Sunday 20 January 2019

'When we first met, Ro wasn’t sure if he wanted more children. It was heartbreaking' - Storm Keating

Storm Keating with Cooper. Photo: Eilish McCormick  
Storm Keating with Cooper. Photo: Eilish McCormick  
Storm Keating with Cooper, who turns 1 in April. Photo: Eilish McCormick
Yomiko Chen with Lili-Sue. Photo: Eilish McCormick
Faye Dinsmore with Cloud. Photo: Eilish McCormick
Isabelle Traber with Oliver and Lewis. Photo: Eilish McCormick
Faye Dinsmore with Cloud. Photo: Eilish McCormick

Sarah Caden

We spoke to four glamorous mums about the truth of having babies, and photographed them and their children dressed in high style from Brown Thomas’s spring/summer ranges. To kick off, Sarah Caden catches up with Storm Keating about her first year with baby Cooper and her decision not to have a full-time nanny but to be a hands-on mum.

Storm Keating

Mother to Cooper, 1 in April

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Storm Keating with Cooper, who turns 1 in April. Photo: Eilish McCormick

When I first met Ronan, I didn’t really know if parenthood was something we would share together. He already had three children — Jack (19), Missy (17) and Ali (12) — so that, of course, was something to consider. I had to be really thoughtful, even though I really wanted children of my own, whether it would be the right dynamic for everyone involved. I couldn’t just consider myself, but also Ronan and the kids.

I think in terms of the relationship between Ronan and me, there were lots of questions like these, and other things, too, to consider from the start — it wasn’t like a standard relationship in that way.

In most relationships, you get time to get to know each other first, and then move through different stages of a relationship over time before you face the big, awkward stuff. It was different for us because of who he is and his public profile, and, of course, because he had kids already.

Plus, the fact that I’m Australian and all my family and friends are on the other side of the world — as well as my career — so I would have to leave all that behind, because I would never have asked him to leave them to be with me. We had so much to think about, and we had to listen to our heads, not just our hearts.

The truth is that when we first met, Ro wasn’t sure if he wanted to have any more children. We talked about it, and as difficult as it was for me to hear, I understood why he felt that way, and had to decide if that was a deal-breaker for me. It was heartbreaking at the time because I always wanted to have children, so it was such a hard decision… but I loved him with every bone in my body, and I knew that although it was a huge sacrifice, I could live without children of my own, but I just couldn’t live without him.

So I chose Ro, and that was that. It was about a year after that when he surprised me while we were out to dinner, and we were laughing at a little baby girl at the table next to us. He turned to me and said, ‘You’ll make a great mammy one day,’ before adding that he had changed his mind and would love us to have a child together. I had no idea that was coming and I was so overwhelmed.

I was crying and full of joy because having children was something I really wanted, but I had accepted what he’d said when we had that first conversation. I had made my choice and I was happy with it, but then it was just so amazing to hear that he wanted to share that with me. Even talking about it now, with Cooper in our lives, it just seems a lifetime ago.

I always expected that motherhood would be something I’d enjoy and love, but you truly can't put it into words. It’s your heart, and even so much more than that.

I thought I was the happiest woman in the world — madly in love with my husband and so happy and lucky — but Coops has topped it in a way that I cannot explain.

I can’t believe I have this little man in my life and my adorable husband as well. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve these blessings. I truly pinch myself every day — I’ve never known so much love and happiness.

Oh my gosh, I loved being pregnant. I miss my tummy and rubbing it, even though the first three months were atrocious. I had awful morning sickness, and we were on Ronan’s world tour for all of that time. It was off the Richter scale; I would just lie on the floor of a dressing room, anywhere, no matter how filthy. It was terrible. But as soon as the first few months were over, it was like a lightbulb going on. I got all my energy back and was going a hundred miles an hour again, juggling work and life. I felt fantastic, and I even enjoyed putting on the weight and all of it. I guess because I just loved that I had this little being growing inside me and felt so grateful that I was lucky enough to be going through the whole experience.

Cooper will turn one on April 26. The first year has been amazing. I wish there was a different word, because amazing is used all the time and doesn’t really sum it up — it has just blown my mind. I’m a very hands-on mammy, and Ronan is a very hands-on dad. I guess because we feel so privileged to have Cooper in our lives, we don’t want to take that for granted. We want to spend all our time with him.

I’m not saying that it’s easy, though; it’s hard, and it’s definitely a sacrifice, but it’s how we want it and we love that we can make it work. I come from a humble family; true grafters. We grew up on a farm, and that’s how my parents raised us — they were very hands-on and very loving.

Ro and I could pay for a full-time nanny; well, we’re in a position where we could pay people to do almost everything in our lives — gardening and cooking and cleaning, and nanny too — but that’s just not me. I enjoy being present and doing things myself without having to rely on others to do it for me. Plus, it means we can save that money and put it towards things like family holidays.

It keeps me grounded to live like I was raised, and I’ve never been shy of hard work. Even if we won a billion dollars tomorrow, I would still be the same — baking, cleaning and buying things on sale! But that’s how I want it, and that’s how I want to raise my family.

I wear my heart on my sleeve, and when I first met the three big kids — that’s what we call Jack, Missy and Ali now — I went into it that way, lots of heart. I think the world of those kids, and I’ve only ever wanted the world for them.

I’m sure everyone in my position handles it differently, and I won’t lie and say it’s easy, because that wouldn’t be doing justice to the thousands of other stepmums or dads out there. It’s a very unique path to navigate and one that certainly comes with its fare share of heartache. But I went into it all not at all wanting to take on the role of their mother, because they have a mother [Yvonne Connolly] and she’s a good mother. I was very cautious about not making her feel threatened by me, also, because I wanted it to work for everyone, and most of all for the kids.

So I suppose I’ve taken the role of being the young and not-so-strict one — I’m someone who they know loves them unconditionally and will do anything for them, but I’m not their parent and they don’t answer to me. And I love that relationship. Especially when it means they can confide in me and talk to me about things that they might not feel comfortable telling their parents. It’s a win-win, because ultimately it means even more loved-ones are looking out for them and guiding them.

Cooper has travelled a lot in his first year, and his very first trip was to Dublin, when he was six weeks old, to see the family. Cooper had already been in 19 countries before he was even born, because he was conceived at the start of Ro’s world tour. We did 19 countries pregnant, and since then he’s been to Australia, Spain, Norway, Holland, Greece, Ireland, the Maldives, Scotland and Thailand.

Travelling with a baby is a lot of organising and packing, and the luggage side of things is well out of control, but Coops himself is an easy traveller. He loves planes, loves people, and he’s such a chilled little man; as soon as he gets on a plane, he falls asleep. But this is our lifestyle to live like this, Ro’s career takes him all over the globe and he works so hard... if we didn’t go with him, he’d miss out on so much, and he’d miss us like crazy. I wouldn’t want to do that to him, nor would I want that for Coops, so I try my hardest to support him by being on the road as much as possible.

For Cooper, it’s what he’s known since he was born — it’s his reality and he knows no different, which I think is partly why he’s such an amazing little traveller. He gets excited as soon as we arrive at the airport.

Ro just had some gigs in Thailand, so that’s why we all found ourselves in Thailand, otherwise he wouldn’t have seen us for a week.

I stopped work completely for three months after

I had Cooper, but then I got back into it. I oversee all of our business operations and also have my own bits and pieces in the background too, so three months was a long time to stop, and I couldn’t take any longer if I wanted to keep on top of things. Now, I’m back in the swing of things and working and being mummy at the same time.

We’re lucky, though, because Ro is in a job where it’s not nine to five, and neither am I. If you are both nine to five, then of course you need someone to mind the bub, but we manage to dovetail each other in the child-minding.

Ro goes in for radio [on Magic FM in the UK] at 4.30am in the morning. Then he comes home late morning and grabs Coops from me, and I go on the laptop and do what I need to do. We can mostly do the parenting between us, but like most working parents, there are times when we need a babysitter, and then we get one. But we have the three big kids also, not just Cooper, so on weekends and holidays we’ve got four to juggle and plan around. Organising flights and making plans and staying up late to make the most of every minute… it just doesn’t stop for us.

Ronan and I are lucky in that we get to travel a lot for work and spend a lot of time together as a family, but I’m not great at making time for myself. When I’m in mummy mode, I don’t think about what I’m missing — I just crack on. But that’s not healthy either.

I’ve only just recently finished breastfeeding, so that will make things a lot easier and give me a lot more freedom. When I officially finished, it was huge and exciting, but also a little bit sad. Breastfeeding was so special and filled me with a pride I can’t describe. It was hard to let that go, but now I have the ability to leave the house without a child in tow, which is fantastic! At first it was a bit weird, but then when I was able to go out and have a gin and tonic without thinking about feeding a baby later, it was like — hallelujah!

Faye Dinsmore

Mother to Cloud, aged 16 months

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Faye Dinsmore with Cloud. Photo: Eilish McCormick

I had the easiest pregnancy, with zero sickness. I was super-tired the first trimester and had giant feet at the end, but, other than that, it was a breeze. But so far, my greatest challenge has been the long, hard road to recovery after Cloud was born. Even though I had an ok birth, I had a post-birth haemorrhage, which was a bit of a horror show. I think because I lost so much blood, it took me a lot longer to recover physically; most of a year, really. On reflection, I should have taken it so much easier. I wanted to be up and about doing things, but my body wasn’t ready.

In general, becoming a mother has been a lot more difficult than I expected, even though I’m lucky and Cloud is a very happy baby. Hearing him laugh is just brilliant. I love watching him learn and discover new things, say new words, do a new thing. It fills me with happiness to see him happy.

As a new mother, sometimes even the simplest things become huge tasks. Never mind having a good night’s sleep, just getting dressed and out of the house can take all day. Do you know how difficult it is to button up jeans while holding a baby? Nearly impossible. This has made me more empathetic, because now I think you never know what kind of day someone is having.

Before this, I don’t think I was ever bothered about ‘society’ or what other people thought, but with a baby, it’s something I am more sensitive to now. I am very conscious of disturbing other people if we go to a coffee shop or cafe. You learn quickly the places that babies are not welcome. But, although I thought I might get funny looks when breastfeeding — they tell you that can happen — I never did. And I really went for it, because Cloud wanted to be on the boob all the time and I really got behind the idea of normalising it.

I know loneliness can be something new mothers struggle with, but I can’t really relate at all to that. I think I’m the luckiest woman because I have the most amazing people around [Faye and her husband, Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave, live together with friends in Dublin]. The extra help has been unbelievable. A good few people in the house we share don’t have regular nine-to-five hours, so it wouldn’t be unusual to come into our kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon and find five people around the table. There’s nothing I’m more grateful for than when someone else cooks, or when I can leave Cloud with someone while I run to the toilet or to shower or get dressed. You know, simple things! It makes a huge difference, especially since we don’t have any family close by to call on.

At the moment, I work from home on my Aran-sweater business, which is great. I’m back in Trinity doing a history-of-art course, and I’m doing one day a week at a gardening class. Starting back at Trinity in September, I felt I needed to say to everyone, ‘I have a baby at home, you know’ to explain why I am always in a rush, or just a bit all over the place.

Maternal guilt certainly exists, alright! It’s kinda horrible. I hope it lessens over time, as even when I’m out trying to do other things, I am thinking, ‘Is Cloud ok?’ So I know I’m not fully concentrating or enjoying what I’m doing. Of course he’s totally fine without me there, but I can’t help feeling it.

I feel very conscious that I’m bringing up a boy who is going to be a man. All I want is for him to be a decent guy. I feel a bit exasperated for humanity when it seems that so many different industries are run by men who abuse their power and position.

Isabelle Traber

Mother to Oliver, 5; and Lewis, 3 (seated) in May

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Isabelle Traber with Oliver and Lewis. Photo: Eilish McCormick

My sister had her second baby a few weeks before I had Oliver. We are very close, and she gave me a lot of advice. That said, I definitely underestimated the effect of sleep deprivation and never thought it would go on for so long. Being heavily sleep-deprived and then confronted with cranky children needs a lot of mental strength!

Nor did I take into account all the worrying that comes with having a child. I find myself to be much more emotional; I let things get too close to me. I went through a phase when I found it hard to read newspapers as I would be so upset — all the scary stories really got to me. I had to make the decision to just ignore them and use common sense.

Once I had Lewis, there was hardly any time for myself any more, but I definitely felt more confident and relaxed the second time. I didn’t panic or stress as much. When Lewis was only a few days old, I developed a very high fever and had to be hospitalised for a few days. I felt absolutely miserable and weak, but there was still this

tiny person that needed me to care for him 24/7. Despite being totally overwhelmed by the situation, my natural instincts just kicked in. I found strength I never knew I had, and it is my two boys that have given it to me.

That said, I found that I only started to be happily balanced when I took advantage of my support network. At first, I wanted to do everything on my own, and that made me very tired and stressed. It took me a long time to accept help, but once I did, my life changed for the better.

I think society puts new mothers under huge pressure: to go back to work as quickly as possible; to be at home with the child; to lose all the baby weight, and so on and on. I feel very lucky that I bounced back into shape quite quickly after both pregnancies. My mother was the same. So I never felt pressure when it came to my size; the only thing I was concerned about was looking tired. But there is always some part of society that judges the way you choose to live your life. You just have to be confident and do what is right for you and your family.

I still model, but my main job is looking after the children. My first job back was just a couple of months after Oliver was born, and I was excited, as I always loved modelling. But after I had Lewis, I didn’t feel ready to go back to work until much later. I was lucky that I was in a position to be able to stay at home with my two boys.

Maternal guilt is part of being a mother — you love your child so much, you just want the best for him or her. I am with my boys every day, and even so, I feel guilty if I can’t spend enough quality time with them because I am tired, or if I feel they haven’t eaten a balanced meal, etc. The list is neverending; at the end of the day, you do the best you can.

Motherhood, for me, is all the fun and giggles I have with the boys, seeing them smile and laugh, and, of course, all the snuggles. My boys are entering a really fun stage now, and I can’t wait to travel more with them, do fun family activities and make wonderful memories.”

Yomiko Chen

Mother to Lili-Sue, 2 in April

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Yomiko Chen with Lili-Sue. Photo: Eilish McCormick

Life totally changed when I had Lili-Sue, and it’s never going to change back. I had no clue what it would to be like: people tell you, ‘Oh, pregnancy is hard’ and ‘Labour is hard’, but nobody tells you how hard it will be afterwards!

In fact, for me, the pregnancy was easy, the delivery was lucky, and she is a really healthy and happy baby. But sometimes I think it gets harder all the time, not easier. Every day is challenging, and interesting, because I grow up with her. Every day, Lili-Sue discovers and experiences something new, and the whole family experiences that together with her. She’s the boss. Whatever makes her happy, makes us happy.

I have changed since having her. I feel the time is never enough. I am stronger now, to face the things I have to do with her. I am more patient. I have to be. I cannot give out to her because she wants to do something, no matter what it is.

I went back to work only six weeks after having Lili-Sue, mainly for my mind — because modelling makes me feel good. Before I had her, I thought I was never going to go back to work, that I would become a different person, stay at home and look after her. But now, I appreciate going back home even more, and enjoy being with her more, because there is a balance. I really love what I do and I want to work harder because I want to be a good example for Lili-Sue in the future. I want her to see that she can do whatever she wants.

There is pressure — yes. Modelling is a competition; you need a certain look to get different jobs, but for me, the way I feel about my body now is different. I think

I have to be healthy and lead a good lifestyle, not only for my work, but for Lili-Sue. I want to be healthy, so I can be around longer for her. I do more exercise, eat better, both for my job and for her.

My husband [Iain Conway] and I have a chain of Japanese restaurants [Kokoro Sushi Bento, Kokoro Sushi and the Ramen Bar], and we work together on them — modelling has a time limit, there has to be a next step! He is such a good father; I never thought he would be so hands-on and look after her so well. He is so gentle with Lili-Sue; it’s another side of him that I never saw before.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not with my baby.

My husband and I are both working hard, but it’s for her future. So she can have a better life and a good education, and for that, I don’t feel guilty.

I grew up in Japan and China, and moved to Ireland as a teenager. If I were back home, my parents would look after Lili-Sue; it’s a cultural thing. Here, grandparents are more independent, although my mother-in-law is very good. I think it is nice for children to have more people, more relationships, different personalities, in their lives.

My family live in China, and while I would like them to see more of Lili-Sue, nothing can change blood — when they meet, they just know each other. There is no crying, just a big hug and a smile.

Here in Ireland, I think parents let their children be more independent. If they fall, the parents let them fall, and say they will know for the next time. They are more protective of babies in China, but when they are older and go to school, they are stage mums! They push them to be a big star. For me, if Lili-Sue is happy, that’s all I want. I’m not a Tiger mother. I grew up the Chinese way, and now I am learning the Irish way.” 

Photography by Eilish McCormick  

Styling by Liadan Hynes

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