Behind the scenes of my breastfeeding runway walk

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Behind the scenes of my breastfeeding runway walk

When Mara Martin walked the Sports Illustrated runway during Swim Week while breastfeeding her baby daughter Aria, the world snapped to attention. Overnight, Mara became an international symbol for the movement to #normalizebreastfeeding and to empower mothers to keep building their careers and passions with their little ones by their sides. We caught up with Mara for the inside scoop on how her now-iconic runway walk came about, and how she feels about becoming the face of a global mama movement. Got your own questions? You're in luck! Mara will be answering them all on Mindr's Instagram stories tomorrow, Tuesday 8/14. To participate, just drop your questions for Mara (and your Instagram handle, if you have one) in the comments below.

Mara! We've seen the photos, now we need the details. How did you decide to walk the Swim Week runway with baby Aria? What sparked the idea, and what did you hope to achieve?

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was holding their first ever in-person open casting call in Miami Beach, Florida. It had been a lifelong dream of mine to be in the magazine. My fiancé Ryan and I had just moved to Key Largo, which is about an hour and half from Miami Beach. We don’t know anyone down here to babysit and because Aria is exclusively breastfed, my only chance of attending the casting was to take her with me. So I decided to do it!

There were thousands of girls waiting in line and after a long first day, Sports Illustrated called me to invite me to the next rounds. Once they had narrowed down the thousands of applicants to just 16 girls, they told us we were chosen to walk in the runway show. The editor, MJ Day, asked if I wanted to walk in a mommy-and-me look. I thought it would be so cute, so I let them know that if baby Aria was awake and OK then we could include her!

The night of the show, Aria was awake and ready to go in her green bikini. The show kept getting pushed back and she got hungry backstage so I started nursing her, just like I had done all weekend throughout the casting process and like I do on a daily basis. The editor, MJ, saw, and came over and asked if I wanted to just walk down nursing her. She let me know that she supported whatever I wanted to do. And I said I would love to!

So I walked out onto the runway still breastfeeding Aria. It was such a casual and small moment backstage between MJ and myself. I think Sports illustrated in general is an amazing brand that celebrates women exactly as they are, and right at that moment, I was just being a mom and taking care of my little girl.

What was going through your mind as you were walking the runway while holding her in your arms?

I was so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be in the top 16 finalists for Sports Illustrated, which had always been a dream. The whole weekend was so emotional for me, leading up to the moment I walked the runway. When I got the chance to walk with my daughter, it felt so amazing being able to create that memory with her. She was a part of the whole casting process and her being on that runway couldn’t have been a better moment for me.

Did you have any idea that you’d wake up the next day as a symbol of empowerment for women and mothers?

I didn’t think it would even be a thing. Breastfeeding has been such a natural and normal experience for me, it didn’t even cross my mind that anyone would make such a big deal of it. In fact, after the show we went home and tried to get some sleep since Ryan had to work the next day. Little did we know we would be right back the next day for multiple interviews!

I am so grateful and excited to be the conversation starter about normalizing breastfeeding and also showing women around the world to be confident in their bodies.

Although we had no idea it would become this, I will say I am so grateful and excited to be the conversation starter about normalizing breastfeeding and also showing women around the world to be confident in their bodies and to never give up a dream or goal, no matter what obstacles get in your way.

Tell us about the time since Swim Week: what’s it been like being the face of the movement to #normalizebreastfeeding?

It’s been truly amazing seeing all of the support around the world. I have done interviews with almost every major American magazine from People to Teen Vogue and innumerable television shows from around the world, as far as Australia. It’s been non-stop and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We all need to be supporting each other and lifting each other up, not just as mothers but as people in general, and I'm so happy to be contributing to that.

If you could share one piece of advice with fellow mamas worldwide, what would it be?

As far as your bodies, be confident in the way you look. You just created a human; be proud of that. You are extraordinary. Don’t worry about other mothers’ journeys. Focus on your own because that’s all that matters.

You just created a human; be proud of that. You are extraordinary.

As far as parenting, try to cut yourself some slack. You are doing the best you can! There will be days when everything is easy and days that are extremely hard. It’s OK. Your baby is going to be OK. As long as you know that you are doing your very best that’s all that matters.  Oh and sleep when the baby sleeps... I didn’t do that the first 5 months and I’m still trying to catch up! 

Got questions for Mara? Join her on Mindr's Instagram stories tomorrow, Tuesday 8/14 for all the answers. Just drop your questions for Mara (and your Instagram handle, if you have one) in the comments below.

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Friday Five

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Friday Five

Happy Friday, Mindr fam! Here's what you need to know about the week that was:

  1. Work-life balance is getting a bad rap. Amazon's CEO and the world's richest person Jeff Bezos doesn't believe in the term, preferring to think about "work-life harmony" instead. Ohmm.
  2. Celebrity moms are working moms too. New mama Eva Longoria reminded the world that red carpets and film premieres need pumping rooms too, sharing the difficulties of being separated from 7 week old Santiago for work. 
  3. We need to support more women entrepreneurs. Only 15% of US venture dollars went to teams with a female founder last year - and only 2% to all-female teams. And it hurts us all, since it means "VCs aren’t capturing a potentially huge source of innovation, which could make a long-term positive impact on US economic growth."
  4. The sharing economy is having a hiccup. New York became the first major American city to press pause on new licenses for ride-share services like Uber and Lyft while the City tries to figure out how to deal with the impact of this growing industry on traffic congestion and the livelihoods of traditional taxi drivers, many of whom are falling into poverty.
  5. Parenting in the age of Alexa can be a blessing and a curse. Sure, who hasn't wished for a magical robot assistant that can do their kids' bidding? But the impacts can be more complicated than we think.

See you next week!

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Why all parents need community (not just moms)

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Why all parents need community (not just moms)

I felt like maybe it was crazy, but I stopped her in a coffee shop because her baby looked about the same age as mine and I asked her if we could be friends.

I have heard this sentence so many times. It powerfully illustrates the isolation we feel as new mothers, when the days are long and the nights are even longer. When I first had my son, I was lucky that I was already surrounded by many mothers. The reality, however, is that women aren’t necessarily pregnant at the same time as their close friends and that makes pregnancy - and particularly the postpartum period - a difficult time to maneuver. 

One could argue that social media platforms and communications apps such as Whatsapp and Instagram have made it easier to connect with others, because we have community at our fingertips any time of the day. But most of us would admit that it’s not the same as making connections in real life.  

According to the CDC, about 1 in 9 women in the U.S. suffer from postpartum mood disorders. That said, rates vary by state and some have reported rates as high as 1 in 5 women. Some of these present as anxiety and ranges to the worst cases being postpartum depression that has to be treated medically. On top of that, about 25% of women also develop a condition I was diagnosed with: thyroiditis. This condition is characterized by an inflamed thyroid that mimics signs of sleep deprivation and fatigue. My primary problem with my thyroid condition was that my overwhelming feelings of anxiety - which were hormonal - were very difficult to discuss with my friends. Luckily, I was able to find a community of other mothers to talk to, exercise with in groups and know that it was normal and ok to feel the way that I did. I managed to be pro-active about finding a support system and admitting I couldn't do it alone.

What is often forgotten in this kind of scenario, however, is the birth mother's partner. While medical professionals focus on the mother and child, the third person in the picture is often left on the sidelines and in their own way - alone. I know my own postpartum anxieties were difficult to relay to my husband, who found that his wife - finally coming out of the immediate postpartum period after 5 months - was now hard to read, sad and overwhelmed yet again. 

Partners often don’t feel like it’s appropriate to take up too much attention or discuss their feelings when they didn’t do the heavy-lifting of physically birthing a baby, but they can often feel left out. Sometimes, partners begin to develop feelings that the burden of the financial responsibility is now solely on their shoulders, or they may not immediately connect with the child, or they also suffer from fatigue and sleep deprivation. All of these can lead to the development of their own form of postpartum anxiety and depression. Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) is being diagnosed more commonly among men after the birth of a child and studies suggest that between 7 and 10 percent of new dads may have PPND. But rates are likely higher because stats are self-reported. Partners aren’t observed for signs of depression like their partners at baby well visits. They often aren’t even asked how they feel. So how can we better support them?

For both parents - individually and together - counseling may be a good first step to reaching the conclusion that either or both are struggling in the first year after a baby’s birth and to take measures to address it. There are a number of activities that have been proven to improve one's mental health and can be especially helpful in the postpartum period. It may seem counter-intuitive when you have just brought a new life into the world, but making an effort to spend time alone without the baby - either solo or with your partner - can do wonders for your mental health. It is so important to take time out for your own self-care and returning (once the doctor has cleared you) to the things that brought you joy pre-baby like taking walks, exercising or mediation.

Next, connect with other parents who understand the challenges of the newborn phase. Just having someone to vent to when things get tough can be priceless. Finally, seek out help if you need it. Read up on the matter. Try a site like Beyond Blue: an Australian mental health website with information and resources, including a handbook for new dads. The site PostpartumMen, the ACOG and the March of Dimes also have resources to guide you through this transition. Be honest with yourself and talk to a health-care provider and seek medical help when you need it.

Today many of us find ourselves miles - if not continents - away from the proverbial village we thought would help us raise our children. Many of us feel like we are going it alone. But throughout the past years of my work, I have found that regardless of race, age and socio-economic status, we all struggle with the same issues after a child is born and we all yearn to thrive in a community of like-minded individuals. Finding that community is now easier than ever, we just need to take the first step of reaching out. So maybe all the moms who said the sentence that I opened this article with, were on to something. And maybe, by reaching out to that other parent, you are actually improving their lives, too. 

Roma van der Walt is the founder of Chitta Wellness and a former Member of the German national team for Modern Pentathlon who has made her passion for sports, her job. In her work with mothers-to-be and new parents she focuses on addressing the main challenges to self-care in parenthood, by offering childcare and community and using exercise for mental and physical wellbeing.

 

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