Wellness

Jessica Rowe: What I’ve Learned So Far

The TV presenter talked motherhood, mental health, embracing our imperfections and finding strength in our stories at our first FW X Westfield: Women in Conversation event.

By Natalie Cornish

Wellness

The TV presenter talked motherhood, mental health, embracing our imperfections and finding strength in our stories at our first FW X Westfield: Women in Conversation event.

By Natalie Cornish

Jessica Rowe has always been candid about her struggles. From her moving memoirs charting both her own and her mother’s mental health battles, to undergoing IVF to conceive her two children, dealing with postpartum depression, and her departure from her co-host role on Ten’s Studio 10, she’s never one to shy away from telling the real story. 

Last week, she brought her trademark honesty and infectious signature ‘snort’ to Perth’s Westfield Carousel and Westfield Whitford City for a frank conversation with FW Founding Director Helen McCabe about motherhood, the need for women to share their stories, and embracing being a #craphousewife as part of our FW X Westfield: Women in Conversation series in partnership with Dove.

Here, Jess Rowe’s best pieces of advice…

On The Importance Of Mentors

“Canberra was an opportunity to learn and to spread my wings. I had a very special boss back then. He became a mentor of mine. He believed in me. If I hadn’t had a boss like that at the start of my career, I wouldn’t have lasted in journalism because it is a tough industry. Here was a lovely man who believed in me. He gave me room to make mistakes. I drew on his advice many times through the years.” 

On Taking Chances

“You know what I’m such a believer in life, to grab opportunities. The worst thing that can happen? You get a no, or it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. But I would much rather live a life going for those opportunities and chances rather than regretting things down the track.”

On What’s Important In A Partner

“Peter [Overton] and I have been married for 15 and a half years. I can’t imagine my life without him in it and we’re a great team. What I love about him so much is he’s enabled me to be me. And I am a bit quirky and crazy and he will embrace that about me and love me as I am. And that’s been so important. He hasn’t ever tried to change me.”

On The Significance Of Telling Our Stories

“Many of you will know that I went through IVF to have Allegra who’s now 12. Why I’m open about that, and open about a lot of my life, is because it’s not just my life, or my experience, each and every one of you here today have had different challenges and experiences. And I think as women it’s so important that we share those stories. And connect with one another. Often when you go through those things you feel like you’re the only one.” 

On Going Through IVF And Holding Onto Hope

“When I went through IVF, I felt like a failure because what I had assumed would come naturally in becoming a mum, to be able to conceive naturally, wasn’t happening for me. So that was such a struggle for me to reconcile myself, and I know once I started to talk about my experience, and mind you it wasn’t until I was successfully pregnant with Allegra that I was able to talk about it, then a whole load of other women would tell me about their experiences. Because IVF, it’s a lonely road and there are so many ups and downs, and nothing can prepare you for the rollercoaster of emotions that you go through. The hormones that you inject into yourself, they send you crazy. If you’re not emotional enough, you’ve got all these extra hormones, and I’m normally a very calm person but going through IVF, I was so volatile and I was so angry with people, and angry with the world. That was not normally my mind set. Also what helped me enormously was hope. And I’m such a believer in travelling hopefully in our lives. Whatever it may be that you’re dealing with, you need to hold on to that hope. When I went through IVF, I always had that hope. Sometimes it would be the size of a pin prick, other times a balloon, but I never lost sight of that hope. That’s what kept me going. So I like to think that sharing my story and my experience of that it provides hope for other people. It doesn’t have to be a lonely road because it’s not just you that’s going through it, it’s so many of us. It’s a tribe of women, and I think sometimes we forget how strong we can be together. What is so wonderful about what Future Women is doing is that it’s giving us all an opportunity to get together and have these sort of conversations.”

On Being One Of The Original Advocates For Mental Health

“My mum’s got bipolar disorder, so I spent a lot of my early life caring for my mum and my two sisters. Mum was always very open about her illness, and that made such a difference for us as a family to make sense of what was going on because it’s still so hard when the person you love, the person you put on a pedal stool, can’t cope with the simplest tasks. It is heartbreaking and something that I feel very strongly about is that children are the hidden carers across this country. We do not appreciate how much children are having to manage their parents. But with mum she was always very open. She is a wonderful mum and was always very present when she was well, and so as we grew up, and mum is a beautiful writer, we decided we wanted to share our family story with the book, The Best of Times, The Worst of Times.”

On Feeling Ashamed Of Her Own Mental Health Struggles

“When I myself realised that I had a mental illness, that I had post-natal depression after the birth of my two girls, the level of shame that I felt was gobsmacking. And what surprised me so much was I was someone who had grown-up with a mum with a mental illness. We’d publicly advocated for change, we’d said there should be no difference between a physical illness and a mental illness. But when I realised I had a mental illness, I felt ashamed. I felt like a failure, and I thought, what right do I have to feel like this? I am a woman who supposedly has everything. I now have this baby that I have yearned for and longed for for so long. I’ve been through IVF, I had this beautiful baby, this gorgeous husband, a family who love and support me, and wonderful friends, why do I feel like this? I felt so ashamed. And the level of that shame, it did shock me so I tried to push it away. I knew early on that I had post-natal depression but I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t tell anyone, and I hoped it would go away. I was very good at putting on a mask. I was able to hide from everyone what was really going on. And I naively thought if I ignore this it will disappear. It didn’t disappear. It got worse.”

On Asking For Help

“When I was at my lowest I knew I couldn’t go on like this. So I told my mum, because I knew my mum would understand. And my mum said to me, ‘promise me you’ll tell Peter, and promise me, you will talk to your doctor’. I knew I had to have those hard conversations. I was misguided in thinking it wasn’t strong to ask for help. But in fact asking for help is the strongest thing you can ever do. Showing someone your vulnerability is the strongest thing you’ll ever do, and thank god I had the strength to do that. And it was the hardest thing.”

On What To Say To Someone In Need

“I remember talking to Petey. He was busy on 60 Minutes so he was travelling a lot and that made it easier for me to pretend, but he was home and I knew I needed to tell him. I cooked him his favourite meal of schnitzel, corn and mashed potato. I thought, okay I’ll cook him dinner and then I have to tell him. We were talking and he calls me ‘pussycat’. And he said: ‘Oh pussycat, I’m so proud of you, you’re doing so well’. And I took a deep breath and I thought, this is my moment, I have to tell him. I said: ‘Petey, I’m not. I’m really frightened. I’m afraid I have post-natal depression’. Peter, being the darling man that he is, took me in his arms and he said, ‘It’s going to be okay’. And that is what I needed to hear that night. I didn’t need to hear, ‘don’t be so ridiculous’ or ‘you’re doing fine’, and I know that’s often what well-meaning people will say to someone who comes to you asking for help. That is not helpful. When someone is brave enough to say, ‘I’m struggling, I need help’, you need to listen and take that seriously.”

Westfield Women in Conversation with Jessica Rowe

On The Importance Of Female Friendships

“Female friendship is everything. I can’t imagine my life without my friends. What I’ve found though as I’ve gotten older is that my group has shrunk, and probably a bit more through my choice as well. What I’ve learned, and I’m borrowing this theory from a friend, is that we have ‘zones’. You have friends in ‘zone one’ that you’ll listen to, that you know will show up when you need them and then you’ll have other friends but they might be in zone two, three, five. And you don’t need to waste your energy, your emotional energy or worries on them because they’re not in your zone one because they’re not behaving that way. I think I’ve learned that as we go through our lives, often we’ll have friends for a particular moment that won’t necessarily carry on. But you will always have friends that will show up.” 

On Inner Strength And Reaching Out To Others

“You don’t know what you’re made of until you’re in the middle of something really hard. And for all of us, we’ve been in those sorts of situations. It’s just with The Today Show, mine was so public. Everyone had an opinion on it. There were a number of things that kept me going. First of all, you don’t realise what’s going to unfold so that almost insulates you because I just knew I had a job to do so I thought I will be professional, I will show up each day not knowing what that day will hold. The other thing that kept me going was I was pregnant. So I was going through IVF during this time but I was pregnant. I had this wonderful secret growing inside of me that was far bigger and better and meaningful. So Allegra was like my little companion at that time. My darling husband kept me going, but also what kept me going was the beautiful people who I didn’t know who would send me emails, who would send me cards, who leave messages on the Channel Nine switch that meant the world to me. One of the lovely assistant producers would print them out and they’d be waiting for me in my dressing room every morning. That kept me going. Strangers who would give me a hug in the street and say, ‘we love your laugh, keep snorting’. Also the incredible journalists who I looked up to in Media and in Politics also reached out to me. What I learned from that is how important it is to reach out to people around you when they’re going through a hard time. You will never know the difference that will make.”

On Being A Crap Housewife

“I love it. For me what I love about this #craphousewife Instagram movement and this new book I’ve written (The Diary of a Crap Housewife) is what began as something I did for myself, basically laughing at myself and laughing at my own inadequacies with cooking, has grown into this really lovely connection with so many women and families right across the country. Because to me what this is about is embracing our imperfections. We put far too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect in every aspect of our lives, and we can’t. To me being a crap housewife is about embracing your imperfection. I am a terrible cook, I’m not interested and I get distracted. Petey now orders in his own meals because he’s over mince five different ways!”