Multi-tasking RTE star Kathryn Thomas recently added ‘mum’ to her impressive CV. Now back at work, she talks toabout learning how to balance motherhood and career.
Motherhood constantly surprises Kathryn Thomas. The 39-year-old welcomed baby Ellie just over five months ago and says every day with her firstborn is different. “She’s a really great baby, an amazing child. It’s had its ups and downs but you learn as you go.”
The TV presenter says many of her friends have seven and eight-year-old children and have forgotten what they used to know about babies. “So everyday’s a surprise. Ellie wakes up and I collect her from her cot to put her in our bed and she’ll have a new glint in her eye. She’s sitting up on her own now and she has two little teeth – she’s a blessing.”
Finding and maintaining a good work/life balance has been challenging, says the Operation Transformation host. She and restaurateur fiancé Padraig McLoughlin both work irregular hours. “We don’t do a regular nine to five. We work weekends. I class myself as a bit of a workaholic, between my TV, press and charity work as well as running our own business – it’s pretty full on. But now Ellie’s my priority and having her has made me say ‘no’ more than ever in the past.
I used to work until two in the morning on my laptop. Now I’ve learned to compartmentalise. When I’m with Ellie, it’s no phone, no laptop – my focus is on her. I might get an hour’s work in the evening after she gets to bed.
I’ve just had to learn to be more strategic with my time management, so when I’m at work I give 100% and when I’m with Ellie, I give 100%
This Sunday, September 16, Kathryn will officially open a 5K run in aid of a new paediatric playground at the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH), Dún Laoghaire. The run is part of a bigger Family Fun Day at Cherrywood, South County Dublin, to celebrate the completion of 82 acres of parkland, playing pitches and other recreational amenities.
“We’re extremely lucky that Ellie’s great but things happen to children, things you never want to happen, and to have the best of facilities is so important. A paediatric playground is all about promoting mobility and getting children back on their feet, so for me to get involved is a no-brainer.”
Kathryn plans to teach her daughter that “seeing the world is one of the greatest gifts” and already she has brought her to LA and Greece, while last Sunday night Ellie was with her parents in London. “I just know that I was very blessed to have a job on No Frontiers for 10 years that allowed me to put a bag on my back and disappear. It shaped the person I am today. I went to college for a year and dropped out to start working on TV, so this is what I consider my later, third-level education, learning about different places and different people.”
But she’s fully aware Ellie will have her own personality, aptitudes and interests. “Maybe she’ll be a happy home-bird and if that’s what she wants, that’s cool too.”
Kathryn – who describes herself as a “pretty positive, happy person” also wants to teach her girl to appreciate every day and to always believe in herself and to “jump two feet in” even when she’s afraid.
“I want her to never be afraid to be herself.” The first-time mum has shared some very cute and touching photos of baby Ellie on social media, including ones from their first family holiday together in Greece earlier this month.
It’s difficult to resist posting these baby snaps, she says. “I was conflicted at the beginning: did I want to post photos of her? But it’s the nature of the job I do – social media is important and I love it. I love Instagram and I’m proud as punch to be putting up photos of her.
“And yes, 100%, there are photos I’d only keep for me and Padraig. I’m very conscious that, though I’m living in the public eye, Padraig isn’t and Ellie isn’t, so it’s the rare photo I post. There are plenty I keep for ourselves.”
As a social media lover – Kathryn also has a Twitter account – she’s philosophical about the downsides: the online snark, the downright nastiness. “We can’t all have the same opinion – that’s what makes the world go round. Plenty of times I post an opinion, whether on world politics, the environment, Big Brother, and people don’t agree. There are people who like you and people who don’t, and you have to be alright with that. You can’t take anything too personally – you’ve just got to ignore it and be strong and resilient enough to take it at face value.”
But she’s concerned about the vulnerability of young women who are impressionable and who compare themselves to the unattainable. “I’ve learned the ropes and I’m confident in myself and in my ability, but I wonder how I’d have coped with social media at 19 or 21. I’d probably find it much tougher. Back then, I was running around the world in a bikini, never stopping to think about what people thought of me because people weren’t readily able to comment – whereas that’s now part of our world.”
Currently filming for the new series of Ireland’s Fittest Family – Kathryn’s stepping in for Mairead Ronan, who’s expecting her third child – the Carlow native says she put no pressure on herself to get back in shape quickly after having Ellie.
“It was a long road for us to have Ellie,” she says, in reference to two miscarriages she previously suffered. “I put no expectations on myself regarding when I’d ‘bounce back’. Even that phrase is so loaded. I didn’t [bounce back]. I wanted to take it slowly, listen to my body. It took a good 10 to 12 weeks to get back into my normal training routine. I thought it’d happen much quicker but it didn’t and I was absolutely fine with that.
There’s a lot of stress going on – a lot of changes – when you’re a new mum. It takes nine months to grow a little human so you have to give yourself that time
Kathryn got a massive public response after she spoke on the Late Late Show in January about feeling defeated following her two miscarriages. “It was quite overwhelming. I heard from women from their early 20s to their 50s and 60s. People from politicians to models got in touch to say my speaking out helped them get their head around it – it gave a sense of support to women and men who’ve gone through this.”
The journey to parenthood was tough for her and Padraig. But being open about her experience helped Kathryn get through. “I’m a talker. I’m of the opinion that if you talk, it does really help and it’s a real leveller.”
Twenty-seven weeks pregnant when she went public about the miscarriages, was she afraid she’d jinx things?
“I wanted to do it when I was still pregnant, while I was still not out of the woods. I didn’t want to do it in the smug way of being a new mother. I was nervous every day of my pregnancy until I had Ellie in my hands.
“My entire pregnancy, I was full of fear. We’d had so many heartaches. It was a long time – over three years – trying to get to the finishing line. I felt like I was in a race. And I felt a lot of women might be going through these feelings and just because I’m in the public eye and was pregnant didn’t mean everything was rosy. When you’ve had so much disappointment, so many days of going ‘will it ever happen for me?’ – I reasoned that if I could speak out it might help someone.”
Kathryn feels very fortunate to have had no trace of the baby blues. “There are days when I haven’t slept for two or three nights in a row and things can be overwhelming, but I’ve done research into the baby blues and how you know you have them, as opposed to going two or three days without sleep. And I feel very blessed I haven’t had [post-natal depression].”
Returning to work in August was tough. “I did a couple of days filming and then three weeks filling in on Ray D’Arcy’s radio show. I was nervous, full of anticipation, coupled with the fact that I hadn’t had an adult conversation in four months!”
Leaving Ellie was “difficult” and she told her Twitter fans she was “holding it together”. She also reached out to other mums who “have to go to work too and you’re feeling the guilt” and she says she “felt the swell of support from the four corners of the country – and that settled me”.
So surely a parenting programme is somewhere on Kathryn’s TV horizon? “Possibly, but I don’t have enough experience yet,” she says.
*The Family Fun Area will be open on September 16 from 11am-3pm at the new 22-acre flagship Tully Park, Cherrywood, with free kids’ entertainment including treasure hunt, bouncy castles, family picnic area, face painting and lots more.
*Meanwhile, Kathryn Thomas is bringing her one-day Fit Fix with Flahavans event back to Dublin on September 30, to the Pavilion at Leopardstown Race Course. “We have 100 people joining us for a big day of fun, food and fitness – it’s a day to give people a taster of what we do at the Pure Results Bootcamp. We’ve got camps running ‘til the end of the season.”