Trying to Conceive? Naturopath & Author Belinda Kirkpatrick Shares Her Top Fertility-Friendly Foods and Talks Us Through How Lifestyle Impacts Fertility
Should I stop drinking coffee? How do I balance my hormones? What should my partner be eating? What should he be drinking? How do you get healthy sperm? Help!
When you're trying to conceive, it can often feel like you're back on Google every few minutes with a new question. So, we thought we'd speak to leading naturopath and author of Healthy Hormones Belinda Kirkpatrick and ask them for you. From fertility-boosting foods to the role of lifestyle in fertility, you won't want to miss a word of this interview.
There’s a discussion in the culture about how people wear “busyness,” like a badge of honour — but there’s a certain amount of shame associated with admitting that you’re stressed out and overwhelmed. Why is that?
I find this really disappointing because achievement and being busy are often seen as positive attributes but many people still associate being stressed out or overwhelmed with being 'weak' or not being able to cope. What many people might not realise is that the impact of being constantly busy or overachieving and feeling stressed out or overwhelmed result in the same chemical stress response from the body so we really all need to be slowing down and looking after ourselves and each other.
Talk us through the role cortisol and adrenaline play in our lives and how they impact our health and wellbeing? When did stress become such a big part of being human – where have we gone wrong?
Our adrenal glands secrete cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones when we are exposed to stress. This release of stress hormones is designed to help us to get out of a dangerous situation, like running away from a lion. After the danger has passed, our bodies stop releasing these stress hormones and is able to get out of the 'fight-or-flight' system and move into 'rest-and-digest', also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. It is in this system that our bodies focus on increasing immunity, digestion, absorbing nutrients, self-repair, procreation and keeping a healthy hormone balance. Sadly, in our modern world, we are often stressed, busy and rushing. Our bodies don't know the difference between this type of stress and running away from the lion so our adrenal glands continue to secrete adrenaline and cortisol and our bodies become stuck in fight-or-flight. This can make many of us feel 'tired but wired' or anxious or unable to sleep which just further triggers our stress response. In some cases, our bodies can become very adrenally depleted and we can crash or experience burn-out.
How, in your opinion, does stress impact fertility?
Stress can impact fertility in many ways and research shows that stress is associated with longer time to conception (1). If our body senses we are in danger (when our fight-or-flight response is activated), reproduction is not high on the body's list of priorities and our fertility can be affected. Healthy progesterone production is required for conception and pregnancy maintenance however, cortisol and progesterone are made in the body with many of the same ingredients, but the body will make preferentially produce cortisol to keep us safe (rather than progesterone which keeps us fertile). Stress can also impact fertility by reducing our libido and making us less likely to want to attempt conception.
Stress before conception can also impact the health of the potential baby. A 2017 study found that perceived maternal preconception stress was associated with an increased risk of offspring atopic eczema at age 12 months (2). In saying this, it is important to not be stressed about being stressed! Just acknowledge it and try to implement some stress management techniques. Remember that babies are conceived and born in all sorts of stressful situations around the world and while that might not be ideal, it is important to remember.
When a woman is about to undergo IVF, can you share some of the things you will advise her to do?
1. Avoid all alcohol, coffee and drugs for ideally three months before starting IVF.
2. Avoid sugar.
3. Increase veggies and protein with each meal. Aim for 4-5 cups of veggies/salad daily. Following a Mediterranean-style diet has the best outcomes for IVF and fertility.
4. Keep your grains/starchy carbs at less than 25% of each meal.
5. Avoid intensive exercise like HIIT and running and opt for daily walks on cycle.
6. Drink 2-3L of water daily.
7. Aim to do a daily mindfulness App before bed every night to help manage stress.
8. Take it easy on the weekends and learn to say no – now is not the time to be rushing around.
9. Take a good quality folate in addition to a multivitamin, CoQ10 and a probiotic.
10. Consult a fertility naturopath for individual diet and supplement advice.
What about men – how should they prepare for IVF?
Men are responsible for 50% of the potential baby so it is important that they are also on board. I would recommend following the same exact guidelines as above (but they can continue their regular exercise program). Don't forget that regular ejaculation helps to create healthy sperm so continue to ejaculate at least 2 x weekly.
We all have stress triggers – how do you coach your clients to deal with these triggers – what are some practical tips?
Trying to conceive can be a time of excitement and anticipation but also a time of huge stress and anxiety for those who have been trying to conceive without success or have suffered pregnancy loss. The impact of this stress can affect relationships, friendships, finances, sleep quality and so much more. I often suggest these stress management techniques and would recommend them to everyone, don't wait until you are super-stressed to try them.
• Aim to do a mindfulness app before bed each night (Smiling Mind, Headspace, Calm)
• Take 10 x slow deep breaths daily
• Ensure enough sleep (7-9 hours is ideal)
• Learn to say 'no'
• Exercise plus daily walking
• Phone/technology free time
• See a psychologist for extra help as required
How does stress impact relationships?
Stress can impact relationships in many ways and can place additional strain on couples who are experiencing fertility problems or undergoing IVF. Stress can affect our mood and the way we behave or interact with our loved ones and research shows that relationships often suffer when people are under stress (3). For those attempting natural conception, sex can begin to feel very clinical and unromantic or men may develop temporary problems with sexual function from the pressure and lack of positive results. In these situations, I usually recommend that couples make an effort to spend some good quality time together and ensure that they are being intimate at times away from the fertile window to help reduce any pressure associated with trying to conceive. When you have been trying for some time, there can be intense emotional stress when it feels like everyone on social media or all your friends are magically falling pregnant 'so easily'. The stress and impact of subfertility is often not spoken about publically and many of your friends or relatives may not even know of your struggles. Even though you are happy for them, it can be really difficult hearing about other people's successes so please know that you are not alone if you are feeling this way. Sometimes life just isn't fair and that injustice can feel overwhelming. People deal with this in different ways so remember to be kind to yourself, reach out to your support networks and consider seeing a counsellor or psychologist if you need some extra help.
You were widowed 15 years ago, leaving you to finish university, raise two small babies, start your business and complete your Masters on your own – how did you cope? How did you put your health first during this time? What did you learn about stress during this time?
I certainly learned a lot about stress that's for sure. After the unexpected death of my fiancé, body was stuck in fight-in-flight for a long time. To be honest, I am not sure how I coped. I was four months pregnant and had an 18-month-old so I just had to take each day at a time because I still needed to look after my daughter and try to nourish my pregnant body at a time when eating was the least of my priorities. I probably didn't really focus on putting my own health first at the time but I was still very committed to creating a healthy and low-tox environment with nourishing wholefoods for my children so the food we ate was always healthy which kept me healthy too. After spending a couple of years on auto-pilot with waves of unrelenting grief, I had a moment where I realized that I had to choose life. I was the only parent that my girls had and I needed to be healthy and there for them and show them how to live life to the fullest which is what their daddy would have wanted me to do. I learnt that tragedy and stress are indiscriminant and a part of everyone's life in some way. Whether it is death, illness, loss, fertility problems, financial problems or mental health issues, stress is sadly unavoidable but it is how we learn and choose to deal with stress that helps us to cope and grow.
We are often told our hormones are out of imbalance – can you talk us through your book Healthy Hormones?
Absolutely! 'Healthy Hormones' is a naturopathic and nutritional wealth of information designed for women from 16-45 years who want to take an active interest in optimizing their hormonal health and understand more about themselves and the way that food and nutrition can improve their hormonal health. 'Healthy Hormones' helps women to improve their hormonal health and symptoms by providing nutritional and dietary advice for common symptoms and conditions. This advice is given in an easy to read, user-friendly format with an emphasis on balance, moderation and having fun! It is all about learning how to take control of your hormones and feel your best and focuses on crowding out the bad stuff by increasing the good stuff. Your body naturally wants to heal and move towards good health so be gentle with yourself and allow flexibility! 'Healthy Hormones' is also designed to help women who are planning conception, currently trying to conceive, undergoing IVF or have experienced miscarriage(s) and want to take an active role in improving their outcomes and increasing their fertility.
If someone experienced a miscarriage, how would you treat them?
Researchers reveal that one in five pregnancies result in miscarriage while in many more cases it goes undetected. These are really sad statistics and everyone would know someone who has been affected by miscarriage. Some causes of miscarriage include:
- Thyroid problems
- Progesterone insufficiency
- Genetic and chromosomal problems
- Auto-immunity and antibody production
I create an individualised preconception health care plans for each client to help reduce the risk of miscarriage. These plans include diet and lifestyle advice in addition to herbal medicines and nutritional supplements as required. In cases where single or multiple losses have been suffered, I use the latest medical testing to investigate the cause of the miscarriage so that it can be treated and the chance of it happening again reduced. These tests may include genetic testing, antibody testing, hormonal analysis and more.
What foods do you encourage your clients to eat if they’re trying to fall pregnant?
I always recommend an unprocessed wholefoods diet and encourage my clients to ensure they have a source of 'protein, good fats and something fresh (ideally veggies)' with each meal and most snacks. What is not part of these essentials are the carbohydrate foods (such as rice, bread, pasta, cereal, crackers). It is not that you can't have these foods but they should be the accompaniment to a meal, not the basis of it. Alcohol and coffee should be avoided and sugar only consumed infrequently as a treat (maybe once a week). Always check the ingredient list of any packaged foods and avoid added sugar.
My top fertility-friendly foods to include:
5. Brazil nuts
6. Chia seeds
10. Leafy greens
Belinda Kirkpatrick is an expert nutritionist and naturopath with over 15 years clinical experience. Besides running a busy clinic, Belinda lectures in nutrition and naturopathy and is a regular television and media presenter on health and dietary topics. Last year, Belinda published her first book Healthy Hormones with Ainsley Johnstone, which features expert naturopathic advice, 50 recipes plus tips on lifestyle and nutrition. Belinda also manages a private Facebook group called 'Healthy Hormones with Belinda Kirkpatrick' which all women are welcome to join. 'Healthy Hormones' is available for purchase at all good bookstores.
1. C.D. Lynch, R. Sundaram, J.M. Maisog, A.M. Sweeney, G.M. Buck Louis; Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study —the LIFE study, Human Reproduction, Volume 29, Issue 5, 1 May 2014, Pages 1067–1075, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deu032
2. Maternal stress and psychological distress preconception: association with offspring atopic eczema at age 12 months – Clin Exp Allergy. 2017 June; 47(6): 760–769. doi:10.1111/cea.12910. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447366/pdf/emss-71653.pdf
3. Falconier, Mariana & Nussbeck, Fridtjof & Bodenmann, Guy & Schneider, Hulka & Bradbury, Thomas. (2014). Stress From Daily Hassles in Couples: Its Effects on Intradyadic Stress, Relationship Satisfaction, and Physical and Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 41. 10.1111/jmft.12073.
It's no secret we adore Ashley Graham, and just when we couldn't love her more, she has posed nude in Elle US's August issue, alongside her son Isaac, 6 months, and husband Justin Ervin, photographed by Ervin himself.
Ashley Graham with her son Isaac
Ashley Graham stars alongside son Isaac, 6 months, and husband Justin Ervin in Elle's August issue, with photos by Ervin
By the time you finish this story on Auguste founder Ebony Eagle, you'll want to move to Byron Bay, own a couple of horses and dress exclusively in Auguste. At least, I did. She's the type of woman who spreads positive energy and this energy trickles down to the clothes she designs. Ebony has created a fashion brand for women and children that's driven by sustainability and giving back.
Take us back to your childhood. What was it like and what are some of your most vivid memories?<p>There are so many magical memories, particularly of summers spent at our beach house in Rosebud, Victoria – days that seemed to go on forever in a world that felt so big spent with my brothers and sisters, aunties, grandparents. Lots of sand, sun and banana paddle pops on the beach. We still own this beach house and boat shed and I now take my children there to do the exact same thing. It's so unbelievably nostalgic for all of us. It's the most at ease any of us ever feel. My childhood also wasn't without adversity, but children are incredibly resilient and you learn to deal with the situation you are in as best you can. These things shape who you are. I'm from a big family of four children and we moved around a fair bit so, affectionately, home was always where the chaos was! </p>
What was your career path like prior to starting Auguste?<p>I've worked since the day I turned 13, starting with an after school job at the fruit shop, into weekend jobs at cafes and then when I finished school at 17 I was a nanny for a travelling family and spent two years hopping all over Europe… This was where the fire in my belly grew for travelling and I believe it's where my perspective on more of an entrepreneurial career took shape. When I landed back in Australia at 19 I waitressed for a few years until I got poached for a styling/production job at a studio in Richmond. This is where I learned all about shoot productions, etc, and it was whilst working here that I decided to take the leap and start my own fashion brand at 22. I managed to secure a small loan to start my business while I was working full-time and then resigned to waitress again by night and work on my label by day. I had that brand 'ebonyeve' for ten years before I started Auguste five years ago.<br></p>
Was it always a dream to have your own label, or did that come about organically?<p>Well, my Grandma taught me to sew when I was eight-years-old and I continued sewing my whole life. I've always been a massive vintage and op shop trawler and I'm creative, so the whole design part came quite naturally. The business part I learned on the job!</p>
Did you have your girls prior to starting Auguste, and if so, what was that transition like?<p>I had Coco when I was 28 and then Frankie when I'd just turned 30 so at that time, I was still running my previous label 'ebonyeve', so yes I had a business. I never stop working and throughout pregnancy and when the girls were young this didn't change… I was living in Bali at the time that the girls were young though so I just worked wearing a few less items of clothing! Work-life balance will be my lesson in this life – it's something I'm still trying to master.</p>
What's been the biggest challenge of motherhood? And the biggest blessing?<p>The thing I find most challenging is the work-life balance juggle and the fact that I have missed out on so many precious moments due to my work commitments. The biggest blessing is all of it! The whole apple, even the seeds. </p>
You've lived in Melbourne, Byron, Bali and Sydney. Do you feel that you're settled now that you've moved back to Byron, or do you crave change? What were some of the challenges and joys of living overseas?<p>Yes, I've moved around a lot in my life. Auguste HQ has always been based in Byron so moving home to here made sense for us and we always wanted to bring our children up here. I'm very settled now. I've travelled enough for ten lives! Honestly, we didn't find living overseas challenging, we adore different cultures and the perspective that they give you. We are so grateful that our girls started their life like that. All four of us loved living abroad right up until the very end but you just know in your core when it's time to come home.</p>
Is there something about Byron that called you back? Has moving to Byron influenced your designs or your process?<p>Auguste HQ has always been based in Byron so coming back here was the natural decision. Growing up here as a teen I was super eager to get out and experience the world but after I had my children, I definitely felt a strong pull to bring them up here, but more so to the hinterland where we now call home. I just love being in nature, surrounded by my children and as many animals as I can fit in! My designs have always naturally thrown together bohemian and vintage inspiration so I suppose, yes, growing up here could have been the beginning of that attraction.</p>
What are your time management tips?<p>Oh god, finish emails in your evening bath? Between the kids, the horses, the business and my embarrassing attempt of a social life, there is very little time to stop and try to time manage anything, so I pretty much fail constantly, no tips here!<br></p>
How would you describe the Auguste aesthetic?<p>Classic, bohemian, feminine, timeless.</p>
Who is your ultimate Auguste muse?<p>That's a tricky one. Stylistically, the ever-influential Jane Birkin has always been a huge creative inspiration and a measuring stick for my designs. Would Jane wear it? Yes? Good, let's do it. Her sense of fashion was just so easy going and feminine, it's everything we make Auguste to be. I've also always felt inspired by Brigitte Bardot and her femininity, she just made it so approachable. My main inspiration though is Jane Gooddall. Her connection to nature, work with animals and bravery in her field, particularly as a young woman, have given me so much courage to create, stay true to myself and use my platform to give back to the planet. </p>
Auguste is such an ethical label, from your fabrics and factories to your ongoing charitable initiatives. Is that something that has always been important to you?<p>Absolutely, I always wanted to get to a point in business where I was able to give back. To have a platform and a voice is a gift and one that I believe should be used wisely and for greater good.</p>
Do you think the fashion industry is becoming more conscious?<p>Absolutely and largely that's being driven by consumer demand, which is just awesome. It won't all happen at once, but the fact that more and more consumers are seeking out eco-friendly fashion alternatives means that more brands will follow suit. They're starting to realise that if you're not thinking about your impact on the planet, you're not being competitive, or responsible really, and that's the only real future for fashion. </p>
You regularly design collections in aid of a charitable cause. Tell us about your latest 'Hero' campaign...<p>As a mum and as a member of the global community, I wanted to unite people in recognising the dangers of bullying and how important it is to use your position to stand up for others. We designed a range of Hero slogan tees as a call to action and donated 100% of the sales to the National Centre Against Bullying and the Cybersmile Foundation to continue their work preventing abuse and giving support to sufferers. I'm incredibly proud that our message of solidarity was shared by thousands around the world and we raised more than $85,000 for our partner charities. </p>
Why is charity work so important to you?<p>It's just part of who I am and what I've always believed in, but when I had children it became a larger priority in my life. If we're not working to leave the planet a better place for our little ones, then what are we doing? How can you see what's happening in the world and not respond? I've worked hard and now I'm fortunate enough to have this platform, so I use it. To me that's just good sense, simple as that! </p>
Little August is your childrenswear line. Tell us about the inspiration behind it?<p>My daughters were my inspiration here. I created little Auguste when my girls were little and loved spinning around in full skirts, it was made for princesses – and even though those two princesses now will only wear ripped denim shorts and Auguste tees I'm so happy that there are so many other little angels out there still spinning in our creations.</p>
What's your parenting philosophy?<p>Shower them with so much love and kindness that they don't realise you often forget to do story time. Also I believe in teaching my girls independence – if they are able to do it themselves then they do. Also have fun with them and keep phones down.</p>
One of your most popular charity campaigns was your 'future woman' tee range. What sort of example do you want to set for your daughters?<p>The 'future women' tees were part of our charity campaign raising money for UN Women and promoting female empowerment, and as a mother of two daughters this meant so much to me. A big lesson I hope my daughters learn from me is to not be passive. Make opportunities, don't wait for them. Offer to help, don't wait for someone else to. Use what's at your fingertips, and then reach for more. </p>
How has COVID-19 changed the way you think about your business?<p>Covid brought a lot of perspective for me. It showed us all that everything can literally stop overnight, so for me it was a reminder to make sure that what I was doing was right for me personally and was to the standard that I wanted. We are doing a lot of work on our ethics and sustainability and really our whole brand identity. It's a time to contract and refocus on not necessarily being big but being great… and I am LOVING that.</p>
What changes will you be making?<p>We made the decision around the beginning of Covid to exit from wholesale entirely and focus on our own vertical channels, making Auguste exclusive to our online store <a href="http://augustethelabel.com/" target="_blank">augustethelabel.com</a> and our Brisbane and Byron Bay boutiques. The exit was a huge decision for me, however I know it was the right one. Being a purely vertical business means we can retract and refocus. There were many factors in this decision however the most important was the ability to continue on our journey to being a more ethical and sustainable business, because that is what it is, a journey – it is not about any one decision, it's every decision you make. Being a vertical business means we have the flexibility to make the decisions we feel are right.</p>
The story we are told of motherhood is one of lightness that leans into the beautiful, the incredible and the magical. However, for all the lightness there is shade, and in the shadows lies a rollercoaster which pushes you to your limits and at times breaks you. Both sides are important for open, real dialogue around motherhood. As a health professional I entered motherhood confident. I had all the resources at my fingers tips as a women's health physiotherapist. Despite this, my journey was far from smooth. Even though I was well informed, it didn't make me immune to the real emotional and physical challenges of motherhood that are still so rarely discussed.
My Motherhood Journey<p>When I first fell pregnant, I was blissfully happy. I felt I had realistic expectations of what motherhood was going to be like. I was also very aware of the high rates of mental health conditions that come up during the perinatal period and knew what to look out for. I was primed and ready to be the earth mumma I was destined to be.<br></p><p>Then my pregnancy had a slight curve ball, I had placenta previa which meant many unsettling vaginal bleeds, no exercise, and the very real threat of complete bed rest. Thankfully, my placenta lifted around 35 weeks, and I was able to have a vaginal delivery. I was induced, the birth was fast and intense, and I needed a ventouse and an episiotomy. Despite this, I felt very positive about my birth mainly because I was informed, supported and respected through the journey. We had a healthy little girl, and I was in absolute awe. Pure. Magic.</p><p>And then the post-natal period began. I had feeding issues, my baby wasn't gaining weight, she had blood in her stool, and chronic vomiting. Paediatricians prescribed various medications and prescription formula, but the constant crying from my bub and the sleep deprivation for all of us continued. For many years. </p><p>Bit by bit my confidence began to crumble. I was anxious that she wasn't getting enough nourishment, I felt guilt that this was all my fault and I started to doubt myself and believe I was a bad mother. This was not the motherhood I had pictured. But as all 'good' mothers do, I put on a brave face and pushed on. I continued to run my business, treated patients, and carried on with life. Under the surface, I was utterly depleted and hanging on by a thread. </p><p>And then we fell pregnant with our second baby. During this pregnancy my level of exhaustion hit a new low. I was still getting up through the night, working and studying, and I became highly anxious about how I was going to care for another baby.</p>
Just over a week ago, I stumbled across a piece on childfree women in The Guardian, after a couple of women I follow on Twitter were sharing it, outraged by its contents. The piece, part of a 'Childfree' series, was essentially a conversation between Guardian editors Summer Sewell and Jessica Reed, who, having read Sheila Heti's Motherhood, discussed their own personal reasons for not having children over drinks.
The Grace Tales is a global lifestyle platform for mothers searching for style, substance, and solidarity. Driven by creating content, community and connection, we celebrate the paradox of modern motherhood; the struggle and the beauty, the joy and the relentlessness.
Sophie Harris-Taylor captures something we often try so hard to hide: our vulnerability. As mothers, we're supposed to be strong and powerful, yet what is often overlooked is that our transition into becoming a mother is the most vulnerable period of our lives...
"I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities," agrees London-based Harris-Taylor. "Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation."
You’ve said: “I think most importantly that looks don’t define who you are, and in the end don’t really matter.” Why do some of us take so long to come to this realisation? And tell me your thoughts on beauty and how it led you to create Epidermis?<p>I think when we're younger we get so caught up on our looks, perhaps before we know where we're headed in life, it can seem like the be-all and end-all. And sometimes it comes from a place where you just want to fit in. And perhaps it just comes from life experience that you start to realise other things matter more.<br> <br>It sounds cliché but beauty is of course so subjective yet in the mainstream media we are often not exposed to this kind of diversity. Epidermis for me was a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen. Most of my personal projects seem to come from my own life experiences and throughout there is always some element of my own vulnerability – I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin, I'd suffered from severe acne. Back then, there were no idols, role models and people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin. Which obviously meant I struggled with my own self-image. We've come a long way since then, what with body positivity and generally people speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity. However, I still felt that there was a lack in representing skin in an honest and open way. </p>
Your work captures a character’s vulnerabilities – why do you think we sometimes hide our vulnerabilities and what have you learnt about being vulnerable through your work?<p>I think we're often afraid to show our vulnerabilities. Perhaps we think by showing this side people are going to judge and only see weakness. Where actually I think there's something incredibly powerful and strong about being openly vulnerable. I'm in awe of the people I photograph, its often about striking the balance between confidence and vulnerability. I've found my work to be a very therapeutic experience, it took me a while to open up myself, but by doing this it has allowed my subjects to open up and engage in an honest conversation.</p>
For your series Sisters, you photographed and interviewed over 70 sets of sisters, of all ages and backgrounds – and have said that it was a way of reflecting on the difficulties of her own relationship with her sister. Can you describe this relationship?<p>At the time I created the work, there wasn't much of a relationship there if I'm honest, we'd not really been able to see past our teenage years and sisterly disputes. Since then we've started to rebuild our relationship as adults. I think I tried to understand a bit more about the complexities of sisterhood and the journeys of this kind of lifelong relationship.</p>
You’ve described mastitis as more painful than childbirth – tell us about your experience with breastfeeding?<p>Yes looking back I really did! It was very much a love/hate relationship. In some ways I was lucky, my son latched on quickly in the hospital and fed well. But getting mastitis early on meant it became very difficult and painful to feed him at times. I seemed to always be overproducing which led to the ducts becoming completely blocked and then getting infected. The pain combined with sleep deprivation was pretty exhausting. My son used the breast as a comfort a lot so for months I felt like he was completely attached to me, but never that full. I started mixed feeding after about 4 or 5 months.. this helped him sleep through the night. Once he started weening there wasn't much milk left and in one breast my supply had pretty much dried up all together. As soon as I stopped, I missed it.</p>
How would you describe the intimacy or closeness of breastfeeding and how did it make you feel?<p>It's pretty magical. I loved the intimacy, the comfort it gave him which in turn it gave me.</p>
There’s sometimes a longing for personal space, as mothers feel they have a baby constantly attached to them. Did you ever feel this?<p>Absolutely I felt constantly clinged too. Being pulled and tugged whilst covered in milk really did make me long for personal space. Then again, I felt this huge guilt, because I'd met so many mums that couldn't for various reasons breastfeed and there I was complaining about it.</p>
You’ve always had a complicated relationship with your body. Can you tell me about this relationship – and how did breastfeeding change the way you felt about your body?<p>Having had an eating disorder since my early teens, it's been an ongoing battle really. I don't know if breastfeeding really changed the way I felt towards by body but certainly postpartum I was desperate to get back to my old body. And having never had large breasts before, this made me feel pretty uncomfortable, physically and mentally, and it was weirdly unfamiliar.</p>
You felt lost after you gave birth – can you take us back to this period of your life and how you felt?<p>I did, I think because you've got this new identity suddenly as a 'new mum' and your life as what you knew it has completely changed overnight. But you know deep down, you're still you and your identity hasn't really changed at all. Don't get me wrong, I actually loved becoming a mum, but I found the day to day, the monotony of it all at the very beginning pretty boring. My friends were working, and I felt in some ways a bit bored and not that stimulated. When I started to make work again felt like I got a bit more of myself back.</p>
What were some of the most vivid memories you have of shooting MILK?<p>Zenon my son, was there for most of my shoots. This was in some ways really fun and a real bonding experiences between me and the Mum. But looking back a complete nightmare. Logistically. At the beginning when I started shooting, he couldn't even sit up by himself so he'd often be just out of shot, lying on the bed next to the other Mum feeding. Then towards the end, he was running all over the place, pretty much destroying the house..</p>
What messages do you hope women will take away from MILK?<p>It'd be nice for other women, to feel they can relate to the images and experiences of the other mums a bit more, than the typical nursing Madonna-like images we are used to seeing. For a lot of people and not just men, they find it kind of gross. Even though we've all seen a cow being milked, I guess women's breasts have become so sexualised, that actually what they are originally for has almost been forgotten. I think the more we talk about these things and make them more publicly seen, the less taboo they become. At least, that's the hope.</p>
"I know that abandoned is a word that has been used in telling that story, but I actually don't want to use that word anymore," Zoe Hendrix tells me, when we go back to the beginning of her life, when she was born amidst the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war...
When she was five years old, she went to live at an Ethiopian orphanage with her twin brother. In her own words, "It sounds like you abandon an old tire on the road or something, and to me, it's more that she surrendered us because she was very unwell. I only learned this recently as well, so that's why I want to correct the wording I have used previously." Hendrix and her brother were later adopted by a Tasmanian couple and moved to Australia. Fast forward to 2015, and the country watched Zoe marry Alex Garner on the very first season of Married at First Sight. The couple went onto have a beautiful daughter Harper-Rose, but have since separated.