FEED FEARLESSLY: Stephanie, Sebastian & Arabella

As a former secondary school teacher, motherhood not only brought with it many challenges, it also resulted in a significant career pivot. These days Stephanie Slater has swapped the textbooks for functional medicine as co-founder of Asklé - a personalised, prescribed nutritional medicine system designed to support mums through their pregnancies and the impact of post-natal depletion.  

Together with her husband Will, they share Sebastian 4 and Arabella 2 - as well as the highs and lows that go with running a business together. It’s her lived post-partum experience that now informs their day-jobs and their shared belief that so much more needs to be done to support women through motherhood and matresence.  

“I absolutely believe more needs to be done to support mums postnatally,” says Steph. “ We prepare so much for pregnancy and birth. We buy the best things, have clear expectations of what we want things to look and feel like, and we are so happy to throw money at baby 'stuff', but we neglect ourselves. We no longer have the village that communities have always had in years gone by, and we have masculinised motherhood with an expectation that women can do it all. So we try to step up to the plate, and do it all, but at what cost? For me, it was my mental health.” 

Reflecting on the early years, Steph’s birthing and feeding stories are proof that no 2 journeys are the same and to always expect the unexpected. 

 “I was so naive going into the birth of Sebastian. I had a birth plan with very clear instructions around how I expected the experience to go... no interventions, ask me if you are to conduct an episiotomy - a totally 'natural' birth - that word gives me shivers still to this day!” she laughs. 

 20 hours of labour later, with blood in her urine and Sebastian's heart rate dropping, an emergency caesarean was called. 

 “To the midwives and OB's credit, they respected my birth plan for as long as they could, until it was our safety at risk. I chose to have an elective caesarean with Arabella which was a completely different experience - almost like checking into a hotel and then waiting to be called up. I was far more aware of what was going on with Arabella's birth, so I was more nervous about the surgery, but both were beautiful birthing experiences, in their own unique way,” she explains. 

Her feeding journeys were characterised by pain and perseverance - ultimately enjoying a successful breastfeeding journey with both her babies, but one that ultimately contributed to a slide towards PND. 

“I thought that breastfeeding would be so much easier the second time round, because how could it not? I had already breastfed one baby and thought I knew how to handle any hiccups. Unfortunately, it was quite the opposite,” Steph explains. “...four months to the date - I kid you not, literally to the date for both kids -  breastfeeding was mostly awful. With Sebastian I didn't have a huge supply as he was in NICU for four days after birth so I didn't get to feed as much as I wanted to. I suffered blocked ducts, bleeding nipples, mastitis and a lot of pain with both children,” she recalls. 

“I really beat myself up over it. Breastfeeding should be 'easy', 'natural' and is the best thing for them (so I thought!). I would feed, pump, store, feed, pump, store and do that over and over and over again. I cried most nights. It felt like shards of glass were shooting through my nipples. I wanted it so badly but I felt like my body was failing me and I, in turn, was failing my children. I persevered, and thankfully after four months I went on to have an incredibly beautiful breastfeeding journey with both of my children. But gosh it was hard.” 

Having experienced the difficulty of birthing in the middle of a pandemic with Sebastian - the little of what remains of a village that is meant to support a new mother, was completely eroded away. By the time Arabella was born, Steph was utterly submerged in the depths of motherhood.

“I was diagnosed with PND six months after the birth of Arabella. I don't think I could tell you the trigger or warning signs as for me, I wasn't even fully aware of it. I used to cry a lot, but I thought I was just overwhelmed - I had a toddler, a newborn, a husband who was travelling for work and if he wasn't travelling, worked all day every day, and my family and friends were in Melbourne while I was living regionally. It came to a point where my closest people told me it was time to see a Doctor.” 

While there were many contributing factors to Steph’s PND diagnosis, she feels strongly that the challenges she faced with breastfeeding initially added to the sense of overwhelm and anxiety. “I wish it didn't feel like formula feeding was the second best option. I wish we empowered mums to make the best decision for them, with the correct information,” she says. 

Her advice for new mums now is clear: ask for help. “It's ok to not have your shit together. It's ok for someone to come around and see an untidy house. It's more than ok to say no to someone wanting to visit. Don't feel that you have to do it all and have all the answers. First child or fourth child, we're all fumbling around trying to make sense of the chaos.”

For Steph and Will, making sense of the chaos involved building their own business and brand - a service that connects mums to women's health specialists to receive a truly personalised nutritional supplement.

“Because of my own experience of PND, I looked into what supplements we are taking and what ingredients were being used. This is when we learnt about the difference between Folic Acid and Folate. Folic acid, being synthetic, cannot be fully absorbed by people with the MTHFR gene, of which 40-60% of the population have,” Steph explains.

“My frustration came from the disempowerment I felt from the healthcare system and the lack of knowledge that was passed on to me, essentially because of big pharma. That's why Asklé was born. We want mums to access real nutritional medicine, made with high quality ingredients at therapeutic dosages, with a formulation that is actually tailored to them.” 

Providing clear and up to date information at preconception is just one of the systemic changes that need to be made in order for women to go into their pregnancies and postpartum journeys empowered. Workplace adjustments, parental care entitlements, feeding support, funded lactation support and even GP's understanding of women's health would all help set women up instead of failing them at their most vulnerable. 

"Your first baby comes with so much excitement, anticipation, rest, and a beautiful naivety. Your second comes with exhaustion from chasing your first, yet a sense of ease and understanding of what's to come. But like anything, you can't fully prepare for what you don't completely know."

For any new mums that come to her for prescribed nutritional medicine, her message is simple: be kind to yourselves. 

“You are enough. You just created and birthed a tiny human. Give yourself time and space to heal, physically and emotionally. You will lose what feels like your identity but you will step into a beautifully evolved one. You are capable of so much.”

If you or someone you know needs assistance wih Post Natal Depression, call the PANDA National Helpline (Monday to Saturday) on 1300 726 306