A book primarily intended for postpartum mothers is not really the sort of book Whispering Gums’ readers would expect to see here, but let me explain. Melbourne-based Heidi Sze started her food blog, Apples Under My Bed, the same year I started mine. However, that’s not our link. Rather, it’s that later that year, Daughter Gums also started a blog, through which she met Heidi – first online, then in person. Through that connection, a few years on, Daughter Gums ended up working in the Melbourne-based company co-founded by Heidi’s husband. Got all that?
Anyhow, the point is that over the last few years, I have been following Heidi, mainly via her Instagram account heidiapples. I have watched her gorgeous two children come into being – and then her third “darling child” (as Jane Austen would call it), her book Nurturing your new life: Words and recipes for the new mother. Note the double meaning of the title, “new life” referring both to a new child, and to a woman’s new life as a mother. “Matrescence, the process of becoming a mother” is, in fact, what the book is about.
Consequently, when I received Paperchain bookshop’s email announcing Heidi’s author tour event there, I knew I had to go and meet her in person. (Of course, Daughter Gums had already given me the heads-up, so I wasn’t going to miss it.)
The event …
I arrived early, hoping to say hello to Heidi before it started, as I had to get off promptly afterwards. I recognised her immediately, and was thrilled to be so warmly greeted when I introduced myself. An added bonus was that her two children, Joan (4) and Walt (18 months), and husband Ben were there too, so I got to meet the whole lovely family. Joan, though, as she should in a book shop, was more interested in finding out where the children’s section was. I approved!
The event basically comprised Heidi telling us about herself, how the book came into being, her intentions for the book, and how she structured and wrote it to meet those intentions. It was a small audience, comprising mostly mums and dietitians/nutritionists, given Heidi is a professional dietitian with a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics from Monash University.
Would-be authors might be interested to know how she came to write this, her first book. She explained that a literary agent, who had been reading her blog and liked what she was writing, contacted her and suggested she write a book! Obviously, this isn’t going to happen to every blogger, but it shows that well-written clearly focused blogs can lead to other things – in Heidi’s case, also to being a recipe columnist for ABCLife (a lovely editor of which I also met at the event.)
Back to the book, though. It took Heidi seven months to prepare her book proposal, which included planning out the chapters and what each one would cover. She obviously did a thorough job because she got a book contract with HarperCollins.
Heidi also shared her career trajectory, explaining how, after the birth of her first child, she moved from general nutrition to a pre and postpartum focus. She also explained how in her early private practice she found she was doing as much counselling as specific nutrition advice. Through this, she had become increasingly aware of the damage that diet culture does. With her awareness of this and of the hard time women give themselves in general, Heidi underpins her book with one important message – that no two experiences are the same, so comparing yourself with others is not helpful. (A message relevant not just to new mums, eh?) She recognises, however, that it’s hard to live by this with “all the noise out there”.
Heidi supports this message in her book with practical advice for new mothers, two of which are that new mothers need support (Chapter 3) and that self-care is critical (Chapter 4). “We are not meant to do this alone”, she realised early in her new-motherhood. Indeed, the trickle-down effects of no support are immense, she said. And she’s right of course. Each generation does it differently, but each generation needs to recognise this important fact. It does take a village to raise a child. You are not a failure as a woman or a mother, if you can’t do it all because, in fact, you CAN’T do it all.
Related to the idea of support is the idea that new mothers need to take care of themselves, that fitting in self-care is not a luxury, but “a necessity and should be treated as such”. So, to tak self-care as an example of how the book works, Heidi not only provides sensible suggestions for how to achieve it, but, understanding from her own recent experience how hard it can be, she nurtures her readers along, encouraging them not to reach for the stars but to work out what’s manageable for them. Analyse your day, she says, to work out when you might slot in some time for yourself; think about when and how your partner can help; and so on. Self-care, she says, can be as simple as having a quiet rejuvenating shower. It’s partly in the mindset. In the end, she says:
Just do what you can and pray the stars align more often than not. And remember, you may need to make sacrifices – be it accepting piles of laundry or cancelling non-essential obligations – so that you don’t sacrifice yourself.
I didn’t find it hard to let the housework go, I must say!
Of course, being a nutritionist/dietitian, she includes recipes. Heidi said her goal was to create recipes that were easy and nutritious, that provided left-over opportunities for later meals, and that use up ingredients to reduce shopping expeditions. The recipes are great, and include things like banana oat smoothie, kedgeree (something I love), and slow-cook beef casserole.
If you have a new mother in your life, this warm, practical, non-judgemental book is for her – and, it wouldn’t hurt dipping into it yourself for ways to help. And, of course, if you are a new mother, this book is definitely for you.
Author Event: Heidi Sze on Nurturing your new life
Paperchain Bookstore, Manuka
27 February 2020