The day I meet Aoibhin Garrihy, her baby, Hanorah, is three weeks and a day old, and yes, she and her husband, John Burke, are still counting in days. Maybe even in hours. After all, a first baby is perhaps the strangest, most magical, thing of all.
“We’re still in that haze of, ‘What just happened?'” Aoibhin says, with a slightly dazed laugh. “But it really is amazing. You kind of underestimate how amazing it is. Nothing can really prepare you for it.”
Interestingly, she says she felt, in that astonishing moment of seeing her baby for the first time, in some ways like a “spectator”.
“We knew we were having a girl, although we didn’t tell anyone. And I felt very connected to her throughout the whole pregnancy, but for John, I don’t think it really dawned on him till he saw her, and to witness that was great. Like, in that split second, to see him become a parent. I’d felt like a parent before – I’d been doing the whole preparations, nesting, gathering everything, but I think it took him until that moment of laying eyes on her, to really realise.”
John, she says, was amazing. “Some men are really hands-on with the bump, and he wasn’t. He’s totally squeamish – anything to do with blood, even the smell of the hospital. We did a tour of the hospital and the midwife said, ‘Does he need to sit down?’ And I was like, ‘I’m the one who’s eight months pregnant here!’
“I didn’t think he’d be able to go through with the whole birthing-partner labour thing, but when it came down to it, he was brilliant! The idea of him cutting the cord, not a fecking hope‚Ä¶ but he did. I thought he’d have to be carried out of there, but he really got into the swing of it. To see all of that unfold, he really surprised me. I mean, I knew he would, but it was amazing.”
In general, Aoibhin seems to favour being relaxed over being prescriptive, going with the flow rather than laying down a path. “The more relaxed you are, the better, I guess,” she says. “It was the same when it came to the birth plan.” Did she have one? “I didn’t. I was like, ‘Whatever happens, happens’. You have an idea in your head and that didn’t happen for me, but when it didn’t, I wasn’t mourning the idea in my head. I thought I would be great when it came to breathing techniques, it was something I had been practising, with John. He’s a real positive thinker, and he had to do a lot of that psychology for climbing Everest, and he had been prepping me for labour, but when it came to it – nothing can prepare you, really. I screamed for the pain relief; you do when you’re in the moment!”
And so she sensibly chucked out the birth plan, such as it was, and did what was right at the time. After all, as she says, “Why would you put that kind of pressure on yourself? The baby is the boss.” And sometimes, these things bring their own rewards: “We were really relaxed about everything, and as a result, maybe, we have a really relaxed baby. She’s been lugged and tugged everywhere and seems not to mind.”
Breastfeeding – often a difficult, even contentious part of becoming a mother – has been given exactly the same kind of laid-back treatment. “You kind of underestimate boobs,” she laughs. “I’m not really a booby person – if I could get away without wearing a bra and basically ignore the fact that they were there, I did, and now, I’m like, ‘These things are incredible!'”
From which I gather that she is breastfeeding? “Yes. I was never going to put any pressure on myself. People promote it, the midwives promote it, everyone says that if it works, great, go for it – but I wasn’t married to the idea. I said, ‘We’ll play it by ear’. And Hanorah was brilliant from the word go. She was like, ‘There you are, mom!’ And she latched on straight away, so I just went with it. I don’t know how long we’ll do it for, but for now it’s working, and it’s convenient. And I haven’t figured out how to do the other thing – formula, sterilising.”
What’s funny, or perhaps strange is a better word, is that, for all that Aoibhin is neither prescriptive nor judgmental in her approach to motherhood – or anything else that I can see – it’s a courtesy that hasn’t always been extended to her by the wider social-media world.
“For the most part, social media was great, for gathering the info I needed – ‘What do I need for my hospital bag?’ for example – and there’s a lovely community of mothers online, but there’s the other side of it as well,” she says, slightly cautiously, because she’s not going to knock the knockers; that’s not her way.
“We went for a trek one day. John’s really into climbing and he’s kind of taken me under his wing, and from the moment we met, we were up Croagh Patrick, Carrauntoohil, whatever. So we weren’t doing anything different by going trekking. I was seven months pregnant, I think. It was a glorious day, the ground was hard, there were lots of people around, people John knew, and I posted that I’d done it, and there were comments…
“I quickly realised that people, when it comes to parenting and pregnancy, are quite opinionated‚Ä¶” And nasty, I ask? “They can be,” she laughs. “But lookit, that’s totally fine too, but it made me realise very fast that this was not something people were going to be hush-hush about.”
After Hanorah (it’s pronounced with a hard ‘h’ and is an old family name on both sides) was born, there were more comments when Aoibhin and John took Hanorah out and about; “We felt well enough to be out, and the weather was encouraging us to do that, go to the beach or whatever, but still you get people saying, ‘That child is too young to be out…’ and wrapping them in bubble wrap. I just don’t understand it.”
Does she think there’s a sense in which women, once they are pregnant, become public property to an extent, so that everyone feels entitled to offer their tuppence-worth? “I don’t know, I guess when you share things online, it’s part of the territory, isn’t it? And generally I take it with a pinch of salt, and that’s it. I’ve been on social media for years now, and this is the one thing that I’ve found people to be really vocal about. I think it’s good to stay active, stay healthy, but a lot of people think it [pregnancy] is a condition, and that’s what I find strange.”
Alongside the overwhelming rush of love, for many new parents, there can be a daunting weight of responsibility. Did Aoibhin feel that? “Yes, there are times when it comes over me, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t want to mess this up!’ I suppose every parent feels that way. But I read something recently – if you take a leaf out of the chimpanzee’s book, parenting should be fun! I know a lot of anxiety comes with it, I know a lot of work comes with it, a lot of sacrifices, and it doesn’t go textbook for everyone, but at the same time, we tend to forget that fun aspect of it.
“I haven’t read any childcare books, but I have browsed the shelves, and they’re all seem to be about ‘coping with…’ It should be fun, too. We’re only at week three,” she laughs, “and we’re probably forcing the fun on her! We’ve been bringing her into the pool, to baby massage – she doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Three weeks post-birth, Aoibhin looks beautiful, as she invariably does. It’s the beauty that comes from good health and great joy, a kind of radiance that can’t be replicated.
So how does she feel? “Post-baby – nothing prepares you for this, either! You’re a totally different version of yourself. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the way I was. I don’t think it’s even weight, it’s my whole shape‚Ä¶ but you don’t care too much. It is a change, but I don’t think about it, except now when I’m doing a photo shoot.”
The photo shoot is for Aoibhin’s third season as ambassador for Irish jewellery brand Knight & Day, now 11 years old. “I love working with them,” she says now. “They’re such a gorgeous company. We were in Ardmore, in Waterford, recently, and I wandered into a craft shop and there was the collection. It’s all over Ireland in lovely little boutiques, as well as Carraig Donn, another great Irish brand, and I’m just really proud to be part of it.”
The range – including necklaces with matching earrings and bracelets, and beautiful statement earrings – is perfectly suited to Aoibhin’s delicate, classic look.
“When I think of the first collection,” she says with a laugh, “it was post-Dancing With The Stars, and I was in the shape of my life. I’d been doing 10 hours of cardio every day, for five or six months. Now we’re shooting the third collection on Monday and I’m four weeks post-partum, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god‚Ä¶’ Luckily, it’s jewellery, and it’s beautiful.”
So does this mean she is back at work already? “As a freelancer, you have to roll with the punches,” she says. “The first official job was booked in two weeks after I had her, but it’s not nine to five, so people are saying, ‘Are you mad? You should take the time off…’ but it’s only a few hours here and there, and that’s what Mom is for, I guess, and John has been great. I’m only doing the odd gig here and there, and it’s nice to have balance.”
And by the sounds of it, Aoibhin wouldn’t be able to keep her mother, Clare, away, if she tried. “Hanorah is the first grandchild on my side of the family, and my mom gets withdrawal symptoms when she’s away from her. She’s texting me, ‘Send me pictures, send me video’. We’re so close anyway, but having Hanorah has made me realise how amazing my mum is.”
And what about her sisters, Doireann and Ailbhe? “They’re besotted as well. It’s brought us all closer together.”
Back to Dancing With The Stars for a minute – can Aoibhin still do a decent tango? “It feels like a distant memory,” she laughs. “I could not remember a step if you paid me.”
Aoibhin and Vitali Kozmin were one of the standout acts of the first series, and thinking back on it, Aoibhin says, “You do go on a journey. That sounds like such a cliche, but you’re out of your comfort zone. I was just married, I was dancing with this stranger, and all of a sudden, you’re pitched as this team‚Ä¶ it went against a lot of things you’re used to or you feel comfortable with, so you do feel, like, a little bit vulnerable. Plus, on the dance floor, there’s nowhere to hide. The pressure is on every week. You see people in their raw state.”
Did the level of physical intimacy with someone who is, initially anyway, a stranger, feel uncomfortable? “I was more stressed about my footwork than about that,” she says. “But there was something strange about spending that much time with someone, as a team, when my teammate is John. It was different and interesting and took some adjusting to.” On the subject of ‘chemistry’ between dance partners, she is very funny: “You just fake it!”
And of course, a week after Dancing With The Stars finished, “we flew to Nepal and John went on the biggest journey of his life, for nearly three months, to the summit of Mount Everest.”
What does it feel like, being married to a dedicated climber of serious mountains? “Well, Everest was a long time coming, a long time in the making. Our first date was postponed because he was off climbing Mount Blanc, so I knew I’d always have to contend with this. But I wasn’t happy about it for a long time,” she admits.
“When he kept saying, ‘Everest is the dream,’ I said, ‘Don’t do it’, and I thought I’d bring him round. But you can’t hold back the tide. And then you just have to get behind it. People asked, ‘Were you petrified at the end?’ I had done all that in the early stages. By the end, I was so invested in it that I really understood what he was doing.”
And what if she had said, ‘Please don’t do this?’ “Well, of course he wouldn’t [do it], but it would put a strain on the relationship. If someone really, really wants to do something, they have to do it. And now,” she says, “it’s probably what I love about him!” She then adds, “He’s started surfing now, which is brilliant! I can keep a watchful eye‚Ä¶”
John’s experiences, on Everest, Mount Blanc, the Matterhorn, and other challenging places, have become the bedrock for the foundation he and Aoibhin have set up, Elevate, an impressive initiative aimed at youth wellness and the realisation of potential.
“In John’s family, there was a mental-health tragedy. We see it all the time in the west; it’s becoming an epidemic. You hear so many stories of tragedies, and our youth are the most vulnerable. We thought, ‘This needs to be addressed.'” It is still, she says, “early days, but we’ve a lot done in the past year, and John’s journey was the platform that launched it.”
Learning to be fluid
And then there are the Beo workshops that Aoibhin runs with Sharon Connellan, and with the help of her mother and sisters. “It’s health and wellness for women. It started with one day in the hotel, and it’s kind of taken off. We’ve taken the workshops all over the country. There’s real demand for something like this, to show that self-care isn’t selfish. After all, as the quote goes, you can’t serve from an empty vessel.”
How is her own self-care? “I’m getting good at it,” she says. “I guess being surrounded by nature is therapy for me. We’ve two big mastiffs and I spend a lot of time with them, by the sea. I love the sea and swimming in the sea; it has healing properties. Writing things down – what I’m grateful for, for example. The idea of tuning in to what you have rather than focussing on what you don’t have.”
A new baby, a positive attitude, a busy professional and philanthropic life, the Knight & Day jewellery range – these are busy times. “This is not something I planned for, but there you go,” she says. “I’ve learned to be fluid. You just have to roll with it. And I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.”
Photography by Eilish McCormick
Styling by Sinead Keenan
The brand new Knight & Day Jewellery collection will be unveiled to retailers today at the Autumn Gift & Home Fair 2018 at Citywest Event Centre. The collection will be available in over 180 stockists across Ireland and in Carraig Donn stores nationwide from early September. Each piece is individually presented in a beautiful gift box sealed with a bow, see knightanddayjewellery.com
Sunday Indo Life Magazine