When the inimitable Pandora Sykes had her daughter Zadie, her world changed, but not in ways she expected. While the common narrative around new motherhood is one of trials and tribulations, Pandora was happily ensconced in a bubble of love, and while she doesn't recommend everyone follow her 5 week maternity leave example, she acknowledges that she was able to return to work for a myriad of reasons that worked for her and her family...
How did and does she do it? A question that often gets thrown around to mothers who seemingly "have and do it all", quite simply, Pandora doesn't. While her colourful and varied CV boasts writing, podcasting, styling, presenting and more, her reality is one of strict priorities. In order to capture the zeitgeist she so expertly discusses on The High Low with co-host Dolly Alderton, she chooses reading – books, websites, interviews – over social engagements, exercise and social media scrolling, and acknowledges that her voracious appetite for content can disarm many people, particularly mothers. "Someone reading a lot can make other people feel bad – which is never my intention – and what I always remind is, I sacrifice other ares: I don't go to the gym, and I only properly cook once a week. So I save over an hour a day, from that! It's also important to remember that reading is fundamental to my work: I often interview authors, we talk about books a ton on the podcast, and my writing – whether non-fiction or journalism – is imbued with the writing of others. So I make time for it because it feeds into my work as much as it does my own brain."
There's a reason Pandora has captured the hearts and Instagram scrolls of seemingly everyone you know, and that is because she's a journalist first and foremost who happens to also have an infectious love of style – a reluctant influencer, if you will. While she's updating you on the latest current affairs, she's also reminding you that Mango does a great snakeskin print this season, and it's this fusion of substance and style that makes her the ultimate go-to when it comes to both inspiration and knowledge.
This interview originally ran in GRACE magazine, where we were thrilled to showcase Pandora at home in London with baby Zadie where we caught up on all things motherhood, media and style.
As clichéd as it may be, many women experience a dramatic shift in the way they view the world after becoming a mother (or even after falling pregnant). How has motherhood changed – or how is motherhood continuing to change – the way you approach life?
It is a cliche – but cliches are cliches, for a reason! I didn't realise how much motherhood would change not just my life, but my own self, at a completely fundamental level – that was less of a resistance, although there was an element of that, and more total ignorance. It colours absolutely everything – from logistics to love.
You have spoken about the fact that being Zadie’s mother was a role that felt quite natural to you. Why do you think we have a level of shame in our culture around saying that we enjoy motherhood, or that it comes easily to us? Do you think there may be nobility or martyrdom in struggle?
I hadn't actually thought about it like that before, but yes – you're right. Everyone kept saying to be "don't worry, it gets better" and I thought, "I've literally never complained about her." The accepted narrative around new motherhood is that it's a total nightmare and you just have to "get through it". But – and this is not true of other areas in my life at that time – Zadie was never my nightmare. What was my nightmare, in truth, was the fact that societally we pretend to to be sensitive to new motherhood but don't actually follow that through behaviourally, in the way that we accommodate them or, just as importantly, accommodate fathers in the workplace. The lack of accommodations made for fathers, directly impacts the mother – who has to pick up the shortfall.
Talk to us about the issue in celebrating when women “get their body back” after birth, particularly your own experience of this.
I think the 'baby weight' rhetoric is a damaging one. I was reading a parenting book not long ago and it said, near the 6 month post-partum mark, "you're probably on track to getting your old body back, and being a yummy mummy by now!" Like, WTF? It's 2019! I definitely realised how much you are yourself, like a book, judged by its cover, post-Zadie. I had terrible insomnia and anxiety so I lost my baby weight pretty early on, as I lost my appetite. People would say, "so you're doing great" which is quite an odd thing to say to someone, on the basis that they look the same as you remember them looking, or because you have, let's be honest, a really smiley baby. I think you just have to ask how someone is. Just ask. Don't presume how they are, via their love handles, or butt-size. One of my best friends, who is definitely an everyday hero of mine, chastised how brother in law when he congratulated her on her flat tummy, post-baby. "There's a woman at work that still looks pregnant" he said, by way of comparison. "Don't congratulate me on having a flat tummy" she said. "Congratulate me on growing and ejecting an entire baby. Congratulate your colleague for doing that, and returning to work."
On the How to Fail podcast, you spoke about the insomnia you recently experienced and the emotions that accompanied a challenging time, despite everything outwardly being (or appearing to be) “really very good”. This is something we struggle with so much – particularly as mothers. That it feels almost unfair to whinge or complain, when we know how lucky we are. What has helped you get through this time and these conflicting feelings?
That podcast was the first time I had talked about a lot of things that I didn't think I was interested in sharing – and actually, it felt quite cathartic. I think I feel particularly piquantly that I have to be careful how I express struggles about motherhood, because I have seen first hand how hard it has been for my sister, who had her fertility taken away from her by chemotherapy for breast cancer, to navigate the idea that she will not get to be a mother. I'm also personally not one for doing a big moan on social media. I don't care if it's more 'real' – to me, it makes no sense to go rant to a load of people I don't know, versus picking up the phone to a best friend who knows me. Those people aren't invested in the real 'you'. I am not saying they don't care, and don't support you just by following you – which they do – but it would always be an anathema to me, to ask the internet, for help. I do not trust the internet. And I just don't think people need to see that from me, when they log on in the morning. They have their own shit to deal with.
Late last year you wrote a brilliant ode to your nanny, Mimi, on Instagram, and described how having reliable childcare enables you to work 4 days a week on your varied freelance projects, podcast and writing. A lot of women have guilt around childcare, despite our need to return to work for both our financial stability and our sanity (not to mention career ambitions and interests). Did you face any of these feelings of guilt, and what would you say to any other women in similar situations?
It was definitely a navigation – I had no idea how much childcare would cost – but I came to terms with it, because I am the primary earner and also, having my busiest year yet. The year I became a mother was also probably my most fruitful, professionally. I did not, and have not, worked one iota less since having Zadie. What has changed, is that I say yes to barely any work events and I am very careful about social obligations. That said, I am tremendously lucky that working hard means that I can afford a nanny, rather than having to take her to daycare, as it affords me extra hours in the day to work.
You have publicly spoken about taking a short maternity leave and how you felt in those early days and weeks following birth. What are your views on parental leave and how our governments or employers should be supporting new parents?
I think it's tremendously hard to operate via a "one size fits all." I went back to work at 5 weeks, which I wouldn't recommend. But then I think a year can be an awfully long time to take out of the workplace, for some women, and they really struggle to re-adjust. What's the optimum? I have no idea. It depends how your baby sleeps; and how long you want to breast-feed for, as that's the real tie. What I wish, is that we would stop seeing it as the mother who has a baby. Two parents make a baby. Which means that you should allow men flexibility too, so that women aren't always the ones making the compromise.
What is your relationship like with your phone on days when you don’t have to be online or on social media for work. Do you put any digital detoxes in place or monitor your screen time each week?
I turn my phone off all the time. I had to get a landline installed for this very reason! So my family can still contact me. It's Monday today and I had my phone off from Friday afternoon until Sunday lunchtime. I love an airplane! It helps me focus and is good for my anxiety. I typically only check Instagram once a day, or every other day, which also helps.
You’ve been asked this a lot, but as a voracious and dedicated reader, and a mother to a one-year-old baby, how do you find the time to read so much - books, articles, news? Are there some weeks where you simply can’t and don’t?
I think the reason why I am asked this a lot, is because reading comes with moral attachments. Someone reading a lot can make other people feel bad – which is never my intention – and what I always remind is, I sacrifice other ares: I don't go to the gym, and I only properly cook once a week. So I save over an hour a day, from that! It's also important to remember that reading is fundamental to my work: I often interview authors, we talk about books a ton on the podcast, and my writing – whether non-fiction or journalism – is imbued with the writing of others. So I make time for it because it feeds into my work as much as it does my own brain. It is, as Zadie Smith says, a sanctioned addiction. But an addiction nonetheless.
Life balancing children and work is often about prioritising. Is there something that you’ve actively chosen to not focus on, or focus on less now, because of lack of time and inclination?
Oh I totally prioritise. I am incredibly selective and try and be thoughtful about everything I do: why am I doing it, is it important to me, will it make me feel good, will it help my work, etc etc.
You’ve described your personal style as “eclectic but specific”, and you try to incorporate vintage pieces in your looks every day. Can you tell us how you approach getting dressed each morning? Do you plan your outfits in advance or have a shopping strategy each season?
I don't plan in advance, no. If I'm working at home, as I am probably 3 days a week, it's very casual. If I had to look smart every day, I'd definitely struggle! What I wear depends on how tired, or how bloated I am, or what I have on that day.
Your media career has followed the path of magazines, newspapers, websites, social media, a podcast and books. How do you think traditional mediums such as print can hold up against the fast and furious world of digital, audio and video right now?
I'd really like to hope that they can all work in tandem. I enjoy all of them in their collectiveness. But I am keenly aware that most people my age don't read newspapers or magazines. I think they are missing out, as I try and remind them via my recommendations on The High Low!
How would you describe the evolution of your career – how you began and where you are now?
With my career, I wouldn't call myself strategic, necessarily – as I actually really don't like taking risks – but I'm always preparing for the next thing. For instance, I had a blog from day dot, because I wanted to always have something 'extra' to give me the discipline of writing every day, when I didn't get to do that, as an intern, and also in the hope it would get me a better job. It did – it got me the gig as Fashion Features Editor and columnist at The Sunday Times Style, at the relatively young age of 27. I then started a podcast, with Dolly Alderton, while at The Sunday Times, because I was feeling frustrated at existing predominantly in a fashion space. That was the beta version of what is now The High Low, a culture podcast which has helped position me as a journalist who covers fashion, rather than a fashion journalist, and has opened doors for me like, being a speaker (I chair or speak on a panel probably every week, at the moment) or a commentator on radio. My next project will hopefully further cement me as the kind of writer and thinker that I would like to be.
Publishing is in a state of transformation which affects everyone from journalists to photographers – what are your thoughts on the current state of media and where do you think it will be in 10 years?
I think there will be fewer magazines and the ones that exist will be more like coffee table books. We see that happening already: there are more arty bi-annuals than ever before and yet consumer titles are folding almost monthly. I don't think newspapers will ever be defunct, although I do think that we will see some conflation: for EG I think The Times and Sunday Times will become one, at some point, and The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, and so on and so forth. They're very much run as church and state now and I don't think that will last forever. I think digital will have much better journalism, too. In the UK, digital is very much still second fiddle to its print arm. But I think we will see less clickbait going up on websites, and more longform journalism – on the decent websites, at least. Oh and everything will be behind paywalls. Except I think podcasts will stay free…..
So much emphasis is placed on the number of followers a person has on social media, but it’s always the following list that provides a lot of intrigue for us. Can you tell us who and what some of your favourite accounts to follow on Instagram are and why?
I love @houseandgarden for its inspiring interiors, @tanksgoodnews for the feel-goods, @parisreview for great pieces of writing, @animalsdoingthings because it's animals doing things and what could be better than that!?
What would you say to your younger self?
Things take the time they take.
The inspiration behind Tegan Murdock's brand Love Yourself Sister goes way back to her childhood. She's a proud Aboriginal woman from the Barkindji nation in far west NSW. She was born in Albury, and moved between here and Dareton throughout her childhood, and now considers both her home.
You are from the Barkindji nation in far west NSW - can you tell me about your childhood, where you grew up and what some of your most vivid memories of your childhood are?<p>I was never bored because there were always fun things to explore. Sitting around the fire while Mum and Nan cooked yummy food was always nice, I was always surrounded by family – Mum, Dad, Nan and Pop would ration what we had so that they made sure that no one missed out on food.<br></p><p>The red dirt and bush is a part of me and will always be who I am. Lake Mungo, Lake Victoria and the Perry sandhills were my playgrounds growing up. Mum and Dad ran youth groups where they would take kids out on country to sit, listen and learn about culture. My fondest memories were out Lake Mungo where I first learnt about the Emu in the milky way from my late uncle Roddy, he was known as the 'king of the bush' he held knowledge passed down for generations and generations. I cherish moments like these where you sit and listen to elders telling stories.</p>
What did your parents teach you about racism growing up?<p>We never really spoke about it, we would just see the impact and that's how I came to know about it.<br></p><p>I would face it when I would go into town from the mission. We wouldn't be served at shops and you learnt to wait a long time for your turn. Living on the mission, Mum told me that almost every weekend they would be living in fear from the KKK coming into their homes and running riot amongst everyone. I remember when I was around 6 or 7, we had to all gather at a family member's house because the KKK were running through our homes burning, smashing everything and hurting family. They would hide in the surrounding bushes and just put fear into us all. I would have nightmares, and I would always struggle to leave my family because that fear was built in that I could be hurt.</p><p>We would always fear white people, and we would never feel comfortable due to the trauma that was caused.</p><p>I would see racism all around me, comments like Abo, coon, boong and gin were always thrown around. As I got older Mum and Dad would tell us to ignore the comments and be the bigger person but sometimes it would get too much and you would just break. </p><p>I was a very good netball and basketball player, and this is where the opponent would make racist comments to try and put me off my game. Most of the time I would dread going to play another game but the love of it was too strong, so I kept persisting. Eventually they just saw us as normal people and the comments stopped. My brothers, however, would face it more than what I had.</p>
Tell me about the move to Sydney... was it an adjustment and what challenges did you face and how did you overcome any challenges?<p>Moving to Sydney was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, even at the age of 22.<br></p><p>I would never go on school camps, let alone move away from my family. I had separation anxiety so being away from family was hard. I'm pretty sure I cried every day for the first six months. I'm not sure how my husband put up with me. </p><p>I adjusted by making sure I had regular visits back home and made sure Mum and Dad would visit me. Starting work in Sydney was huge and a hard adjustment. My husband had to drive me to work as I worked in Chatswood close to his work. I was too scared to drive myself, coming from a small town with little traffic to the city life was very daunting. </p><p>I had numerous jobs when I first moved, but would only ever last in the job for a few months or so, being black and going into an all-white workplace was so hard. I had racism at an engineering company where I worked, I had a degrading feeling from a workplace where I worked in Mosman and faced racism in a workplace in Frenchs Forest. You would get uneducated people telling jokes and talking down to Aboriginal people, while I was sitting at my desk working. It was hurtful and would make you feel like you amounted to nothing.</p>
Your brand is about empowering women to embrace their own unique beauty, to help them understand that they are here for a reason, they are to live life to the fullest and not be caged in. Where did this inspiration come from? And can you share your experience with depression and anxiety?<p>This is where my brand 'Love Yourself sister' came from. Growing up I faced too many cruel situations and saw my family go through too much hurt. I wanted to create a movement where I could empower my people to really love and embrace who we are. We are not defined by other people's opinions, we are not defined by our past, we are all uniquely beautiful, brave and strong enough to stand tall and honour our paths, we don't need to have validation from anyone else. </p><p>I came up with the name while sitting in a personal development course – I had just uncovered a whole heap of things for myself and I just remember sitting there telling myself that I need to spread this message of self love. I wanted to spread that self love is how we can save ourselves – no one else can come to save us until we can recognise it in ourselves. After the course had ended, I created my Instagram page originally just as a reminder for myself. When I opened it up to the public, I started getting messages saying thank you for what you're doing, you're helping me on my journey to healing.</p>
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions around depression and anxiety?<p>I think the biggest misconceptions are that medication will cure you, keep busy and it'll pass.<span></span><br></p>
How old were you when you had children, and looking back, is there anything you wish you did differently?<p>I had Mia my first daughter when I was 24 and then my second 18 months after. Living away from my family as a firsttime mum was so hard, but I struggled through and from that had postnatal depression. I was alone and had no real support. If there's anything I could have done differently, it's chosen to move back with my mum! <br></p>
What have you learnt about happiness? What is happiness?<p>I've learnt that happiness doesn't come from anyone else, it's all within. Once you realise that you are worthy and enough within, then that's when your happiness will shine through. You won't need to seek it from anyone else because you are happiness.<span></span><br></p>
Can you take us through your career path, your days modelling, and how you came to found your own brand Love Yourself Sister?<p>Growing up I just wanted to work and start a family. I didn't have a career in mind, I wasn't interested in university or even owning a business. My first job was picking grapes with my Dad, Pop and brothers on a grape block in Coomealla. Then once I started year 7, I worked at the local IGA supermarket stocking the shelves. Once I had finished year 11, I started working at a bakery in Albury and then from there I got into office administration. I loved working with computers so really enjoyed this job. I've worked in administration for as long as I can remember until I had my kids and then I stopped working for six years while being a stay at home mum. My husband worked hard for us so that I could stay home and be here for our girls. But then, a few years ago my mum taught me how to weave baskets, and this is what I do to this day. I run weaving workshops, do weaving in schools and businesses. I love the idea of bringing this healing element to communities and also to sharing culture.<br></p><p>I've done a few small photoshoots for my modelling and one fun runway last year. It's not something that has been a big part of me but I have wanted to do it since I was little and I thought it would be a nice way to be a role model for my people. I realise now that I am a role model without being a model. </p>
Your mother taught you how to weave - can you share how it helped you to heal? And how did you come up with the name Ngumpie Weaving?<p>My beautiful mum taught me how to weave a few years ago. She had tried prior to this, but it just wasn't my time to learn. I learnt after getting off a family cruise and from that day I haven't stopped. It has allowed me to feel connected to culture whilst living away from home and it has allowed me to slow down and be grounded amongst the craziness of the world. Weaving to me is medicine. You zone out while creating and forgetting all the troubles of the day. I guess this is something my ancestors used for healing and connection to country.<br></p><p>The name Ngumpie Weaving came from my Nanna Shirl, she used to call me Ngumpie when I was growing up, and Ngumpie in our Language means "beautiful", so when I decided to create a weaving business, this was the only name that stuck out for me. My Nan is no longer with us, but I feel her presence with me all the time.</p>
How has your life changed since becoming a mother? What has been the greatest challenge, and the greatest joy?<p>Life has changed so much. The strength and courage I have found since becoming a Mum is next level amazing. I love being a mum and I love learning from them. The greatest joy of motherhood is having two little best friends. I love the fact that I get to watch them grow into beautiful, caring, strong little girls. They teach me how to be a better person every day. <br></p>
How can we talk to our children about what being anti-racist means?<p>I would say just simply teaching them to love and respect all human beings and that because someone looks different to us, they still breathe the same air and share this land. Love wins every time. We need to encourage our children to learn about all cultures and people.</p>
A year from now, what changes do you want to see in the world around anti-racism?<p><strong> </strong>I'd like to see more love, understanding and kindness being spread. I'd love to see more Aboriginal culture being highlighted and showcased in businesses. I'd love to see more Aboriginal representation in the media. I would love to see the Aboriginal flag on top of the Harbour Bridge.<span></span></p>
"I ended up tandem feeding my two children until my daughter turned 4.5 years old," says British mother of two and model Jess Bowen.
As it happened, tandem feeding was never part of the plan and it was only after reading about it online that she knew it was possible. Jess now shares her story online too, through her blog and Instagram account @modelmother, in the hope that it'll inspire others, just as she was once inspired. "I'm still breastfeeding my son who has recently turned two and we are both happy with how it's going although the plan is to night wean him as soon as his final tooth is through because mama needs some rest!"
Tell me about your breastfeeding journey and where you are up to now...<p>I started breastfeeding in February 2015 and haven't stopped since! My labour with my first child, Eliana was a long one, lasting a few days and although it was a very positive, natural and well supported experience, by the time she arrived we were both so exhausted that it took us a while to get to that first feed. The midwives let us sleep for a couple of hours before coming to tell me that it's important she had her first feed. It wasn't until much later that day that Eliana latched when my mum came to visit and confidently showed me what to do. There was no going back from there. Bar the initial cracked nipples and blocked ducts I was very lucky that it was plain sailing. I fell pregnant with my son 2.5 years later when my daughter was still a feeding machine and so I just carried on. I remembered reading one small caption about tandem feeding online and it opened up a whole new thing that I didn't even know was a possibility. I find it amazing that one small drop of experience shared by a stranger had such a huge impact on me so that's why I share my story online too. I ended up tandem feeding my two children until my daughter turned 4.5 years old at which point, I gently weaned her because I had nursing aversion that repelled me every time I fed her, even when it was only her latched. I can only assume that was my body sending me the signal to say time's up. I'm still breastfeeding my son who has recently turned 2 and we are both happy with how it's going although the plan is to night wean him as soon as his final tooth is through because mama needs some rest!<br></p>
How has breastfeeding enriched your life? And also your children's lives?<p>I find it almost impossible to capture the sense of enrichment in words. It just makes me feel in tune, with the kids and with myself. It's been such a visceral and instinctive experience and somehow that's enough to deflect all the knocks that come with continuing to breastfeed beyond the 'normal' age. It puts a fire in my belly and it brings out the lioness in me when anyone contests the way I feed my children because it is so evident to me how much goodness it has brought to our family life. It soothes wounds, reduces teething pain, gets them through illnesses, helps with transitions, gives me some quiet time, releases the pressure valve of life for us all and brings a closeness that has continued beyond breastfeeding with my eldest. <br></p>
What are your thoughts on the attitude towards mums breast-feeding in public and the reservations some mums have about feeding in public?<p>I believe mums should be allowed to feed their children wherever and whenever they want and need, without feeling they have to be discreet or cover up if they don't want to and without fear of judgement. I know reservations come in all shapes and forms and from a deep-rooted place that is hard to override but in my experience, the fear is worse than the fact. Most people won't even notice what's happening if you breastfeed your baby in public. What they will notice is a screaming, hungry baby (especially those newborn cries that pierce the heart!) so feeding them is by far the less offensive action. Also, if you just do it like it's the most normal thing in the world then people will trust your confidence and be more likely to accept it. They're often more afraid of you making them feel uncomfortable than the other way around. The more you do it, the more normal it will feel and the more confidence you will gain.<br></p>
You were a pregnant, breastfeeding mum of a three-year-old and have said you were "well outside of most people's version of 'normal' when they think of a breastfeeding mum". How did that make you feel? How do we shift our mindset on what normal is/looks like?<p>As a person who has always been quite prone to people pleasing, not rocking the boat and fitting the mould, especially within my working life, I've often wondered where my resilience, courage and confidence stems from when it comes to challenging the norms of breastfeeding. I can only assume it's me reverting to my default setting; my natural instinct to do what's right by my kids overrides whatever anyone else thinks on this matter. I just have this really strong sense of knowing it's the right thing for me and I've been so lucky to have the support needed to see it through. I wish this confidence extended to all aspects of parenting for me but unfortunately, I'm as guilty of second guessing myself as the next mother.<br></p>
You've said that breastfeeding a baby in public was never something that bothered you - why was this?<p>I think it was the influence of my mum. I come from a line of breastfeeding (and breadwinning) women who have fed beyond one year, some for several years. I saw my mum breastfeed my sister, who was 12 years younger, in public and she now recounts the criticism she used to receive but I didn't see that at the time. I just saw my mum doing her thing. When it came to breastfeeding outside of home for me, I remember her being almost forceful in her encouragement and absolutely adamant that it was no-one else's business. I think that I was so used to being undressed in front of strangers with my modelling work that I had no fear of exposing a very small amount of flesh, even in the early days when my daughter would only feed if I was reclined back and she could lie down the length of my tummy. She was also quite noisy about it which wasn't ideal but it was what it was and she needed her milk! Thankfully I was also fortunate in having an antenatal group that included women who also breastfed beyond two years who made it a very enjoyable experience in the early days. We spent hours in coffee shops laughing and feeding and making sense of it all.<br></p>
What are a few tips for anyone struggling with the idea of feeding in public?<p>* Start small - go somewhere familiar, friendly, somewhere where nursing is actively encouraged or if it's nice weather, in an open space outside.</p><p>* Look into your baby's eyes - it's a great way to tune out the outside world and avoid observing any unwanted attention and it gets the oxytocin flowing when under pressure. Maybe even quietly hum a tune to yourself to block out any noise.</p><p>* Know that a lot of the looks come from genuine human curiosity or an appreciation for the act of breastfeeding and not from criticism or disgust. I find if you smile at someone who looks at you while breastfeeding then they often smile back or at worst, look a little embarrassed that you caught them at it!</p><p>* Make sure you're in good, supportive company the first few times</p><p>* Wear something that is easy to breastfeed in and take any equipment that you might need like a feeding cushion. </p><p>* Arm yourself a one line retort for anyone who actively criticises. I've yet to master this but I'd love to deliver a perfectly timed shot to give the recipient something to think about!</p>
You work in a very image-based industry. How did your respect for your body change after you had children? Did you feel more or less self-love?<p>I have spent my whole working life, from 17-years-old onwards, making sure my body is looking as it 'should' be, making it look polished and presentable and always shoot-ready. I hadn't realised how exhausting and time-consuming that constant upkeep was until I had a baby and all of that slipped far, far down the priority list. While I've always had a good relationship with my body I realised after having a baby that I had always been assessing whether it would meet outside approval because that's par for the course in the modelling industry. I usually thought that it would and so I was confident in it but now I realise that was still an unhealthy way of seeing myself. Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding have been such positive experiences for me because I went in believing my body was capable and that they were all natural processes that didn't need any undue intervention. But I hadn't anticipated how those things would also make me feel so much more rooted and empowered, physically and mentally and I'm still genuinely in awe of what my body has been capable of. I really have absolutely no interest in what other people think of my body now because I love it more than I ever have, despite it looking different to before, and in fact, if anything it improved the scope of my modelling work as suddenly my body and face looked more lived in, opening up opportunities to work with a more diverse range of brands. </p>
What would you say to women about body love after babies?<p>It's so hard to comment here because so many women come to parenthood with body issues that have been a constant presence throughout their life. Pregnancy, birth and motherhood only exacerbate those anxieties which is understandable when you've spent your lifetime seeing celebs' postpartum bodies pulled apart by the media. </p><p>I spent my pregnancies fascinated by what my body was doing and read as much as I could to fully understand the process. There is something so wild and raw and feminine about it that I felt like a warrior. Reading books like Ina May Gaskill's Guide to Childbirth connected with that feeling and gave me so much appreciation for my body which definitely carried through to the postnatal period. </p><p>I would also say that your babies think your body is the most wonderful thing - their first home and their safe place - and I only wish that more women were able to see themselves through their child's eyes. </p>
How have comments such as "Oh, you're still breastfeeding" or "When are you planning to stop" made you feel and how do you respond?<p>It has taken me a while but I am now able to understand that these comments come from a place of ignorance and ingrained prejudice that stems from living in a patriarchal society and until confronted with an alternative view people will accept their beliefs as truths. I am also conscious that language can be a fickle thing and that word, 'still', isn't always intended as a criticism. Sometimes it can reveal admiration or curiosity which then allows me to open up the conversation. I have an opportunity to challenge the status quo by showcasing an alternative way of doing things. I don't do it to push breastfeeding down people's throats but simply to show that continuing to breastfeed for as long as you and your child want it is an option. </p>
What have been the ups and downs of motherhood for you?<p>I really had no clue how demanding, all consuming and relentless motherhood would be. The shift in gear came as such a shock and it took me several years to adjust and to feel full acceptance of my new version of normal. I've read a lot on matrescence since having my second baby and particularly love Dr Oscar Serrallach and his work on postnatal depletion because it made me feel seen and heard and I realised everything I felt was perfectly normal and part of the process. I really feel like I'm into my stride with it now though and we've reached a place that my friend describes as 'the promised land' where we feel like a proper unit and the kids will play happily together while I get to enjoy a hot coffee!</p>
What was your experience of lockdown - how did you manage it as a family?<p>In all honesty, I loved lockdown. At the beginning it was a strange thing to acknowledge that life under lockdown was remarkably similar to my normal life in a small, rural village as a mostly stay at home mum but as soon as everyone else in the country (keyworkers excepted) were willingly incarcerated I suddenly felt much more at peace, less like I was missing out or that the world was carrying on at a pace while I was at a standstill. Staying at home with the kids felt proactive and a more valuable contribution to society than it is usually deemed to be and the slowness offered up a wonderful opportunity for reconnection. Having my husband there for every meal which we mostly ate outside and for bath and bedtime removed so much of the daunting loneliness that comes with motherhood. I understand all of this comes from a place of great privilege and good health, but I can honestly say it was one of the happiest periods of parenthood for me. </p>
If you could go back to before you became a mother, what would you tell yourself?<p>If you take the time to tune into yourself, you will find you know how to do this. It will take time to process and learn, but the love and the strength is there for you and it's limitless. I would also say it is really, really hard work, unfathomably so in the early days, but there is a direct correlation between the work you put in and the benefits you reap so hang in there. Work out what self care really looks like for you and don't compromise on it, even if it's as little as brushing your teeth twice a day which can feel like a mini win with a newborn. And one thing that I've learned with my second child is that they will teach themselves. They are hardwired to learn through play so just wait and watch and resist the urge to step in to complete something for them or push them towards the next milestone, because they will get there in their own sweet time. </p>
The story we are told of motherhood is one of lightness that leans into the beautiful, the incredible and the magical. However, for all the lightness there is shade, and in the shadows lies a rollercoaster which pushes you to your limits and at times breaks you. Both sides are important for open, real dialogue around motherhood. As a health professional I entered motherhood confident. I had all the resources at my fingers tips as a women's health physiotherapist. Despite this, my journey was far from smooth. Even though I was well informed, it didn't make me immune to the real emotional and physical challenges of motherhood that are still so rarely discussed.
My Motherhood Journey<p>When I first fell pregnant, I was blissfully happy. I felt I had realistic expectations of what motherhood was going to be like. I was also very aware of the high rates of mental health conditions that come up during the perinatal period and knew what to look out for. I was primed and ready to be the earth mumma I was destined to be.<br></p><p>Then my pregnancy had a slight curve ball, I had placenta previa which meant many unsettling vaginal bleeds, no exercise, and the very real threat of complete bed rest. Thankfully, my placenta lifted around 35 weeks, and I was able to have a vaginal delivery. I was induced, the birth was fast and intense, and I needed a ventouse and an episiotomy. Despite this, I felt very positive about my birth mainly because I was informed, supported and respected through the journey. We had a healthy little girl, and I was in absolute awe. Pure. Magic.</p><p>And then the post-natal period began. I had feeding issues, my baby wasn't gaining weight, she had blood in her stool, and chronic vomiting. Paediatricians prescribed various medications and prescription formula, but the constant crying from my bub and the sleep deprivation for all of us continued. For many years. </p><p>Bit by bit my confidence began to crumble. I was anxious that she wasn't getting enough nourishment, I felt guilt that this was all my fault and I started to doubt myself and believe I was a bad mother. This was not the motherhood I had pictured. But as all 'good' mothers do, I put on a brave face and pushed on. I continued to run my business, treated patients, and carried on with life. Under the surface, I was utterly depleted and hanging on by a thread. </p><p>And then we fell pregnant with our second baby. During this pregnancy my level of exhaustion hit a new low. I was still getting up through the night, working and studying, and I became highly anxious about how I was going to care for another baby.</p>
From rubber rings to earth-shattering epiphanies
Ever since my son was five weeks old, when I felt like I had just woken up from a very long and very intense dream involving repeatedly putting cold cabbage leaves on my nipples (nature's balm for that brutal early breastfeeding soreness), I have been mentally amassing a list of all the things that really, really made a difference. The moments that, whether psychologically or physically, gave me the fresh legs I needed to keep on going on my own new-baby marathon. Or the things I didn't do, that I would have done, had I known about them ahead of time.
1) It's impossible to ever be truly prepped for the arrival of a fresh, entirely unpredictable baby human<p>And so, finally, I've begun to write them down. Next up…</p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
2. Before you have the baby, laser all the hair off your body<p>Okay, so this is extreme, and just the ideal – and needs to be done before you get pregnant. And, I hasten to add, that doesn't include the hair on your head, unless you want to be really efficient with your shower time. But shaving my legs was the one bit of self-care I didn't have time for until around the nine-week mark, which wasn't ideal for my general feeling of self-worth. Alternatively, you could decide not to care ahead of time and make peace with your temporarily 'different' pins – the less painful solution. Then celebrate when you find you do have a window to deal with them, and see that as a success milestone (which I did. And which I wish I'd shared with my new new-mum mates, instead of thinking twice and feeling too embarrassed to). </p>
3. Laser your eyes<p>If you can't afford or aren't feeling brave enough to get your vision fixed, just make sure you have a pair of glasses that actually fit your face and aren't at risk of falling straight into a dirty nappy in the middle of the night (his father's top tip). </p>
4. Get long-term with your beauty treatments<p>If you highlight or dye your hair, switch to a look that doesn't require an expensive and lengthy stylist appointment every three months. For me, balayage chose me during lockdown. Similarly, get a shellac pedicure in a colour that won't look terrible when it chips, and invest in some sort of teeth-whitening, whether it be strips, those magical gum shields or via treatment at the dentist – because you are likely to be drinking a gallon of coffee each day, once your real taste for it returns. </p>
Before you go into the hospital:
5. As mentioned, get your baby's clothes into age, or even better, size order<p>This is partly because all baby brands are in a conspiracy to keep their sizing completely inconsistent, and partly to avoid finding yourself weeping while holding tiny socks in a few weeks' time. <strong></strong></p>
6. Buy a rubber ring<p>Need I say more? You don't need to have it blown up and squeezed into your weekend bag, it's just good to know you have one if you need it. Hospitals seem to have forgotten that rubber rings are good for a certain something that happens whenever you put the most pressure physically possible on your back passage (i.e., to every woman who has a vaginal birth, surely?). </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
7. Take earplugs, an eye mask and a neck pillow...<p>Because you might find yourself in induced-labour-limbo-land for several days, with your partner creased up like a pug's face beside you in a plastic chair and a snorer sleep-roaring somewhere close to the other side of your curtain. </p>
After you've had the baby:
8. ... then have plastic gloves to hand when you get home<p>(If there are any left in the world by that point) so you can fill them with ice and hold them wherever you need them during those initial 'sensitive' few weeks. <br></p>
9. This has probably become clear from the points preceding this one, but remember that there weeks after the birth might be tougher than the birth itself<p>Because – if you gave birth in a hospital – you're no longer in a building filled with hundreds of people who just want to help you and your family. Now it's just you, your partner, your new baby and a whole lot of nipple cream. So pace yourself as much as you can, and keep popping those painkillers. </p>
10, If you can, arrange for someone to assist with the home-work<p>Having some help with the maintenance of your living space, even if only every other week for those early few months, is such a morale-booster. Mentally, seeing your home back in order occasionally helps to relieve the sense that you've totally lost control of your life. Then decide not to worry about the mess you simply can't clear up. Alternatively, venture out so you can't physically see it until you stop feeling the urge to throw dirty crockery plates against the wall. </p>
11. Some of the best, and truest, things people have said to me are...<p>'Your nipples "adapt", so that breastfeeding really does stop hurting.' (It did.) </p><p>'Four weeks will feel like a milestone, then three months, then you're off on and running.' (We were.) </p><p>'See breastfeeding as your me-time – to watch TV, have a snack, sit back…' (Now I don't really want to stop breastfeeding.)</p><p>'Keep your phone, various remotes and whatever you want to eat near your breastfeeding "station" so you don't need to struggle to reach them with a hangry human being clamped to your nipple, or to have to ask someone – who's fast running out of patience – to hand them to you.' (Funnily enough, it was my husband's idea to get a little trolley for this very purpose.)</p><p>'Lean on visitors as much as you can. Get them to do the washing up as a trade off for seeing your baby.' (We probably should have done more of that.) </p>
12. Remember that cabbage leaves may ease the nipple pain?<p>… but they reduce milk production too (your boobs will stop hurting in a few weeks, I promise). And shields aren't the end of the world during a nipple crisis. </p>
13. As soon as you can bear it, put him or her down when they're still a tiny bit awake<p>This is so that they are aware they are sleeping in their Moses basket or sleep pod rather than in your arms, and therefore may not freak out quite as much when they wake up. Or at least, be brave and try it a few times before you totally give up on this extremely un-intuitive strategy. </p>
14. Have your Sleepyhead to hand from the outset<p>For the ultimate arms-free 'hug in a pillow', that will probably help him or her sleep more contentedly for longer. </p>
15. Phone anyone who has ever suggested that you shouldn't use a dummy while your baby screams and make them listen<p>And just remember that the dummy fairy will have no problem ejecting all the pseudo-nipples from your child's life when the time is right. </p>
16. Once they reach six months and are okay to sleep in a seperate room, make sure it's dark<p>Because sleeping with a bedside light on is annoying for them too. </p>
17. Nap when they nap, but only if you want to<p>Alternatively, enjoy the buzz and stay awake if you like. It was a shock to realise what a huge social occasion having a newborn is. If you don't want to miss a moment of loved ones cooing at your baby for the first time, that's okay too. Some new parents need less sleep than others, and some new babies need more than others too, if you're lucky. When he or she gets to around nine months and, hopefully, starts combining all their naps into one three-hour stretch, plan what you want to do with that part of your day in advance. Don't waste time faffing – just do, do, do and you'll feel a little bump of satisfaction before they wake up each time. </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
18. Plan ahead and a shower can always be possible<p>Ideally, have your partner do the morning nappy change – especially if you're doing all the night feeds – and you can get washed and dressed then. Alternatively, if your baby isn't rolling yet, plonk them down in the bathroom naked and label it their daily dose of nappy-free time. They love it. Or, dash off to get ready whenever they eventually go down for their first nap. If you're anything like me, you'll feel at least 50 per cent stronger post-shower. </p>
19. Use a baby carrier around the house<p>Babies generally love watching your hands do whatever you're doing with them around the house, or will pass out if they're at all sleepy if you wear them facing forwards (advised for babies under five months). It's an excellent work out for you too, so there's no need to force yourself to do much other exercise during that first year. If you have a Bjorn, you may well need a thinner one for summer days. My baby was born during the hottest UK heatwave since recordings began and I did not quite have the brain-width to both order a cooler wrap-style carrier and learn how to tie it. </p>
Rebecca Ritman with her son Sonny
20. Save answering Whatsapps for the endless breastfeeding sessions<p>Don't respond to the many messages you'll likely receive as a new parent if you've just yourself you're going to try and have a nap. Have a blanket 'Love your message – I'll respond properly when I can' kind of 'Whatsapp Out of Office', ready to cut and paste so you never need feel any nagging guilt about ignoring anyone. </p>
21. Don't be afraid of your baby<p>I realised I was a little bit scared of my son about six weeks in. But then I realised: he's a baby. I'm a grown-up. (Exactly what I tell myself when I see a big spider, and they're far less cute – in my eyes, anyway). He's more scared to be alive than I am about keeping him that way. And then all the rest felt infinitely easier. </p>
The Grace Tales is a global lifestyle platform for mothers searching for style, substance, and solidarity. Driven by creating content, community and connection, we celebrate the paradox of modern motherhood; the struggle and the beauty, the joy and the relentlessness.
Sophie Harris-Taylor captures something we often try so hard to hide: our vulnerability. As mothers, we're supposed to be strong and powerful, yet what is often overlooked is that our transition into becoming a mother is the most vulnerable period of our lives...
"I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities," agrees London-based Harris-Taylor. "Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation."
You’ve said: “I think most importantly that looks don’t define who you are, and in the end don’t really matter.” Why do some of us take so long to come to this realisation? And tell me your thoughts on beauty and how it led you to create Epidermis?<p>I think when we're younger we get so caught up on our looks, perhaps before we know where we're headed in life, it can seem like the be-all and end-all. And sometimes it comes from a place where you just want to fit in. And perhaps it just comes from life experience that you start to realise other things matter more.<br> <br>It sounds cliché but beauty is of course so subjective yet in the mainstream media we are often not exposed to this kind of diversity. Epidermis for me was a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen. Most of my personal projects seem to come from my own life experiences and throughout there is always some element of my own vulnerability – I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin, I'd suffered from severe acne. Back then, there were no idols, role models and people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin. Which obviously meant I struggled with my own self-image. We've come a long way since then, what with body positivity and generally people speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity. However, I still felt that there was a lack in representing skin in an honest and open way. </p>
Your work captures a character’s vulnerabilities – why do you think we sometimes hide our vulnerabilities and what have you learnt about being vulnerable through your work?<p>I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities. Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation.</p>
For your series Sisters, you photographed and interviewed over 70 sets of sisters, of all ages and backgrounds – and have said that it was a way of reflecting on the difficulties of her own relationship with her sister. Can you describe this relationship?<p>At the time I created the work, there wasn't much of a relationship there if I'm honest, we'd not really been able to see past our teenage years and sisterly disputes. Since then we've started to rebuild our relationship as adults. I think I tried to understand a bit more about the complexities of sisterhood and the journeys of this kind of lifelong relationship.</p>
You’ve described mastitis as more painful than childbirth – tell us about your experience with breastfeeding?<p>Yes looking back I really did! It was very much a love/hate relationship. In some ways I was lucky, my son latched on quickly in the hospital and fed well. But getting mastitis early on meant it became very difficult and painful to feed him at times. I seemed to always be overproducing which led to the ducts becoming completely blocked and then getting infected. The pain combined with sleep deprivation was pretty exhausting. My son used the breast as a comfort a lot so for months I felt like he was completely attached to me, but never that full. I started mixed feeding after about 4 or 5 months.. this helped him sleep through the night. Once he started weening there wasn't much milk left and in one breast my supply had pretty much dried up all together. As soon as I stopped, I missed it.</p>
How would you describe the intimacy or closeness of breastfeeding and how did it make you feel?<p>It's pretty magical. I loved the intimacy, the comfort it gave him which in turn it gave me.</p>
There’s sometimes a longing for personal space, as mothers feel they have a baby constantly attached to them. Did you ever feel this?<p>Absolutely I felt constantly clinged too. Being pulled and tugged whilst covered in milk really did make me long for personal space. Then again, I felt this huge guilt, because I'd met so many mums that couldn't for various reasons breastfeed and there I was complaining about it.</p>
You’ve always had a complicated relationship with your body. Can you tell me about this relationship – and how did breastfeeding change the way you felt about your body?<p>Having had an eating disorder since my early teens, it's been an ongoing battle really. I don't know if breastfeeding really changed the way I felt towards by body but certainly postpartum I was desperate to get back to my old body. And having never had large breasts before, this made me feel pretty uncomfortable, physically and mentally, and it was weirdly unfamiliar.</p>
You felt lost after you gave birth – can you take us back to this period of your life and how you felt?<p>I did, I think because you've got this new identity suddenly as a 'new mum' and your life as what you knew it has completely changed overnight. But you know deep down, you're still you and your identity hasn't really changed at all. Don't get me wrong, I actually loved becoming a mum, but I found the day to day, the monotony of it all at the very beginning pretty boring. My friends were working, and I felt in some ways a bit bored and not that stimulated. When I started to make work again felt like I got a bit more of myself back.</p>
What were some of the most vivid memories you have of shooting MILK?<p>Zenon my son, was there for most of my shoots. This was in some ways really fun and a real bonding experiences between me and the Mum. But looking back a complete nightmare. Logistically. At the beginning when I started shooting, he couldn't even sit up by himself so he'd often be just out of shot, lying on the bed next to the other Mum feeding. Then towards the end, he was running all over the place, pretty much destroying the house..</p>
What messages do you hope women will take away from MILK?<p>It'd be nice for other women, to feel they can relate to the images and experiences of the other mums a bit more, than the typical nursing Madonna-like images we are used to seeing. For a lot of people and not just men, they find it kind of gross. Even though we've all seen a cow being milked, I guess women's breasts have become so sexualised, that actually what they are originally for has almost been forgotten. I think the more we talk about these things and make them more publicly seen, the less taboo they become. At least, that's the hope.</p>
"I know that abandoned is a word that has been used in telling that story, but I actually don't want to use that word anymore," Zoe Hendrix tells me, when we go back to the beginning of her life, when she was born amidst the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war...
When she was five years old, she went to live at an Ethiopian orphanage with her twin brother. In her own words, "It sounds like you abandon an old tire on the road or something, and to me, it's more that she surrendered us because she was very unwell. I only learned this recently as well, so that's why I want to correct the wording I have used previously." Hendrix and her brother were later adopted by a Tasmanian couple and moved to Australia. Fast forward to 2015, and the country watched Zoe marry Alex Garner on the very first season of Married at First Sight. The couple went onto have a beautiful daughter Harper-Rose, but have since separated.