Monday 18 December 2017

Maia Dunphy on breastfeeding: 'It's tough on a man because I can see how they really do feel left out'

Maia Dunphy on why it's ok to be honest about how you feel when you're pregnant and how she copes with the busy work schedule of comedian hubby Johnny Vegas

Maia Dunphy has thought about having a second baby but she says it has to be for the right reasons. Photo: Robbie Reynolds Photography
Maia Dunphy has thought about having a second baby but she says it has to be for the right reasons. Photo: Robbie Reynolds Photography

Claire O'Mahony

Like many expectant mothers, Maia Dunphy had ideas about the kind of parent she was going to be. The TV producer and broadcaster, who lives in London with her husband, comedian Johnny Vegas, their eight-month-old son Tom and Michael - Johnny's 12-year-old son from another relationship - says now that Tom is here, that's all changed.

"It's a weird one. You start reading about different styles of parenting and I thought I'd be a tiger mum and there'd be flash cards. But I just love spending time with him and finding out who he is," the Dalkey native says. "I'd like to be an assertive parent and have a balance between being strict and being sensitive.

"When I see Tom now, I want to give him absolutely everything. But I think, do you know what? I want him to have a social conscience. There are all these things that I haven't really thought about.

"I want him to be aware of other people; I want him to be empathetic; I want him to be kind. I'd love him to be bright and successful and ambitious, but those things aren't as important as being kind."

Maia, whose hit TV shows include the four-part documentary What Women Want on RTÉ, is obviously enthralled with being a first-time mother. But as with every new mum, there's the never-ending exhaustion to contend with. She returned to work four weeks after having Tom and then, she admits, ran a mile.

The reason for her initial quick return was related to the fact she didn't particularly enjoy being pregnant.

"It's not just parenting that has no rules - there's no set way to feel when you're pregnant either. I wasn't depressed, it was just that I thought I should be feeling more warmth towards this growing bump. I just felt a bit kind of indifferent and I thought it was a really bad sign," she explains.

"So what got me through that was thinking 'right, I'm going to get back to work' and I started focusing on work, and that might sound incredibly self-indulgent or selfish, but it's what got me through feeling that way. When he was born, all that went out the window."

She was doing voiceovers and promoting shows and was also in the process of writing a book, which is now on the back-burner, when Johnny advised her to take time off. She's now working from home ("in my pyjamas with no make-up on and Tom sitting in the Jumperoo") and feels fortunate she is able to do so.

"I have no regrets and I think it's important to be honest to other mums as well and say however you feel when you're pregnant is fine," she says. "And now I'm not embarrassed of feeling that way, I'm relieved that it didn't turn out to be the case.

Maia Dunphy with husband Johnny Vegas and their son Tom.
Maia Dunphy with husband Johnny Vegas and their son Tom.

"I'm also not embarrassed I didn't get back to work full-time really quickly because whatever happens now, from here on in, I've spent almost 24/7 with Tom for seven months and I realise how invaluable that is. At our age now, a year isn't much for an adult, but a year at that age is so formative and important."

Tom, she says, is a good-natured little boy, whose sense of humour is already emerging. She had been initially concerned about how his older brother, Michael, would react to the new baby, but he adores him.

"I was worried about that because it's a 12-year age gap and I thought Michael thinks it's going to be a fully formed five-year-old boy who is going to walk out of the hospital and he's going to be able to teach him to play football," she says.

"But actually, he's amazing. He's really gentle with him, he's really considerate. If I ask him for help - I mean, he's also a 12-year-old boy and he wants to do his own thing and play with his computer - but he's quite mindful of him. It's lovely."

She's thought about having a second baby - although they have Michael, there is that aforementioned large age gap - and she's wondered should she have another sibling for Tom. But she also believes you need to have a baby for the right reasons.

"I could have a sibling who he [Tom] hates and who goes to live in Australia and they don't get on well at all. And I know plenty of others who are only children and who have half-brothers and half-sisters and they're perfectly happy," she says.

Her 40th birthday passed quietly last August. Besides being too tired to mark the occasion, she's never been one to celebrate milestone birthdays, apart from her 21st.

She's not bothered by the ageing process however. "I think women know so much more now about health and well-being and looking after ourselves," she says. "I eat better now than I did when I was 25.

"I'm fitter, and I know more about everything from make-up to clothes and what suits me. And also it's the one thing you can do nothing about, so why stress about it? You can lose weight, you can put on weight, you can stop smoking, you can drink more, you can drink less - but you can't change your date of birth."

When it comes to parenting, she says she and Johnny are both "finding our way because he's done it already with Michael and I haven't. There are times when I say 'Oh, I'd do that' and he'd say 'Really? Well…we'll see'.

Johnny is, she says, a brilliant, hands-on dad, although she also admits that more of the parenting duties have fallen to her than she had anticipated, but this is for pragmatic reasons.

"Obviously the first few months of breastfeeding, there's only so much a man can do. And it's tough on a man as well because I can see how they really do feel left out and it's hard - they want to be involved."

One of her best male friends told her that women need to go easy on partners as well because they don't often know what to do and they often do the wrong thing.

She maintains that people who have bandage babies "must be crazy because you need to be a really solid couple and you'll have some of the biggest rows you ever have when you have a baby, so it's not something to fix a relationship". The reality for them, as with many couples, is that Johnny is away working quite a lot and often not home in the evenings.

"There are other people who have said to me you have to make them pull their weight. But do you know what? It's not a feminist issue, it's a practical one. I'm at home and I'm not working, while Johnny is away working. I'm not going to say to him 'when you come home, you're going to do the washing'. It's not about that, it's about a partnership.

"I think we have a really healthy partnership and I think sometimes, as Johnny said to me, 'men are not mind readers, you have to ask more as well - if you want help, ask'. And I think a lot of women are waiting for their partner to notice something is wrong or they should be doing more."

Initially, she was nervous about leaving Tom when he was very young but now that he's older and her sister is a keen babysitter, Maia and Johnny have had a few nights out, including some recent film premieres, which saw husband and wife looking both stylish and loved-up on the red carpet.

But she says she's conscious you have to make the effort more to get out, especially living in London because it's so big, and also you have to make sure to spend time on your relationship as well as your child. "A child often replaces intimacy because you're kissing your child, you're hugging your child and you're co-sleeping, and it's easy for your relationship to fall by the wayside and those things are really important to keep an eye on as well," she says.

Maia Dunphy has teamed up with Nurofen for Children for its #FeverFighters campaign. The campaign is centred around helping new mums deal with their babies while they are sick or have a fever. See the series of parenting videos Maia has made on the Nurofen for Children app, which launches later this month and available now on the Nurofen Ireland YouTube channel.

Irish Independent

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