Jessica Rowe is a mother, a journalist and writer. She lives in Sydney with husband Peter Overton and daughters Allegra (4) and Giselle (2).
Jessica, you’ve just released your second book Love, Wisdom, Motherhood which is centered on conversations with mothers. Can you tell us about it?
My book has been three years in the making- and it sprang from my very first experience with a Mothers Group. In the early days I was really struggling and felt like I was the only one not coping- and this group didn’t help… The conversations centered around, “Isn’t this the happiest time of your life.”.. “Doesn’t it just get better and better…” And for me the answers were “no” but I didn’t have the courage or the confidence to share my worries and fears.
Looking back- I’m sure there would have been other mothers in that room who would have been feeling just like me - adrift, desperate and lonely.
Love.Wisdom.Motherhood. is full of the honest conversations I would have loved to have during those early days, and conversations I still yearn to have now. The list of women is my dream team - women I admire, respect and adore. They have all generously opened their hearts and been very honest about their experiences. I’m a big believer that by sharing stories we connect to one another and can feel less alone in our experiences.
You’ve campaigned for many years about mental health issues, yet describe feeling ashamed when feeling so black after the birth of your children. How hard was it to initially speak to your family about the fact you were struggling?
It surprised me the level of shame I felt when I realised I had post-natal depression. Finally I was a mother, I had my much longed for child and at last we were a family- but why was I feeling so wretched?
Early on, I realised I wasn’t quite right - that I had PND - but I kept pushing those feelings away. I didn’t want to admit to myself, to my darling husband or to my family that I wasn’t coping. I think as mums we put so much pressure on ourselves, and that combined with the society pressures about ‘being a good mother’ adds to the stigma that is still unfortunately around PND. Confiding in my husband that I needed help was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I felt like I was letting my baby down and letting him down. I had always been the strong, capable one - but here I was feeling vulnerable. But once I put voice to my feelings it did make a difference. Suddenly I didn’t have to shoulder it all myself and I could get the help and support I needed. I urge other mothers who are struggling to speak up and ask for help. Talk to your partner, a friend, your GP, your midwife. The depression awareness organisation beyondblue.org.au is also a good starting point.
Being in the public eye, was it a hard decision to be so open about it?
I have been campaigning for greater mental health awareness for many years, having grown up with a mum with a mental illness. My message had always been to speak up, to talk about it, that there is nothing to be ashamed about. I felt that if I didn’t share my experiences I would be a hypocrite- having for so many years’ advocated people sharing their experiences.
I felt even more strongly once I realised the level of shame I initially felt with PND. And I thought if I feel like this - someone who understands mental illness, has an understanding family, knows where to go to get help, and has the economic means to get help - how much harder must it be for so many other families who don’t have any level of that support. I knew that once I was ready, and strong enough I wanted to talk about what happened to me, and how there is a way through it.
I love the interview with Gail Kelly (mother of four, including triplets). She was incredibly honest about the challenges when her children were young, trying to keep it together through a blur of sleep deprivation. After reading that conversation, I appreciate her achievements in a completely different way. What was your overall impression of Gail?
Gail is a remarkable woman. It was such a thrill to meet with her and get her take on breastfeeding, juggling work and family and how to cope when everything goes pear-shaped. She was incredibly honest about the times when things don’t go to plan. I found it reassuring to hear that a woman who is ranked the eight most powerful woman in the world (ahead of Beyonce and the Queen - much to her children's amusement) has been worn down by tantrums and trying to do too much. She has such an optimistic approach to life. And she has a fab short haircut too!
Many women have described losing a big part of their identity when they become mothers. How do you make sure you keep your sense of self intact?
It’s a work in progress. There are times when I struggle… I found writing the book are very cathartic and empowering experience. It was a way of finding myself again. But you don’t have to write a book to do that! Sometimes I find having a hot cup of coffee and flicking through a trashy mag in peace is a way to get some ‘me time’.
What continues to surprise you about motherhood?
That you’re ‘never there yet’. It’s the best but hardest role of my life.
Have you found your friendships have changed since becoming a mother? Why?
Yes, there is just not the time to have those lovely long, indulgent conversations about life, the universe and everything. You still have them - but they’re interrupted and disjointed…
A handful of girlfriends and my sisters have been my lifeblood these past few years.
As a woman, who continues to inspire you?
My babies Allegra and Giselle, my husband Peter, my mum, my sisters and my Dad.
As a mother, what do you think you're pretty good at?
Dress-ups and tea parties…
...and what are you terrible at?
The park… sometimes I want the sandpit to swallow me up.
What are the key values you want to pass onto your daughters?
To be bold, brave, compassionate and loving.
Jessica, finally a question all mums must face - what are you feeding your children for dinner tonight?
I don’t know yet… I’ve ripped out some recipes from the weekend mags but I think it will be as it often is… spag bol!
Jessica Rowe, author of Love. Wisdom. Motherhood. Published by Allen & Unwin. Follow Jessica on twitter @msjrowe.
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