Michelle Doherty: 'I wasn't willing to not become a mother because I hadn't met the right person'
Model, TV presenter and actress Michelle Doherty has a varied CV, but, she tells Katie Byrne, the role of mother to baby Max is her proudest job yet
Published 01/06/2016 | 02:30
Michelle Doherty has a no-regrets approach to life. During her 20s, she swapped working as a flight attendant for modelling, and then modelling for TV presenting. In later years, she added acting to her CV and left Ireland in search of job opportunities in the UK.
"I don't want to look back in 20 years' time and think 'why didn't I do that?'," she says over the phone from her new home in London. "Anything your gut is telling you, just do it because you only get one shot at this life."
The Donegal woman's attitude and CV is inspiring for anyone who wants to take the road less travelled, not least because she also became a mother along the way.
Michelle was 36 when she gave birth to baby Max and, on reflection, she's glad she left it a little later to become pregnant.
However, it wasn't necessarily the way she would have planned it. While many women who have children later in life insist that they were putting their careers first, Michelle is refreshingly frank about the timing of the biological clock.
"It also helps to find the right man," she laughs. "I've been in relationships and they definitely weren't the right ones so I was very fortunate to find Mark.
"I just love kids," she continues. "My sister has four and my brother has two and I absolutely adore them. I wasn't willing to risk not becoming a mother because I hadn't met the right person."
Michelle admits that she was prepared to take matters into her own hands if the right person didn't come along, either by freezing her eggs or looking for a sperm donor. "I knew it would be hard on my own but it was something I always wanted."
She never got around to exploring these options, though - largely because she made another bold decision instead. There's a saying that goes 'leap and the net will appear'. In 2012, Michelle squeezed her eyes shut and took the jump.
She quit her job as a presenter with the now defunct radio station Phantom FM, rented out her house and moved to London. Meanwhile, she segued into acting and landed roles in Lenny Abrahamson's What Richard Did and The Hit Producer.
Her love life changed dramatically, too. In London, she was reacquainted with Mark O'Shea, a product developer from Kerry. A mutual friend tried to set them up six years previously but Michelle had written him off as a "party animal".
Of course, timing is everything and the second time around they clicked. The couple was inseparable after their first date and when Mark suggested marriage, Michelle told him that she'd prefer to prioritise getting pregnant instead.
She was four months into her role providing maternity cover for TV presenter Aisling O'Loughlin on TV3's Xposé when she announced that she was three months pregnant. Baby Max was born in August 2014.
"I thought I was going to be Mother Nature," recalls Michelle, before singing "everything is going to be fine."
"And then I got such a shock."
The challenge of becoming a parent for the first time was compounded by being away from home. London can be a lonely city, even at the best of times...
"You're on your own day in, day out with this little baby," she explains. "You have your girlfriends but you only meet them for one or two hours. You can't go home with them!"
"I've no support network here and no family that I can rely on so I pretty much had to believe in myself and just trust myself."
Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better. Her spirits were low after giving birth and when Max was eight months old she was diagnosed with postnatal depression.
She remembers going into different rooms in the apartment that she shares with Mark when she wanted to cry. "I'd go to another room and have a bawl and come back and pretend that everything was fine again."
It was a bleak time and she says the eventual decision to take a course of antidepressants "nearly killed" her. "I had this impression of antidepressants and the stigma attached to them," she explains. "But when you get to that point, you realise you have no alternative. You just need to get yourself back up again.
"If someone said you've got diabetes or a heart problem, you would take your medication. Equally, it works for depression. It took me a long time to get my head around that, though.
"The medication was probably the start of getting me back on my feet," she adds. "I also exercise a lot and read You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. It helps me look on the bright side."
Michelle's advice for mothers who are feeling isolated or low-spirited is simple. "Just get out of the house every day, even for a half an hour walk, just to feel like you've done something.
"They take over your whole world and you end up looking after everyone else except yourself - and that's not going to work," she adds. "Just mind yourself. A happy mummy makes a happy baby."
And Max is certainly a happy baby. "I have to say, he's really good. He's so outgoing and boisterous - such a boy," she says, before recounting yet another story about his daily antics.
There are all sorts of modern parenting styles espoused nowadays: Tiger, Helicopter, Permissive, Attachment... Michelle says she's just "learning as she goes along". However, a parenting expert would probably describe her approach as 'Free-range'.
"I've been a worrier all my life," she explains. "And my mum is a worrier. When I got pregnant I knew that was the one thing I didn't want to pass on to my child, so I'm quite relaxed about parenting."
She encouraged Max to crawl up and down the stairs from a young age and she lets him explore and find his bearings when they're out and about.
"People look at me as if to say 'oh my God, that is so wrong' but do you know what? They have to build up their immune systems. And we were all outside crawling around when we were kids. I want him to have freedom and I want him to feel like he can do his own thing. They have to learn for themselves. You can't mollycoddle them."
The new mum made all Max's meals from scratch when he was a baby but she isn't staunchly anti-sugar. "If you starve them of sweets when they're younger then they make up for it when they're older," she says. "Everything in moderation, as the saying goes."
Max attends a nursery in Crouch End two afternoons a week. "God love him," she laughs. "I'm from Donegal, Mark is from Kerry and he's in an English nursery so who knows what sort of accent he'll have..."
"His time in the nursery gives me a bit of a break and it helps him mix with other kids as well," she adds. It also allows Michelle to add yet another string to her bow. She recently started a Pilates instructor course. "God forbid I should be sitting on my bum doing nothing."
Michelle is all about finding what she calls "the little outlets". Speaking of which, the couple recently managed to take their first holiday sans baby.
"We went to Los Angeles and we left our wee man in Kerry with Mark's parents. We were going to take him with us but it was an 11-hour flight and then he'd have jet lag. It would have been hell for him, hell for us and hell for the other passengers.
"They have a big back garden and he had an absolute ball and -". She stops mid-sentence when I ask her why she feels she has to justify it.
"I know," she sighs. "You struggle with guilt, don't you? You just can't help it. The minute they come into your world you feel like you should be there for them all the time.
"And do you know what? It's not good either because then when you do leave them they're thinking 'Oh my God, where is she?'
"He has to be on his own sometimes as well. It's like mothers who go back to work feeling guilty and there's nothing wrong with it because it makes your child grow up to be more independent.
"Guilt comes in, one way or the other," she concludes. "Damned if you do and damned if you don't..."
Michelle's motherhood lifesavers
• Annabel Karmel's Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner. It was passed down from Mark's sister and I found it brilliant.
• I was part of the First 1,000 Days nutrition awareness campaign and I found the book for new parents really helpful. first1000days.ie
• I gave Max a little bath every night. It made him realise it was bedtime.
• My lifesaver was the bouncer because I could take him into the bathroom with me when I was having my shower and I wasn't scared of leaving him on his own.
• Pregnacare vitamins gave me a bit of energy when I was working for Xposé. It's a high-energy job and you have to be on the go all the time.
• Kinvara Skincare Rosehip Serum is amazing. Oh my God, I would have looked like I hadn't slept in 20 years if I didn't have that.
• Pilates definitely helped keep my core strong during and after pregnancy. Then again, maybe because I'm a bit older, it took me a long time to get back - and I'm still not there by any means.