Australian Paralympian Jessica Smith gives us a look into how her life has changed since becoming a mum, what challenges she has faced and what tips she has for other mums about to go through the weaning process.
1. You have achieved so much professionally throughout your life time, but the past two years have seen you become both a wife and mother, have you found this has changed your outlook?
Absolutely, motherhood changes everything! I have definitely shifted my priorities and what I value in life. My family is the most important thing to me and I would do anything for my husband and our daughter. I’m still the same person with the same dreams and goals as I had prior to becoming a mum, but those dreams and goals now include my family. It is certainly a huge transition from not having a child to suddenly leaving the hospital with a new born baby, life changes, forever. I’ve realised that my motherhood journey is about embracing whatever comes my way and accepting it.
2. How old is Ayla now and what’s she like?
Ayla is almost 18 months old and she is such a beautiful caring little girl. When I watch her and observe her nature, I’m so proud of my husband and I, knowing that we have created such a lovely little person.
3. What have you found has been the most challenging aspect about being a mother?
Motherhood is a magnificent mixture of indescribable wonders and utter exhaustion! I really struggled with breastfeeding. The first six weeks were agonising, but we both hung in there and I’m proud to say I am still breastfeeding.
Without a doubt though, the most challenging aspect of motherhood for me, is the sleep deprivation.
The exhaustion is like nothing else. It is something that only mothers can understand.
When my friends without kids complain how tired they are … I just smile politely.
Sleep deprivation is something that you cannot prepare yourself for. No amount of rest during pregnancy can make up for the lack of sleep that new mums experience.
This has absolutely had an impact on my mental and emotional wellbeing. Ayla has never slept longer than 4 hours.
In those early weeks and months, some days I just cried. I had no idea how I could go another day without sleep. But, as mums, we just find a way of ploughing forward.
It really is a shame that this topic isn’t discussed more openly within society. I feel that mothers everywhere need more understanding when it comes to sleep deprivation.
I try to be as honest and transparent as I can when talking about this issue – because I am certain that the lack of sleep mums experience is directly linked to postnatal depression, and the only way to reduce the stigma that unfortunately still exists around PND – is to talk about it.
4. When did you start and how have you found the weaning process with Ayla, have you found any difficulties?
I exclusively breastfed Ayla until she was about 5.5 months old and then started introducing solids. Initially she would eat most things that I made for her, which was great, but of course with all the varying developmental stages she seemed to change her eating patterns. From about 8 months to 12 months, every day was different! Some days she would eat everything I put in front of her, then next day she would only want to be breastfed. It was a challenge at times, because a lot of food actually went to waste, but I realised that I just needed to trust her, if she was hungry she would eat so I tried not to worry too much. I remember around her first birthday she would only eat yoghurt, it didn’t matter what else I offered her, she wasn’t interested unless it was yoghurt, so I just went with it. Now, she is a good eater, she loves fruit and vegetables which I’m very happy about! I am also still breastfeeding!
5. Have you found Ayla to be a picky eater or has she been good with it?
Overall I would say that she is pretty good when it comes to her eating habits but I guess all babies are just going at their own pace. She certainly screws her nose up at a lot of foods that I offer her, but I’ve never been worried that she isn’t eating enough or not getting the right nutrients.
6. Have you got any tips that you can now give to other mums that are about to go through the same thing?
My advice would be to not stress if your baby doesn’t eat a certain food straight away, or even if they do and then the next time you offer the same food they refuse it. It’s not worth the stress, and what I’ve come to learn as a first time mum, is that our children are pretty good at letting us know what they want. So trust your own child, and don’t compare their progress with another child. Just go at your own pace.
7. What’s been your favourite part of being a mother so far?
That incredible bond with your child that only a mother knows. It’s beyond beautiful and I never ever expected to feel so much love for someone else. As much as motherhood is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, both physically and emotionally, it’s also the most rewarding. When your child smiles at you or gives you a kiss … there really is nothing better in this world.
8. People often wonder how you can keep a career going whilst being a new mum, have you got any advice for them?
You need to surround yourself with people who love and support you and your ideas. Being a mother is the hardest job in the world, we all know that, so trying to juggle motherhood and a career can sometimes be extremely overwhelming. Don’t rush back into anything too soon. Be organised and prepared for the unexpected.
As a motivational speaker I do a lot of travel, and my daughter is always with me. I’m lucky that I have a very supportive husband who also travels with me so that he can be with Ayla while I’m presenting. The rest of my work is done predominantly at home and I can assure you that being a work-from-home-mum is the most difficult thing I have ever done! I have to do all my admin, invoices, speaking preparation, emails etc while she sleeps during the day, so on average I have two hours max! In that time I also need to do the washing, ironing, dishes etc etc. It is full on! But, I love what I do and I am not ready to send Ayla to day care any time soon, so even though it’s difficult to juggle motherhood and my career, I remind myself how lucky I am that I can do both, because so many women aren’t as fortunate as I am.
9. Fitness is obviously such a large part of your life being a Paralympian, how have you found getting back into a routine?
Haha what routine! Since having Ayla exercise is a luxury for me, and I have to take opportunities when they come my way. I try to fit in a little bit of yoga and stretching in the mornings, however it is far from tranquil as Ayla is usually climbing all over me! And if I’m lucky and my husband gets home from work at a reasonable hour, I try to fit in a run in the evenings. I used to be so structured with my fitness regime, but being a mum means that sometimes we have to sacrifice things. Even though I do believe that exercise is very important for not just our physical but our mental wellbeing, sometimes I have to settle for a workout in the kitchen while making dinner! I just improvise and do what I can when I can.
10. You have so many accolades to your name, and on top of becoming a mum you also became an author with the brilliant ‘Little Miss Jessica Goes to School’ – tell us about the idea behind the book and how it all came about?
When I was growing up there were no characters in books or on television that looked like me. I grew up with Barbie and Disney Princesses. There was no diversity in the characters that I saw, just beautiful flawless females who I aspired to look like.
The sheer lack of diversity was a concerning issue. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong about characters such as Barbie, Cinderella, Batman or Superman – these are the characters that ignite our imagination and encourage us to fantasize.
But children also need to see and read about characters that represent what they see in real life, characters with imperfections and characters with differences.
“Little Miss Jessica Goes to School” is a children’s book about a young girl with one hand on her first day at school, but more importantly her journey in discovering that we are all different. She meets other kids, all of whom have a different appearance to her, and together they learn to appreciate who they and how they look, in spite of their differences.
I have been sharing my story publicly as a motivational speaker for many years now, with my target audience for the past five years has been youths, in particular young females, and although I believe I am able to connect and make a difference with this age group, I’ve always believed that promoting positive body image and self
worth at a young age is crucial.
When I found out that I was pregnant, positive body image and self-worth were (and are) qualities I am adamant that my children will grow up with.
I decided that writing a children’s book was a fun and creative way to convey a very important message about self-acceptance and respect.
11. What’s next for you?
2017 is a busy year for me, both personally and professionally. I will be travelling the country sharing my story with audiences of all ages, and of course I’ll be spending quality time with my baby, before she grows up too quickly!