Saturday 20 January 2018

Catwalk to cradle: Model mums

Being a model mum but is anything but easy. From leaky breasts and post-natal depression to losing control of a body you have carefully controlled for so long, life can be hard for catwalk queens who decide to have kittens. And, as Liadan Hynes finds out when she meets a gaggle of Irish Models and their kids, the maternity leave isn't great either. Photography by Kip Carroll

'I was crying a lot. I had
suffered from depression
in my 20s so I knew what
signs to look out for'
— Alison Canavan
with her son, James
'I was crying a lot. I had suffered from depression in my 20s so I knew what signs to look out for' — Alison Canavan with her son, James
'Modelling clothes, and your breasts are leaking, it probably wasn’t the best idea' — Ruth Griffin with her son, AJ
'It is nerve-wracking. Particularly when you're going, "Oh my God, my stomach: I can't hold it in" — Sarah McGovern on modelling while pregnant
'I miss my bump now. I didn't like my boobies, I have to say. I'm not used to having boobies' — Amy Ronning-Dunne with her daughter, Lilly-Beth
'It's very hard when you have a young baby. They go to bed at seven, and I'm straight into my pyjamas' — Lucia Scerbikova with her son, Hayden
'Because I was so young, my body just snapped back into shape pretty quickly' — Faith Barnett with her son, Tristan, and her daughter, India
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

'Loads of people go, 'Shure, what would you know? Back to modelling a week after you gave birth, life is peachy, you got your figure back really quick.' Well no, I didn't. It's my career. I've to work really hard on what I eat these days. And I'm breastfeeding, and working out hard. "

Not even for vanity reasons or work. For health reasons, because working out wards off the depression. Just because someone appears to be coping doesn't mean that they are. I'm a very happy, outgoing person, so I appear to be coping just fine, because you have to be a certain way for work. But then you go home and you fall apart.

Alison Canavan is speaking with typical searing honesty. The 33-year-old is mum to James, an adorable five-month-old. He is her first child. A full-time model for 17 years, she was working and living in New York when she got pregnant. Alison now lives with her mum in her native Castleknock. She went back to work one week after James was born, but was recently diagnosed with post-natal depression.

In general, models provide an easy target for our petty jealousies. When it comes to motherhood, we envy them for their perfect figures, and are quick to assume they snap back into shape as they are wheeled from the delivery room. In fact, the reality is far less cushioned. The mere decision to get pregnant may herald the end of their career.

Unlike most mums, working to term isn't necessarily an option when you can no longer fit into size-eight samples. While we all want to lose weight after giving birth, imagine it being a matter of life or death as far as your career was concerned; imagine having to parade your post-pregnancy body around in front of a room full of people, in some cases mere weeks after giving birth. Not to mention the fact that models are self-employed; a six-month maternity leave is unheard of among the women I spoke to.

Alison's rapid return to work one week after giving birth is extreme even by most models' standards, but none of the women I spoke to took the six-month maternity leave most of us consider our due.

"The first few weeks after I had the baby, I was brilliant. Loads of energy. I did a shoot a week after I had him, for Tesco," recalls Alison. "I was breastfeeding. I certainly wasn't back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I fitted into a size 12."

It all seemed to be going swimmingly, when, suddenly, everything came crashing down. "I didn't slow down; I kept on going as I normally would. I did crash and burn a few weeks ago. It was too much, too soon. There were two weeks when I just couldn't get out of my pyjamas. I was still in my pyjamas at four o'clock, thinking I might as well stay in them. I was crying a lot. I had suffered from depression in my 20s so I knew what signs to look out for. The tiredness when you have a baby is something you've never experienced. And then you expect so much of yourself as a new mum. You look around you and think everybody else is coping so well. Everyone else who has more than one child is coping, so why aren't you? And you put enormous pressure on yourself to be this perfect mum. Nobody's perfect. They might appear to be, and they might all be telling you it's great. But that's really not the truth with most people. Give yourself a break . . . and if you need help, ask for it," she urges.

"I'm a self-employed, single mum. I have to take whatever work is going," says Alison, with her trademark bluntness. "I don't have maternity pay. So I can't afford to go, 'Great, I'm going to take the next three months for me and my baby.' I would love to have been able to, that just wasn't the case. I was taking the baby absolutely everywhere," she recalls. "I was never without him. And it then became very difficult for me to leave him. I was ringing every five minutes."

She describes attending a support group for young mums, listening to all the other mothers raving about their amazingly well-behaved babies. It was too much and the naturally outspoken Alison cracked, telling the group, "Well, actually, he started crying at five o'clock yesterday, and he never stopped and I'm absolutely wrecked, and he was up three times last night." Immediately, all the other mums 'fessed up to similar predicaments.

"Talking was the biggest thing," she says of her road to recovery. She has since become an ardent campaigner, working with Madge Fogarty of Postnatal Depression Ireland -- the author, with Bernie Kealey, of Recovering from Postnatal Depression, which Alison says every mother should read.

Ruth Griffin, a full-time model for seven years when she had her son, AJ Quinlan, in January 2009, returned to work five weeks after giving birth. In retrospect, she acknowledges it was too soon. "I did a Marks & Spencer show. Honestly, on a practical level, when you're breastfeeding and modelling clothes and your breasts are leaking . . . it probably wasn't the best idea. I had to express about four or five times during the day; I was there all day doing hair, make-up, fittings, and rehearsals."

Ruth's good friend and long-term work colleague Sarah McGovern, who is also the National Spring Clean Ambassador, is 17 weeks pregnant with her first child when we meet. A 5ft 11in blonde, she's known by many in the industry as The Body. Softly spoken, with a gentle, self-effacing manner, Sarah is built along classic supermodel lines: sculpted and athletic. Like Ruth, she's now in her early 30s. She's been modelling full-time for 12 years this month.

All going to plan, Sarah plans on being back at work six to eight weeks after giving birth. She is also an agent for a jewellery company, Gemini Fine Jewellery. It's a role she took up with a weather eye to the future, when modelling is no longer an option. She's due her first baby 10 days before their biggest trade fair.

"I doubt I'll be able to go to that, but within a month or six weeks I should be back selling again," Sarah says. "I can do as much or as little as I want. If I don't do much, I won't earn money, and if I do a lot I'll earn money. But it won't be a nine-to-five kind of job, so I won't feel guilty that I've gone back to work straight away."

Just like her fellow models, Amy Ronning-Dunne, 27, was back in work just weeks after giving birth to her first child. Lilly-Beth, who was eight months old on the day of our shoot. Lilly-Beth was born on July 11 and Amy was back in work by September. "I hate leaving her, but it's kind of nice to get away every now and again, to get the break," Amy admits, "but I don't like to leave her for too long." Her return to work was something of a baptism of fire. "My first job was an underwear job on TV3. It made me feel good about going back -- that I could actually do a job like that. It gave me my confidence back."

Losing the baby weight is a concern of every woman. But most of us enjoy the luxury of taking our time about doing it. At the end of the day, it's a vanity project. For a model, if she doesn't lose the weight, she doesn't work, simple as that.

"In a nutshell, it's out of your control," says Ruth Griffin of the changes pregnancy wreaks on your body. Her son, AJ, is now an adorably energetic two-year-old. "I loved it when I was pregnant; loved my bump getting bigger and bigger. However, once the baby came out, I was shocked by how wrecked your body is. Your organs, your muscles are ripped apart; your ribs, your whole mid-section is like a deflated balloon," she laughs.

An incredibly slender, willowy brunette -- she's a 36in leg in jeans -- pre-pregnancy, Ruth was a tiny size eight, now she is a 10. "So no harm," she says of her nominal weight gain. "Breastfeeding really helps just suck all that back in. I didn't worry about getting my body back until I'd finished breastfeeding. And then, from about five months on, I did really focus on getting my figure back. I joined a running club and got an amazing Pilates instructor."

Surely it must be somewhat terrifying, as a model, deciding to get pregnant, and thereby giving up control of your body?

"Hence why I've been putting it off since we got married," says Sarah McGovern, who wed her long-term boyfriend three years ago. "You know, the timing is never right when you're self-employed, because you're just like, 'Oh, I'll just get this season in.' And now that I'm pregnant it's like, 'Why did I put it off for so long?' It's the fear factor of 'Oh God, will people still book me for things? Will I get big straightaway?'

"And I was really fearful of putting on weight in the first three months. I'm lucky I didn't put a pound on. It's a big change in the body," she acknowledges. "It's a big change for anybody, but if you're a model, you're so conscious. I've never been a one for being a skinny model; I suppose I had more of an athletic body. I like my food and I don't deny myself.

"When I turned 16 weeks, I literally just went 'pop' that night at the Marks & Spencer show," she recounts. I saw her in the show, and her tiny bump was only noticeable in one outfit. "I was hoping no one would notice it, but one of the dresses was only a size eight," she says.

"All my friends were having babies, and talking about the figure, and the bellies, and I was like, 'Girls, stop, I'm going to have heart failure.' I was really panicked about it, because I actually couldn't cope," she laughs, shaking her head at the memory. "You know when you have a bit of a fat day? God, that would be like, forever, you know?

"I started with a trainer a couple of months before we decided to go for it, to build my body up for it. I've stayed with him. I just find that it's worth it for me to try and keep my figure as best I can for after my pregnancy. I mean, it's not like the modelling career is going to be starting afresh after the baby. It's obviously more towards the end of my career, but if I can still do jobs after the baby I'd be delighted," Sarah continues, now looking positively beatific. "But it is nerve-wracking. Particularly when you're going, 'Oh my God, my stomach: I can't hold it in.'"

Lucia Scerbikova, who moved here four years ago from Slovakia to live with her Irish boyfriend, worked up until her eighth month. She even fitted in a bikini press call while five months pregnant with her now nine-month-old son Hayden O'Brien, booked by her agency, which was unaware she was pregnant. "They couldn't see it at all," she says of the client. "After the press call I had to go tell my agency, 'Don't give me anymore press calls, I don't feel comfortable doing that.'" She put on 35 pounds over the course of her pregnancy, "I breastfed for seven months, and then he started teething, so . . ." she breaks off, laughing.

Before getting pregnant, Lucia, who has been modelling here for three years, was an 8-10. "I'm trying to get back into fitness, now I see it's not going to go away that easily. Some girls are lucky. It's very hard when you have a young baby. They go to bed at seven, and I'm straight into my pyjamas. Chill time for me."

"As a model yes, it is scary, but it's also quite welcoming," says Alison Canavan, of the enforced changes that happen to one's pregnant body. "After 17 years of having to look a certain way you almost welcome just being able to relax and let your body do what it has to do for nine months. Putting on weight and not feeling guilty about it. I felt like my body was on loan for a while." Her feet have got slightly smaller since she had James, she adds, laughing.

"The first few months after having the baby, I was very lazy and eating an awful lot," continues Alison, who is now an enviably trim size 10. "So I lost weight from breastfeeding immediately after having him, and then I put on a stone, from eating," she laughs. "Because I was like, 'Oh I'm breastfeeding, so I can eat like an extra 6,000 calories a day.'" She's now working with a trainer, and has lost two inches from her hips, and three and a half from her waist.

Some are particularly lucky. "Naturally," says Amy Ronning-Dunne, when I ask how she lost her baby weight. "I've haven't done anything, not a thing. I'm actually blessed. I don't know how I get away with it. I'd say the first three or four weeks after I had her, I loved my size," she admits. "Everything fitted nicely on me. I find it very hard to put on weight and I eat a lot. And I find I've lost what I had after I had her, and I'd kind of like it back," she laughs.

"I really did enjoy being pregnant," says Faith Barnett, who has been modelling since she was 16. Now 31, she was in her late teens when she had her first child, Tristan, who is 13. "I was pretty lucky, I didn't gain too much weight; on both pregnancies I was pretty neat. Because I was so young, my body just snapped back into shape pretty quickly. Age was on my side, I think," she smiles.

Amy Ronning-Dunne, who describes herself as a size 10, says, "I loved being pregnant. I miss my bump now. I was literally all bump. My size didn't change but I filled out a bit." "I didn't like my boobies, I have to say. I'm not used to having boobies," she laughs.

First-time breasts are a recurring theme with the women I spoke to. Alison Canavan tells me she still isn't quite used to her newfound breasts. "I've got boobs, because I'm still breastfeeding. So dressing them, I'm still not very good at; I don't really know how to dress them," she laughs.

Breastfeeding isn't necessarily a straightforward 'will I, won't I' choice, as work can involve a certain amount of travel. "I'm going back and forth to London for castings for big commercials, one in Hong Kong, one in Buenos Aires, one in Palma, and they're all for a week long each," says Alison. "If I got one of those jobs I'd have to leave him for a week, and I'm like, 'How would my mum put him down? She's not breastfeeding,'" she smiles, shaking her head. "I'm going to have to try and give him a bottle at night, so that he associates the bottle rather than the boob with bed. I mean, I could be called tomorrow and be told, 'You have to leave on Monday for a week.' I've got a whole freezer full of breast milk just in case. It's hilarious. This whole big drawer full of breast milk."

Amy Ronning-Dunne says: "I kind of wanted to give breastfeeding a go, but then after the labour they said, 'Do you want a bottle or are you going to do it yourself?' and I was too tired; I just asked for the bottle."

All the women I spoke to had a natural birth, aside from Faith, whose first child, Tristan, was an emergency C-section. Her second, India, was a natural birth.

Unlike most women, working to term isn't necessarily a luxury of choice that's enjoyed by models. There seems to be a fairly standard work trajectory for the pregnant model: work continues as normal for the first three or four months; then, a brief no-man's land follows, a catch-22 situation: too pregnant to model as normal, not pregnant enough for actual maternity modelling. If models are lucky, the last few months can offer a certain amount of pregnancy-specific work. For example, Alison has been the face of Mothercare, and now Sarah is fronting their spring/summer campaign.

So far, Sarah says she's never been busier, with clients, including Brown Thomas, telling her they'll book her as far into her pregnancy as she is happy to work. She is a particularly established face on the Irish fashion scene, with many loyal long-term clients. Like Faith, she has recently changed her agency; both are now represented by the Andrea Roche Model Agency, which they both mention as a major source of new clients.

The flexibility of modelling as a career is something all the women remark on. "You just have to be uber-organised," says Ruth Griffin, whose two-year-old AJ is not in a creche. "Get your bookings way in advance. A lot of times the agency will give you bookings and say, 'OK, you're working on this day and that,' but they won't say what time, and until when. But my agency, Assets, has been wonderful. Carol makes sure I know I'm working from nine, when I get a break, what time I'll finish."

As an industry, modelling seems to provide a particularly supportive environment for new mums. When not working on shoots, Alison spent a lot of the first three months of James's life working on various projects, including her new website, from the office of her agency. Her agent, Rebecca Morgan, and the agency staff not only encouraged her to bring James to work, where he would sleep contentedly in his basket, they would also mind him if Alison needed to pop out on a job. How many workplaces can you think of that would support a mother in bringing her two-month-old baby into the office?

"It's flexible," says Ruth Griffin. "There's a lot of weekend work and night-time work, which sounds a bit funny, but it's actually easier to get babysitters at the weekend and at night. I also rely on my mum, and my dad, and my family members."

"Some of the hours can be long," says Amy Ronning-Dunne, whose husband, a clothing manufacturer, travels abroad regularly on work. "I did Xpose Xmas Xperience in November, and I found, with Chris being away too the three days, I wasn't collecting Lilly-Beth from my mam's until about nine, and then she was going straight back up at six in the morning. The hours can be difficult."

When I speak to Ruth a few days after our shoot, she's exhausted, having worked a 15-hour day the day before; up at five, home at nine, working all day on Louise Kennedy's spring/summer shows.

On the day we speak, Faith has been up since half five, working on one of Ireland AM's fashion slots. "I mean, with modelling you have the luxury of flexibility," she points out. "Say, today I was working, and I'm finished by lunchtime. So I'm at home to make their dinner, and sit down with them."

"It's not a nine-to-five job," Sarah agrees. "You're not having to put your child in a creche for five days a week. That's the plus side. The downside would be the figure thing -- you kind of feel people are looking at you. And there's the 'I didn't sleep all night', and you have to get up and look fresh and look well. That's tough, but that's motherhood I suppose."

Not surprisingly, maintaining the required levels of grooming presents something of a problem once a model has children. "Oh, yeah," Faith laughs. "If I'm rushing off to work, I've two other little people to organise, and make sure they're set up for their day. And then I have to put the time into getting myself ready. If I have a job the next day, I'll spend that evening getting ready."

"It's harder, yeah," says Ruth, erupting in peals of laughter when I ask her about the trials of maintaining oneself while caring for a child. "You don't have time for the lotions and the potions, and the admiring yourself in the mirror. My mum has five kids, and she says, 'The child will always look beautiful, and the mum's going round like a raggle-taggle.' Which you can't do when you're modelling. Say I know I've a job on the Wednesday, then on the Tuesday evening when the child goes down, then -- I'm just really organised.

"The thing I didn't expect is that it's all-encompassing. People say it to you, of course, but the reality is quite different. Sophia Loren said, 'When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.' There's not one decision that I make in the day that doesn't revolve around the child. The best piece of advice I'd give to mothers is: Do what works for you and kind of disregard a lot of the stuff people say to you. Go with your instinct."


For more information on coping with post-natal depression, see

To follow Alison Canavan's blog, see

Tristan and India wear their own clothes

Fitzpatricks Shoes, 76 Grafton St, D2, tel: (01) 677-2333, or see

Camille Boutique, 1st floor, 6 St James Terrace, Malahide, Co Dublin, tel: (01) 808-5642 or see

Fran and Jane, Unit 1A, Westbury Mall, Clarendon St, D2, tel: (01) 670-2640, or see

Covet, Top floor, The Powerscourt Centre, 59 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 679-9313, or see

Photography by Kip Carroll

Styling by Liadan Hynes, assisted by Jen O'Dwyer and Aisling Wright-Goff

Ruth, Lucia, Sarah and Amy's make-up by Paula Callan O'Keeffe, assisted by Michelle Kinsella, both for Brown Sugar, 50 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967

Faith's make-up by Martina Coffey

Alison's make-up by Kate Synnott for Dylan Bradshaw, 56 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 671-9353

Sarah's hair by Laura Reid for Brown Sugar

Shot at The Westbury Hotel, Grafton St, D2, tel: (01) 679-1122, see Experience a night's stay in Dublin's Westbury Hotel and enjoy the award-winning 'Blood Brothers' at the Gaiety Theatre. From €395 per room, the Stay and See Blood Brothers package includes an overnight stay, two tickets to see 'Blood Brothers', a two-course dinner for two with a glass of wine each in Cafe Novo and a full Irish breakfast in Wilde -- The Restaurant

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

Promoted Links

Style Newsletter

Stay on top of the latest fashion, beauty and celeb gossip in our Style newsletter.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in this section