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How Zeynab El-Helw, aka @fashion_pirate, has sailed into motherhood with confidence and style.
Half Egyptian half Turkish influencer El-Helw has been adjusting to a new life rhythm. If previously she spent much of her time on set or travelling the world to sit front row at fashion shows, she now has someone else demanding her attention, her son Luca who recently turned one. Regularly sharing her motherhood journey with her 1.4 million Instagram followers, she looks back on her own childhood, shares her experience of pregnancy and birth, the support network she created around herself and what she has learnt from the first year of being a parent.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in London, a family of five; my twin brother, my older brother and myself. We spent a lot of time outdoors and our parents indulged us with sports and music. We travelled a lot too; therefore, we would spend long summers away in Egypt and Turkey with our extended families. Looking back, these were my favourite memories of all time.
Was pregnancy what you expected?
Didn’t know what to expect! I never could imagine myself pregnant. Let’s just say it’s even better than expected, an eventful year filled with many new chapters. Everything was new to me, which made it even more exciting. I did continue my life in the same manner, just slowed down and rested when I was tired. Strangely enough, I had boosts of energy, which enabled me to enjoy the journey.
How did you feel about your body changing?
I found it fascinating as the idea of a foetus developing inside me into a baby and the fact my body was making space for it and a safe zone was incredible and bizarre at the same time. I read a lot over this period and can only say once the kicks started that’s when it started to hit me that there was a living soul all cuddled up inside. I was very eager to embrace motherhood and Luca. Eventually, I did revert to wearing loose and comfortable clothing as my bump grew and always tried to make it as stylish as possible. I launched a maternity line at that time as I found it quite difficult to find pretty clothing that are flattering and fit well.
Any baby books/apps/films/podcasts you’d recommend?
‘What To Expect When Not Expecting’, ‘Back Up Plan’ and ‘Knocked Up’ were humorous movies I related to and I did use the time to read and learn as much as I could. Books I found very useful were ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’, ‘Your Baby Week By Week’ and ‘The First Year’ were words I lived by and still refer to now and then amongst others, of course, the list is endless. Also, there are some fantastic apps I would refer to numerous times a day such as the ‘Baby Centre’, ‘Baby +’ that share the development and allow you to document the journey day by day. Moreover, ‘Little Ones’ got me prepared for birth and introducing the sleeping routine. Till today I refer to it occasionally for tips when Luca goes through a sleep regression.
Talk us through your birth plan, did you know exactly how you wanted it to go or did you approach it with an open mind?
I had an open mind about it all, as I know that you can’t expect your plan to be exactly what you desire and you just want the safest method as you can imagine. I did seek a natural birth, which turned out to be quite successful and luckily I had a smooth birth. My water broke outside of Starbucks in front of the hospital a week before my due date!
How important do you think it is for women to share their pregnancy journeys and birth experiences?
Talking with other women about my pregnancy journey helped me so much as mentally and physically there are so many elements to learn and pick up along the way, which you would naturally miss in a book for example. Otherwise, mental support is so valuable to know you’re not alone in this and it’s okay not to know it all. I realise looking back that no matter how much you prepare in advance; it’s completely different going through it.
How did the name Luca come about?
There were two solid reasons the name came about, as we wanted to choose a name that was sentimental to us. Most importantly my husband proposed to me in Italy on the Amalfi coast near a small town named Lucca so at the time I didn’t think anything of it yet later it came to my attention that it subconsciously was hovering in my mind. Moreover, my husband’s favourite basketball player is called Luka, therefore, we found a midpoint with the spelling ‘Luca’ which is a name we’re very fond with.
How did those first few weeks of being parents feel?
Was it what you expected? It was surreal and very emotional – it took a very long time to sink in and realise that we are parents and that we had a new bundle of joy! It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, as we wanted to be and do the best for him. We didn’t sleep much for weeks on end but it was worth every minute and we were lucky enough to have support from our families to help through those sleepless nights.
Newborn weeks are extremely challenging, how did you divide up the tasks?
My husband and I were very aligned in having a system in place and were lucky to have our parents take turns to ease the challenge when necessary. I believe the closeness of the parents is essential to maintain the necessary support. It is a difficult period and sleep is underrated therefore it is significant to squeeze in those naps as much as possible. The best advice was to nap when the baby naps which we found quite challenging, as we were too excited and overwhelmed to sleep. In a way, we were running on reserve fuel and naturally were worried about the baby.
Who else did you turn to for support?
We did introduce a sleep consultant on board for a short period to help Luca learn to sleep in his cot and set him into a rhythm as with breastfeeding, as much as I love it, it also becomes a form of comfort to a baby as they sometimes can heavily rely on nursing to settle and I wanted to break that pattern which I still struggle with now and then.
How do you approach travelling with Luca? Any in-flight essentials?
We’ve had a few trips with Luca and overall babies are excited to see new surroundings, which keeps them occupied. The first trip was in the first few months of his life which was much easier as he slept most of the time and the others were more challenging as he was much more aware. The key is to keep them occupied as much as possible. Most importantly, they need a dummy/bottle upon take-off and landing to avoid any pressure on their ears that could make them cry. The great news is, the sound in an aircraft and airport relates to the white noise that is a positive sleep and soothing association, which works in your favour. Let’s just say that you need to be hands-on, as creative and patient as possible to be ready to entertain your baby on the plane.
How do you look after your mental wellbeing during those challenging moments?
I take a timeout. That is essential even if I’m not in the mood. It could be anything from going for a long walk, work out, swim, even a facial or a coffee with friends who have been through similar experiences. Your wellbeing is so important as the baby does feel it when you’re stressed
How soon did you go back to work and how did it feel?
Surprisingly quite early as I was in London during fashion week and my parents were able to assist. For me, it didn’t even feel like work, as I was excited to get back into it and only worked a few scattered hours here and there. Over the next months, I jumped back into a few travel trips but would shorten them to day or one night trips instead of longer trips which I was used to simply because I was still breastfeeding and very excited to run back to Luca.
It’s always important to switch off from being a mummy for an hour or two. What is your ideal “me time”?
Funnily enough, work is something that makes me switch off, as I’m very passionate about spending time in creating content. This allows me to switch off and divert my attention and when we reach the result I always get a buzz and a sense of energy from it all
What advice would you share with new mothers?
There is no right or wrong with how you want to bring up your baby. Looking back, I remember people advising and sharing so many different points of view and sometimes it got quite tiring but I do believe every mother is different and it’s up to you to do what you feel works for you and not necessarily listen or feel obliged to do what others assume is correct.
What changes have you noticed in yourself since becoming a mother?
I’ve become more confident with myself and situations as naturally being a mum there are quick decisions and circumstances that you face where you are the one to deal with whether it’s from gut feelings or your research or asking around. You are in charge.
Complete this sentence, being a mother means…
Everything to me, it’s my world.
Anex, Yo-Yo and just got the Bentley to transition to as Luca doesn’t like sitting down.
Pottery Barn and Three Moms art piece over the cot.
Medela and Elvie
Luca’s favourite toy (s)
Basketball, football and everything else that’s lying around
Comotomo and Avent
Pampers pure wipes
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