Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries. We’ve spoken to Sharyn Casey about having a premature baby in the pandemic, Kanoa Lloyd about the vulnerability of the fourth trimester and Meg Mansell about why the term ‘natural birth’ needs to go. Today we’re talking to singer/songwriter and M9 producer Ria Hall about the importance of community, being a solo māmā of three and making her body belong to her after having a child in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a mum?
No, not at all. I actually had some complications with my ovaries, which I noticed particularly when I was in my 20s. Without going into too much detail, I didn’t think I would be able to have children, so I kind of wrote that idea off. I leaned into the idea, the concept of just being the Auntie – everyone’s children’s Auntie – and I was okay with that.
My maternal instinct didn’t kick in for me at all until I realised that I could get hapu and fell pregnant with my first. I’m a single mum of three – I’ve got a three-year-old, my big boy, Te Rongotoa, a 22-month-old boy, Hikareia, and a nine-month-old daughter, Paiātehau.
Wow, I would imagine that is very busy. So you went from thinking you couldn’t have kids to having three – that must be quite the shift in thinking?
Oh yes, definitely a shift in priorities as well. It’s not all about me travelling all over the show anymore, I’ve got to manage lots of energies – including my own! – and manage my time effectively so I can look at the energy I actually have left.
“They were all unplanned, but very, very welcomed. But I did have an element of freaking out”
They were all unplanned, but very, very welcomed. But I did have an element of freaking out [laughs]. Having one? Kapai. Having two? Right, okay. Number two is 15 months away from number one, we’ll deal with that. Number three? I was like ‘holy shit, how are we going to do this?’ [Laughs] But you just figure it out. But it’s been a hard-case ride.
Do you have help along the way?
I’m very lucky – I’m from Tauranga originally and I live here now and my mother is here, and she’s my main source of support. And I’ve also got best friends here and an older sister, and outside of them I’ve created a bit of a community. Although at the moment, because my kids are so little, it’s actually very hard for me to go out with all three! [Laughs]
I’m deep in the baby trenches at the moment, but I think in the next two years, with my boys getting a bit older and being able to communicate more clearly, that will become a little bit easier. Bring that on!
So your youngest child was born during the big the lockdown last year – how different was that experience of giving birth in comparison to having your other two?
Yes so she was born right in the thick of us all being back in Level 4 –23 August – and I had her at the Bethlehem birthing centre, which is an amazing facility with fantastic staff. I’d had my first son there as well but it was such a different experience because of all the protocols that were in place.
At the time I was still with my children’s father and it actually meant that he could only stay for a short amount of time, because he had to come back and watch the boys, and he couldn’t then leave and come back because of the protocols. My mum was here when I had Paiātehau but then it was just my newborn and me at the birthing centre alone for the first three days.
Even with the nurses coming in and out, it was very removed – which I completely understood – and in some ways it was nice because it gave me time to start creating a routine. And I was lucky because I already knew what I was doing, anyway, but not having the boys there or my whānau able to visit, that was very strange. It was a very strange time – it’s only now that I feel really into the swing of things and she’s nine months old, now.
How has motherhood affected your mental health over the years?
It’s definitely a full-on time. There are so many things that we worry about, particularly as first-time mums. It’s a really hostile world, currently, and as mothers we try and navigate that and keep our children away as much as possible from any of that hostility, which is actually quite burdensome on the mum! It’s an interesting world – especially now, because it’s a very different world from the one you and I were born into.
‘Looking after your own wellbeing as a mum that’s going to give life and then, after you’ve given life… it’s so vital.’
I had a lot of anxiety around becoming a mum – it’s a very delicate time. Looking after your own wellbeing as a mum that’s going to give life and then, after you’ve given life… it’s so vital. And it’s perinatal health is really underrepresented. After I had my second, I experienced period of depression and I took medication for that. Having support – having good people in your life – is really vital. And it still is now.
I’m a māmā of three on my own, I’m also finishing a degree and working as a creative. So there are a lot of variables at the moment. Keeping my kids and their wairua intact is hugely important – it governs everything I do. But notwithstanding the fact that I have to look after myself. That’s in line with ensuring that my kids are warm, healthy, fed… the basics.
How do you look after yourself when you have so little time?
Well it’s an interesting dichotomy, because I don’t have any f—king time! I’ve got zero time for anything but I still say yes to kaupapa, I still say yes to certain mahi because I know it will help fill a void that I need to fill. But what has helped is that I’ve really shifted my focus in terms of what I eat and my physical wellbeing. Outside of my tamariki, and uni, and work, my physical well-being is everything.
‘Outside of my tamariki, and uni, and work, my physical well-being is everything.’
Especially after carrying and birthing three kids in a row – I had a baby in 2019, 2020, and 2021. So feeling like I’m comfortable within myself again has been huge. When I started going to the gym in February, I hadn’t properly trained since 2018. I now physically have to make the time, for my sanity. Otherwise I’m not doing anyone any favours – including my children – if I’m not good.
It must be so important making your body feel like a home for yourself after sharing it for three years! How has it felt in terms of physically getting stronger?
It’s been life-changing. Feeling like when you put your mind to something and you put yourself first. Because you have to, as a parent. You have to so that you can be on point for your whānau. By putting my physical and mental wellbeing first, it’s paid of dividends in terms of my mental health.
How has being pregnant and being a māmā worked in terms of your creativity?
The last album I released was in 2020 and I was pregnant when I recorded and wrote Manawa Wera and it was awesome. It served me a lot of purpose, being hapū and feeling creative in that space. But lately I just haven’t had the time [laughs]. I’ve been lucky that I’ve still had a lot of creative work, in the pandemic. And it’s amazing what adversity teaches you, because you develop a new sense of resilience.
As part of that creative work, you’ve also helped produce the M9 series – with an amazing line-up of wāhine Māori, with the first one being a Matariki-themed talk. A lot of those wāhine are also working mothers; that must be a great group to work with.
This is something that’s been in discussion since the middle of last year… it’s just about something positive to bring us together and for our countrymen to see Māori people – particularly wāhine Māori – in such a wonderful light. That’s the impetus to create this kaupapa.
And yes, when we’ve had Zooms and whatever, the first thing I’ve had to say is ‘I can do meetings after this time, because until then I’m doing the kids’ and they just get it. It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to over-explain. You don’t have to ‘Mum-splain.’
Holy shit, ‘Mum-splain’ is a great term.
I just came up with that [laughs]. Copyright, copyright [laughs]. But sometimes you do feel like you’re obliged to explain to people – and that’s fine – but when you’re working with people where you don’t, it’s like ‘oh you get it, thank god.’
As a last question, you’ve talked about being a recently solo mum of three kids. That’s a very full-on reality – and a lot of women stay in situations that may not be serving them, because they’re afraid that what’s on the outside of that situation will be scarier.
Exactly. And look, this is a horrifically scary situation. I’m here, on my own, as the full provider – in the home and in Tauranga. I’m it – ERRRR MERRRR GERRRD [Laughs]. And that’s a lot of responsibility for one person. I’m out of whack, ratio wise, right? Three kids to one parent! But, I’ve gotten over myself. I don’t want to mope. And through that focus on my physical exercise, my mental wellbeing is more in check. So it’s like… let’s just work with what we’ve got.
The inaugural M9 event takes place to celebrate Matariki at Auckland’s The Civic on June 17. “Nine Powerful Voices, Nine Unique Perspectives, Nine Wahine Toa in celebration of Te Ao Maori Presentation/ Performance/Conversation, featuring Miriama Kamo, Anika Moa, Stacey Morrison, Lisa Reihana, Chelsea Winstanley, Kiri Nathan, Dr Hinemoa Elder, Qiane Matata-Sipu, Maru Nihoniho and Mīria Flavell.” We have five double-passes to give away, please email [email protected] to enter the competition!