term can sometimes be confusing. One brand's clean list can vary from another. I would say Smoosh Skin is a clean beauty brand insofar as it is organic and natural, plant-based, free from added fragrance, vegan and cruelty free.
What are the hero ingredients in your products?
This is a hard one; we source 26 of the highest quality organic and natural plant oils and create all our formulas in small batches so they are fresh and vibrant. They all play an important role, but special mention to the luminous coral red of the organic Rosehip fruit oil, and the dark vivid green of our virgin Hemp seed oil, however, they are all such a delight to blend and work with.
Where do so many of us go wrong when it comes to skincare?
I think trying too many new products, all at once can often send skin into a spin. I speak from experience in this area! Adding one new product to your skincare routine at a time and using it for a few days before adding the next, is the best way to see if a product is working for you. Also, when using actives like retinol and acid toners it makes you even more susceptible to sunburn so it's so important to practice good sun safety.
Smoosh founder Mim Gascoigne
What lead you to launch your own business - was there a defining moment where you made the decision?
I'd thought about it for many years, however, once I started having babies it took a back seat. Once I had my third child, I somehow felt ready to start a new chapter and had the confidence to jump in. I've always been naturally driven by creative projects and have a genuine passion for skincare so it helps to have a real love for what I'm doing.
The beginning is often a stumbling block for so many women when it comes to launching their own business. Where did you start and how quickly did you launch?
Much of the product line is a culmination of decades of my own research and experience so developing the products has taken years. However, once I decided to go for it, building the brand and business itself, took about six months to solidify. I drew on a bit of knowledge I had from some marketing subjects I did at university. My husband works in marketing so he offered to give me a framework to build the business from i.e. key steps to follow in launching the business, which was very helpful.
What has been the most challenging part of starting a business?
The most challenging parts have been sourcing packaging, labelling and suppliers. Some of our oils have been very hard to source. Covid-19 social distancing and restrictions hit just as I was launching, which brought new challenges as many of our oils were suddenly out of stock. Lastly, being from outside the skincare business, it is a challenge to build brand awareness as a small start-up as it is a crowded market, so that is our biggest challenge right now.
What about the most rewarding?
Customer feedback. Seeing our customers' skin transformations from our products. Having sensitive skin myself and dealing with eczema and more recently rosacea, I know how hard it can be to find a product that works and supports your skin. I genuinely love that we can help our customers get relief for their skin condition and attain healthy, happy skin.
Now, how do you manage your time between your children and your business?
It is a constant juggle, especially as many of the aspects of starting a new business are completely new to me, so I feel like it takes me more time than the next person, I have to do more research and this comes with more frustration! I have three kids, 9, 7 and 2, so working with them around makes any task infinitely longer! When possible, I plan ahead and carve out pockets of time to work when they are otherwise engaged. I have moved into a casual teaching role which gives me more flexibility to work on the business too.
How do you look after your skin daily? What products do you personally use?
I cleanse every night with our Silky Cleansing Oil and a soft cloth. I then use one of our three oil serums depending on how my skin is feeling.
In winter I mostly reach for Radiance oil serum in the evenings, it's so deeply moisturising and wonderful for dry winter skin. I then often choose the lighter, Soothing Balance oil serum in the morning. In the summer it's more often Soothing Balance in the day and Nourish oil serum at night.
I don't cleanse in the morning unless I've used a mask overnight. Skipping the morning cleanse has been really helpful in calming rosacea flare ups.
Every 7-10 days I use the Allies of Skin retinal and peptides overnight mask. I also use a pure white french clay mask mixed with one of the Smoosh oil serums if I need a soothing mask.
Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturiser and RMS Un-Cover Up
Baby Cheeks Blush Stick by Westman Atelier
Tubing mascara as I have hooded eyes and no mascara stays put!
Lanolips 101 Ointment
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.