EXHAUSTED, overwhelmed and still in physical pain from a traumatic birth 11 days previously, Kate Ferdinand hesitated before posting the most candid of selfies on Instagram.
Her hair was scraped back in a messy bun, she was wearing maternity knickers that revealed a brutal-looking bruise on her thigh but baby Cree was oblivious to it all, curled up in a milk slumber over her shoulder.
It was a powerful image of early motherhood that captured much of what Kate was going through and what she wanted to say. And judging by the 350,000-plus likes the post received, it resonated with so many others.
In her first major interview and shoot since having Cree almost three months ago, Kate says: “I was really nervous about posting that picture, but something in me just felt like I had to.
"I was scrolling on social media and seeing lots of women having babies and looking amazing and seeming really happy, and I was just thinking: ‘I don’t feel like that, I feel overwhelmed’. I loved him so much, but I was struggling.
“My body was bruised, I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs and I just thought: ‘Surely other people must be going through this too?’ I felt very strongly that I wanted to be a voice of normality.
"I’m so glad I did it, because the response actually made me feel so much better. There were so many people who could relate to it and it normalised what I was going through. I didn’t feel so alone.”
She adds with a smile: “I mean, there was still a part of me thinking: ‘Er, I’m in big black knickers on Instagram’, but this is real life. We love our babies, but it’s so important to be honest about the reality.”
After a pretty smooth pregnancy, Kate, 29, suffered a gruelling birth that culminated in an emergency caesarean.
The experience left her devastated because the recovery was painful and slow – for weeks she was effectively bed-ridden and unable to perform the simplest of tasks.
Although husband Rio, 42, was a pillar of support, Kate felt frustrated and desperately sad that she couldn’t pick up Cree from his crib herself, finding it difficult even to change his nappies.
On top of that, she felt guilty for not spending more time with her stepchildren, Lorenz, 14, Tate, 12, and nine-year-old Tia, who also needed her.
The hopes and expectations she’d had were shattered, which she struggled to accept at the time.
“I think I cried every single day for about five weeks,” she says. “You expect to be doing everything you possibly can for your baby and when you can’t… It was something I really struggled with.
"I was in my own little world, I felt really confused and had lots of anxiety and I didn’t think anyone understood.
“I was all over the place emotionally. I couldn’t even put my trousers on or my knickers. I kept dropping my phone or towel on the floor and wasn’t able to pick them up.
"I’d be standing there, shouting for someone to come help me, thinking: ‘What has happened to me?’ I felt so helpless. I also have three big kids to look after, but I couldn’t even eat dinner with them because it was too difficult to get up and down the stairs.
“It was close to Christmas and I’m usually the one jumping around doing stupid things, singing Christmas songs and it just wasn’t what I expected it to be.
"Looking back, I put too much pressure on myself, and everyone was telling me that at the time. But you just want to be able to do it all for your baby.
“I’m a very organised person and try to plan for everything, but the emergency C-section was something I was not prepared for at all.”
Up until that point, Kate’s labour had been progressing normally. She vividly recalls the doctor telling her it was time to start pushing and her baby boy would be there in about an hour and a half.
“And I said: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do it in half an hour’ – those were my exact words. How foolish of me! Obviously it didn’t go to plan. His head got stuck and his heartbeat was dropping, so it was a decision they had to make.
“At that moment in time when your baby’s life could be at risk, you’re just so thankful there’s someone there who can deliver him safely.
"By that point I just thought: ‘Let’s get this baby out’ and I’m just so happy that he was OK. After those minutes where you worry he might not be, you’re just so happy to have a healthy baby.
“So I wasn’t upset about not having a normal delivery, I was more traumatised from the surgery itself and not being able to move afterwards.”
There have been so many emotional (and hormonal) highs and lows over the last couple of months that much of it is a blur.
One particularly poignant moment came when Tia, on overhearing a distressed Kate trying to settle a screaming Cree, slipped a note under the door that read: “pls stop crying I love u.”
Kate says: “I was emotional anyway and seeing that… She [Tia] is so lovely and caring, and knowing she’d heard me made me feel sad.
"But we’re a family who express our emotions in front of each other and I think it’s important to say: ‘I’m crying, it’s a bit tough at the moment but it’s going to be OK,’ and for children to know it might be tough sometimes.
“Tia saw me in some states, bless her, but she just wanted to help me with everything. It makes me emotional thinking about it. You think it’s never going to get better, but it does. You will be OK.”
Just as she feared, the anxiety that has plagued Kate for as long as she can remember did resurface post-birth, and she says that at one point she was worried about slipping into postnatal depression.
“I thought that I did have it [PND], but I’m not sure if I did. There are different stages of it I think and maybe I had it a little bit and I was worried about it.
"A lot of [my mental health] has to do with exercise. I have exercised since I was 13 and I had coping mechanisms like walking, alone time and training, but in lockdown after surgery that was taken away from me. I found it difficult to manage that.
“But Rio has been amazing, I couldn’t have done it without him. We have a 50/50 relationship with parenting and we help each other. He is supportive through everything.”
The older children have also been a huge help and dote on their baby brother.
“They’re so good, they love him so much and it’s amazing seeing them all together. We’ve had to get used to screaming in the house, which is a bit of a change, but their relationship with him is everything I hoped it would be.”
After the agony of the birth, Kate decided not to breastfeed Cree. She says having the whole family being able to share the feeds has been a weight off her and she is satisfied it was the right decision for all of them.
“After my C-section, I was in no state to breastfeed – that would have sent me over the edge. So Cree is formula-fed, and for me and my family that was the best way.
"It meant when I couldn’t pick him up, the children could help or Rio could if it was the middle of the night. I have a happy, fed baby and that’s the most important thing.
"I don’t like the pressure on social media to be or do a certain thing – you should do what works for you and your family and no one should question that.”
She recently invited followers to ask her anything about her motherhood journey so far and was slightly taken aback to find several people questioning whether she loved her biological baby more than her three stepchildren.
“So many people have said it,” she says. “Even when I was pregnant people would say to me: ‘Do you think you’re going to love the baby more than the other three?’
"And it infuriates me. There is no difference, I love them all. Maybe I’m lucky that I see them as the same, but I’m never, ever going to treat any of them differently.”
Since getting back into light training recently, Kate has started to feel more like her old self.
Just a few weeks ago she couldn’t have imagined feeling confident enough to shoot for the cover of a magazine, but exercise is so crucial to her mental wellbeing and its effects have been transformative.
“I was very by the book at first; I was too scared to do anything too soon. But recently I’ve been doing very light Pilates for 30 minutes and going on long walks.
"I’ve only just started doing light weights. I am a new mum, I’m tired, but I have made a conscious effort to move more because it makes me feel better and I’m feeling so much better.
"In the first six weeks I never thought I would feel like this, but exercise and getting moving has made a huge difference.
“And I had a great day today! I actually felt the most relaxed I’ve ever felt on a shoot. Maybe it’s something to do with motherhood.
"Maybe there are bigger worries now and things I might have been worried about before really don’t seem that important now.”
She subscribes to the very sensible “nine months on, nine months off” philosophy when it comes to getting her body back to where she feels most confident.
There are no plans to crash-diet but – again, with typical frankness – neither does she pretend to love her post-pregnancy figure.
“I do want to go back to how I was before. I know some women say they love their post-baby bodies, but I don’t really love my body now if I’m being honest. It’s OK to say that, we shouldn’t have to pretend we do!
“Having said that, I’m not beating myself up about it, it’s a gradual process to get back to where I was before. I’m not going to be skinny in a week. As new mums, as long as you and your baby are healthy then that’s all that matters.
“I’ve always been body-conscious, and pregnancy obviously changes your body so much.
"When you look in the mirror you have a few more rolls and you think: ‘what’s happened here?!’ But I haven’t been too hard on myself – I’ve just produced a human!”
Mother’s Day will be spent quietly at home as a family of six. The children will remember their mum and Rio’s first wife, Rebecca, who died in 2015 of breast cancer aged just 34.
The family have endured unbearable tragedy over the last few years, also losing Rio’s mum Janice St Ford, 58, to cancer in 2017. So there are no big celebrations planned today.
“It’s a difficult day in our house because the children have lost their mum and Rio’s lost his as well, so I always feel anxious in the lead up to it.
We always have a lovely day, but the build-up is hard. I’ll find it hard to celebrate myself as I don’t want to seem insensitive or selfish when Rio and the kids have lost their mums. So we’ll do a family PJs day and have a toast to Rebecca and Janice. And to me as well.”
Kate and Rio got together in late 2016, and coming into a family so grief-stricken was not easy. She has spoken before about the challenges of step-parenting in these saddest of circumstances, but it is testament to her love, empathy and perseverance that they have forged such a strong unit together.
Encouraging openness has been key and now that she’s through the newborn fog, her advice to other women is the same.
“Talk to people. If you hold on to the emotions, the worse it becomes. When you talk, it’s like you feel lighter. Cry if you need to and don’t feel bad about it.
"Accept all the help you can get. I want to be everything to everyone, but I’ve had to realise that I can only do my best and that it is enough and it will all work out.
“All women go through this, but you don’t know what they’re talking about until you go through it yourself. Women are just amazing. Mothers are amazing, I just think it’s unbelievable what we women go through.”
Today’s (Covid-safe) shoot is the longest she’s been away from Cree since he was born and she makes no secret of her desire to get back to him. It’s only been a few hours but she’s missed him.
In The Make-up Chair with Kate
What’s your skincare regime?
Thorough! I use Bea Skin Care, I cleanse then use serum and hyaluronic acid. I also wear an SPF every day.
Make-up bag essentials?
Normally lip balm and an Hourglass concealer.
Best beauty bargain?
During lockdown I’ve been doing my own gel manicures. It’s a lot cheaper than getting your nails done!
All my skincare products are expensive, but I have suffered from melasma [patchy pigmentation] so I really do take care of my skin.
How would you describe your beauty evolution?
In a word: wow! I was orange, I used to spray fake tan on my face, I had white lips, I don’t know what I was thinking! It’s toned down a lot.
What is the item you never leave home without?
Nars lipliner and Fenty Beauty lipgloss.
Chrissy Teigen. She’s relatable and when you see her without make-up she looks amazing.
“It’s been lovely to be out of the house, but I’m so looking forward to getting home again! We love him so much. He’s so funny, he’s going to be so cheeky. He was smiling at three weeks! He’s such a happy boy.”
And is the turbulence of the last few weeks enough to put her off going through it all again?
“I’m never going to say never, but at this moment in time I have four children and five seems like an awful lot!”
- Hair: Sarrah Hamid using Living Proof & Dyson
- Make-up: Mikey Phillips using Fenty Beauty
- Styling: Ellis Ranson
- Kate wears: coat, Glamorous. Coat, Jayley; shoes, Jimmy Choo
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