When it comes to telling the truth on social media, you won’t find many people who are more warts and all than Stacey Solomon.
Since the birth of baby Rex nearly five months ago, she’s very candidly documented the highs and lows of life with a newborn, sharing her breastfeeding struggles, battles with mental health and the moments when she’s felt on the verge of collapse from sheer exhaustion.
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All of this has been wrapped up in the all-consuming love Stacey, 30, clearly feels for her blended family – she has two older boys, Zachary, 11, and Leighton, seven, from previous relationships, while partner Joe Swash has a 12-year-old son, Harry – and it’s seen her become a source of both comfort and inspiration to other new mums.
“I feel like the purpose of social media should be to display an accurate version of your life,” she says. “There were times after giving birth that I just felt awful and horrendous and if I’d put it out there that I was feeling great, it wouldn’t have helped me or anyone else. Knowing I’m not the only person feeling this way helps me deal with it.”
She’s also been extremely honest about her relationship with Joe and hasn’t shied away from sharing the everyday stresses and general irritations that the lethal combination of knackeredness and hormones can often exacerbate.
In one Insta Story she admitted to a bemused Joe, 37, that although he hadn’t done anything wrong, he was grating on her purely by existing.
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“God, we’ve honestly been arranging custody at two in the morning. Like, who’s gonna have the baby?” she jokes today.
“It’s a funny one. I either love Joe more than I’ve ever loved him or I completely hate him – there’s no in-between. There’s no: ‘Oh, he’s all right today.’ It’s just love or hate. He says to me sometimes: ‘Why do you hate me so much?’ And I say: ‘I don’t! I don’t hate you. I just… hate you.’ Does that make sense?”
She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily, remembering how much he wound her up, albeit unintentionally, while she was in labour.
“Joe is a fantastic dad,” she says, “but what a hopeless birthing partner. Just the worst. He was like: ‘Oh my god, oh my god, is that normal? Oh god!’ He was not helping.
“They said they were going to have to break my waters and they got this hook thing out. Joe was panicking, so I told him to just turn around and face the wall.
“They were just putting the hook in and all I could hear was this tap, tap, tapping. I ripped the gas and air out of my mouth and said: ‘Who’s tapping?’ And it was him, trying to keep himself calm. My sister and mum were there just shaking their heads at him.”
Most mums will relate to Stacey’s envy of Joe’s ability to sleep through the gruelling night feeds. But she’s started to suspect foul play. “The baby can be like: ‘Waahh!’ And he’s still snoring away and I just don’t know how he does that.
"You know, for years I’ve thought that Joe washes up the dishes terribly on purpose so that I do it instead. And I think the same rule applies for the night feed because he has not done it once without waking me up at the same time,” says Stacey, who combined breast and bottle for the first few months before moving to formula.
“I kid you not, in the end I’m just like: ‘Please don’t do the night feed, because it’s more upsetting for me to think I’m going to get some sleep and then not get it.’ I’d rather just do it myself.”
Having said all that, the way she describes Joe’s relationship with the boys is so lovely and when she talks about how well he’s cared for her since Rex was born, she becomes emotional. She also recognises that he’s doing his best and her exasperation isn’t always justified.
“I do absolutely adore him. I watch the way he is, not just with Rex, but also with Zach and Leighton, and I love him so much it’s ridiculous. He’s such an incredible father – it’s the most attractive thing about him.
“And it was hard for him at the beginning, cos I was in tears every day and he just wanted to help me. But he couldn’t do anything with the baby because I didn’t want him to. So he spent the first few weeks making me food, doing all the washing, taking the boys everywhere, and I look back and think he’s such a great partner.
Without him doing that I would never have been able to give breastfeeding a good go, and I love him for that.”
Sharing her journey has helped Stacey, who is here today to talk about her A/W collection for Primark, as much as it has her 2.3 million Instagram followers. And it’s renewed her faith in the goodness of other people. The fact that it’s a sense of women supporting women has been particularly heartening.
“Women have each other’s backs and it’s incredible. The majority of us want to support each other and it’s just the most overwhelming feeling when you realise that. What an amazing space Instagram is to be able to find friendship, advice or someone saying: ‘Everything’s going to be OK.’ It has been really lovely.
“People write to me saying thank you for being so open, but the reality is that I should be thanking them. When I was sitting there with my nipples bleeding, having all those stories put everything into perspective and I realised I wasn’t alone in struggling with this.”
Stacey applies a “post now, think later” philosophy to social media. A few weeks ago she posted on Insta Stories about the trials of going to the toilet without putting a clingy baby down and having to rip off the loo roll one-handed. And she did this directly from the toilet seat.
Hilarious, yes. Real life? You bet. But does she ever worry she’s gone TMI?
“Sometimes I’m like: ‘Urgh. What did I just post?’” she says. “I just don’t think. I probably should. But there’s so much comfort in solidarity. You don’t feel so crazy.”
Rex has come along to the shoot today and is the dreamiest, easiest, smiliest baby the whole time. Stacey says he’s been like this from day one – calm, content and sociable – but she’d underestimated just how relentless everything else would be. It was seven years since she last gave birth, and so it was easy to forget how tough the first few weeks and months can be.
“The exhaustion. The delirium. I forgot the hormones and what they do to you, because on day three I went from having given birth, feeling amazing and pretty much skipping out of hospital to just sobbing and sobbing. I forgot how intense that rush of hopelessness is, when you just feel like you can’t do it: ‘I don’t know what made me think I could do it. I’m rubbish at this!’ I just catastrophised everything.”
Having already experienced postnatal depression with no professional support following Zach’s birth, Stacey made a plan in case it happened again. While pregnant, she recognised the intrusive thoughts and flagged with the midwife that she’d like to be referred to perinatal mental health services.
“I just knew those thoughts could get worse – and they did – but someone came out to see me when I was home from hospital and I was able to discuss it and rationalise it. When I had Zach I had no idea why I felt that way and assumed I wasn’t a good mum. So to have somebody there to support you, to let you know there’s nothing wrong with you, makes a huge difference.”
Stacey’s support from the NHS has been ongoing and she can get in touch with the team if she’s struggling. At the moment she feels strong and on top of things, but she knows those feelings of anxiety and helplessness often come on without warning.
“I’m really good at the minute. But I have moments where I’m overwhelmed by it all and it comes in a wave. I described it to my mum: it starts in my feet and I feel it getting higher and higher as if it’s all on top of me. It won’t even necessarily be about the baby, but it might be Leighton saying something to me like: ‘Oh, do you love the baby more than me?’
"Then Zach might forget his homework and I’m thinking that’s my fault because I haven’t given him enough attention. I let it build and build and then I’ll get to a day where I just feel I can’t cope.
“Whenever my brain wants to tell me I’m doing a terrible job, I have to tell it that I’m doing a great job, and constantly do it rather than waiting until I get really anxious.”
Thankfully, the physical recovery has been more straightforward this time.
“I feel battered, but I think that’s just because I’m tired. I’m lucky I didn’t have any stitches this time, which was really nice. I had forceps with Zach and they cut me, so I know how lucky I am to be able to go to the toilet without thinking I’m going to rip open.”
Besides Rex, there’s been another huge change in the household since Zach – who Stacey home-educated for two years alongside Leighton – told her that he wanted to go back into mainstream schooling. He started in September – it was entirely his decision and one Stacey admits that she initially wrestled with, but she’s full of admiration for her boy for showing the maturity to initiate the conversation.
“I’m so, so proud of him – and Leighton – and what we achieved and I’m so glad I did it. It was the best decision for all of us. I got two years with my children to enjoy learning and to teach them about things that I think really matter in life. Zach really is a mature, amazing young man. He’s getting on really well at school.
"I’m so happy for him. It’s just that realisation that your baby isn’t your baby any more and he’s a big boy texting girls and getting excited about meeting up with people. He’s just becoming himself even more than he already was and it’s lovely. As long as he’s happy, that is all I care about.”
Book you read?
Ladies Who Punch. It’s about The View in America and all the bitchiness backstage.
Movie you watched?
Blended. It really makes me laugh.
Box set you watched?
Peaky Blinders. Cillian Murphy is so handsome.
WhatsApp you received?
Joe saying he’s on his way home. I was like: “Don’t rush!”
Time you cried?
I cry every day. I took Zach to school and he was talking to a girl and I cried for his potential sadness and every girlfriend he might break up with.
Time you were drunk?
I haven’t been drunk in years! Probably my first date with Joe. I drank red wine and puked up in his flat.
Leighton also asked to go back to school having decided he didn’t fancy being at home on his own.
“I was hoping he might change his mind and want to stay but he didn’t,” says Stacey. “When it comes to Christmas I’ll really be able to do an assessment. I’ll talk to the teachers and speak to the boys properly about how they’re dealing with it. I’m just being led by them.
“I know it can be really difficult to get your head round a completely alternative idea [to education] and I do think sometimes people think it’s kooky or weird, or this drastic: ‘I’m going to become a hippy and home-school my kids.’ But that wasn’t what I was doing. I was trying to make sure they had the best education I could offer, and at the time that wasn’t coming from school.
“Everyone’s circumstances are different. Whatever you can do that works for your family is right. You just love them unconditionally.”
Stacey has returned to work at ITV’s Loose Women and is hoping to be able to squeeze in her other professional commitments on the same days. It’s all about the juggle. She was working on the Primark collection while heavily pregnant with Rex and did the promotion shots when he was just weeks old, but says it never really felt like work.
“Whenever I say I’m going to work I almost feel like I’m lying. It’s the best job ever. Even after I had Rex, I was excited to be looking at patterns and saying yes or no.
“I’ve loved Primark since I can remember. It was always the shop that was accessible to me and my parents and the one we could afford. When you want to get certain things or follow a trend and you don’t have a massive budget it’s nice to know there’s a shop for you. I love being part of the brand.”
Her favourite pieces from the range include an orange roll-neck bodysuit and two teddy bear coats, which she says will be her winter staples. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have my own collection with Primark,” she says.
Ten years on from her first X Factor audition and she still has to pinch herself at how life-changing it proved to be. She may not have met Joe, for a start.
“I felt like X Factor was as good as it could get. I remember people saying to me: ‘What are you going to do next?’
And I just thought: ‘It doesn’t matter, does it?’ Because I just did it! I was happy to walk away from that and for it to be my whole experience. It changed everything, 100 billion percent. I look at Zach now and I think I wasn’t much older than him when I did the X Factor. I can’t believe I did that. It absolutely changed my life.”
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