Ashley Graham is getting honest about her first trip away from her baby — and how it was a much different experience that what she'd been anticipating.
The 32-year-old model and Thank Bod host recently jetted off to Milan Fashion Week, with her September appearance in Fendi's spring/summer 2021 show marking Graham's first time on the runway since welcoming son Isaac Menelik Giovanni with husband Justin Ervin on Jan. 18.
Speaking with SELF magazine, the new mom admits that the time away was actually a nice change.
"I have to say, it was a vacation. It was not what I was expecting — it really wasn't. In eight months, I hadn't left his side longer than five hours. And I was really nervous, like, can I do this?" says Graham.
"Other mothers have done it. They leave their babies even earlier. I was like, 'Am I gonna feel guilty?' But I didn't feel guilty because I knew that I was going for work," she explains. "I had so much milk that I had already saved up for him, and he was gonna be here with his dad and his grandma, and everything was gonna be fine."
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Graham recalls the four days she was overseas for the fashion engagement actually going by "so fast" — but it wasn't entirely as glamorous of an experience as one might think.
"Don't get it twisted — behind every backstage at both the shows and the fittings I was at, I was the girl in the corner, plugged into a pump," she tells SELF. "A lot of those girls are 18 to 24, 25, and they're kind of looking at me like, 'What are you doing?' So I'd be like, 'Oh, I'm pumping! This is milk for my baby.' And they're like, 'Oh.' "
"But also, a lot of the women that are on the teams around, they've been in my shoes before. So they're like, 'Oh, you're pumping. Are you pumping and dumping? Are you FedExing your milk?' " Graham adds. "It's all these funny questions that you get asked that you maybe haven't even thought of. But it's a wild ride, for sure."
On a regular basis, though, "I try not to stress myself out because I feel like when I'm stressed, I don't get as much milk," says the mother of one. "I pump after Isaac's first feeding in the morning, and then I'll pump again after I put him down around 9 a.m., 9:30 a.m. for his morning nap. If I'm with him, then that's the only pumping I do for the day. But if I'm not with him, then I'm pumping, like, every three hours."
Graham returned to New York City earlier in the week before her runway appearance — after quarantining on her family's farm in Nebraska with Ervin, 31, and Isaac — then flew to Milan to make a very fashionable return from maternity leave just a few days later.
"Woke up in a @fendi dream ☁️🤍✨," she wrote in part on Instagram alongside three photos from the show, during which Graham styled her hair in a sleek low bun and wore minimal makeup as she modeled a sheer floral wrap dress over a black slip from the Italian fashion house's latest collection.
Upon her return home, Graham shared a video of herself breastfeeding baby Isaac on her Instagram Story and wrote "Reunited after four days!" before going on to explain how she navigated pumping breast milk while working.
"I pumped almost every 3 to 4 hours to keep my supply up while I was in Italy," she wrote. "I had so much breast milk in the freezer so I didn't have to worry if Isaac was going to have enough food while I was gone."
Season 2 of Graham's Thank Bod online workout series is streaming now on YouTube.
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