‘Motherhood isn’t a one-woman show’
On the adage IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD, friends ROMY BOOMSMA and ANNA VAN DEN BOGERT – founder of sling label Artipoppe – couldn’t agree more. ‘I think that as a Western society, we would do well to live closer to that model.’
Interview JOANNE WIENEN
Photography LATOYA VAN DER MEEREN
Floating quote: ‘Romy: ‘I struggled with the whole transformation from girl to woman to mother’
A narrow and winding road leads along an equally meandering river. A large cast-iron gate marks the way to a historic farmhouse. A gravel path runs toward a yard where whinnying horses can be heard from the stables, behind which pastures reach as far as the eye can see. It’s here that Romy (29) and Arie Boomsma have settled together with Bobby (4), Moses (2) and the three-month-old Juniper. It’s clearly familiar territory for close friend Anna van den Bogert (39), the woman behind the Dutch luxury baby carrier label Artipoppe. After exchanging greetings, a la Covid, she heads for the kitchen to make herself an oat milk cappuccino. Her children Paco (10), Olivia (8) and Karel (6) are at school, but daughter Sofia (3) tagged along and immediately goes off in search of Japie, the ginger-haired kitten who willingly accepts the attention. Meanwhile, Romy is pacing through the room in a gentle bounce. ‘If I keep this up for a while, Juniper will fall asleep and we can chat in peace,’ she explains with a nod to the baby wrap across her front.
They first met four years ago, when Anna contacted Romy via Instagram asking if she was interested in modelling for Artipoppe.
In that period, Anna had just given birth to her fourth, Romy to her first. ‘I had lost myself a little bit,’ Romy recollects. ‘I struggled with the whole transformation from girl to woman to mother. I was only twenty-four, and aside from my own mother, I didn’t really know any mothers at that point. I sat there alone at home, completely overwhelmed and thought: how do other women do this?’
When Anna arrives on the day of the shoot with a six-week-old Sophie knotted on her stomach, Romy’s impressed. ‘She was so at ease in her role as a mother. A quick nursing session between shots and on we went again. I saw a new side of motherhood then.’ A close friendship developed. Romy: ‘We’re open towards each other, no filters. It’s great to be able to bring all your thoughts to the table with someone who shares your views. Friends who aren’t mothers give me odd looks if I say that my kid is getting on my last nerve. Anna understands that I don’t love him any less while venting, but that motherhood can sometimes just be a lot.’ When asked what she struggles most with, she laughs. ‘How long do you have? I had no idea beforehand about the impact becoming a mother would have on my life. Having a child acts as a kind of filter. You can quickly decide which people are good for you and
Floating quote: Anna: ‘Becoming a first-time mom can be pretty lonely’
which aren’t. I’ve lost friendships, partly because of the perpetual lack of free time. Aside from practical hurdles, motherhood is also a major emotional step. The carefree lifestyle is gone for good. When Arie and I are away together, the kids are still lurking in the back of my mind.’
Romy tells how she previously had a rather optimistic view of motherhood. ‘I thought I would be baking cookies all day with my children, while… well, baking biscuits with small children is a disaster.’ They both laugh, and Anna adds, ‘Becoming a first-time mom can be pretty lonely. Especially in our generation, where women are often alone in the home at first, far from family and with partners who have to work outside the home soon after the birth. They rely on books or the internet to tell them how to take care of their child.’ Romy: ‘Or an older generation that recommends simply closing the door when the baby is crying.’ They both believe that this is precisely why it’s invaluable to surround yourself with mothers you can relate to. Romy: ‘Anna was this person for me and now that many of my girlfriends are starting their families, I can pass on my knowledge to them as well.’
Romy was right, Juniper sleeps peacefully through the entire interview. She isn’t at all bothered by the hustle and bustle around her. First, Romy’s sister Ruby walks in. She pets little Japie and before disappearing to the house on the other side of the estate, where ‘Oma Bessie’ lives and Moses is playing. A while later, a procession of long, elegant dresses and brightly coloured coats appears outside the window: friends of Anna and Romy. There’s a photoshoot planned for this afternoon. It’s aimed at documenting their vision of motherhood. They all agree that motherhood isn’t something you do alone, or with your partner, but rather together with a large support network. Anna: ‘In this respect, there’s much we can learn from traditional customs in places such as Africa and South America. Motherhood is truly a joint effort there. Women are never alone and neither are children. If a mother is struggling, there’s always someone available to take over. While it may sound contradictory as the owner of a luxury brand that sells expensive products, I believe that, as a Western society, we need to live closer to that model. I’m not suggesting that we go back in time, but rather that it’s time to distance ourselves from a patriarchal society. Let’s make it easier for mothers to engage in public life.’
Safe and secure
The concept for Artipoppe originated after the birth of Anna’s eldest daughter Olivia. The baby was calmed by skin-to-skin contact, but Anna also wanted to keep her hands free for her son Paco. Carriers proved to be the ideal solution and when she couldn’t find any options made with fine fabrics such as cashmere, she decided to fill the hole in the market herself. With great success.
Floating quote: Anna: ‘there’s much we can learn from traditional customs in places such as Africa and South America. Motherhood is truly a joint effort there.’
Her colourful baby wraps and baby carriers are sold and worn in over seventy countries by celebrity mothers such as Chrissy Teigen, Jessica Alba, Shay Mitchell and Tina Kunakey.
‘If no one tells you, you wouldn’t know it, but a newborn baby is actually like a hamster,’ says Romy. ‘They can barely see or hear yet and they’re light as a feather, so you can take them anywhere for the first six months.’ Anna explains that a baby who feels safe and secure and hears his mother’s heartbeat sleeps most of the day – barring exceptions, of course. ‘Babywearing is an age-old, natural way of raising an infant. I believe it’s good for the baby and for the mother. Your baby is close to you, but you’re still able to move about freely,’ adds Anna. She herself took baby Sofia to a working dinner at four weeks. Only after an hour did her table-mate realise that there was a tiny person sleeping underneath her blazer. When Sofia was eight weeks old, Anna strolled with her through Moscow. Sofia enjoyed it all just fine, Anna sometimes less so at the time. Just before boarding, she was faced with a soiled nappy, but everyone had to stay seated for 45 minutes while the aircraft was de-iced. ‘I had no choice but to change her then and there. You should have seen the face of the businessman next to me. He took off and I didn’t see him again’. She laughs out loud and adds: ‘I’m a rebel and I don’t scare easy. I understand that not everyone wants to take their newborn baby to a restaurant or party, but that’s also because it’s just not a given. It is possible, though. This is why I think something needs to change within society.’
Anna regularly advocates for a society that is more geared towards and open to women as mothers; in the workplace, for example. Anna: ‘I have two pregnant women in the office. I told them that they should take their baby with them when the time comes as long as it works for them and they enjoy it. It goes without saying, of course, that this is not possible for all careers. If I needed an operation, I wouldn’t expect my cardiac surgeon to have a baby on her back. Most office work, however, can be done with a baby in a carrier for up to about six months. Only then do you notice that they become somewhat more mobile and want to discover the world, but by that time it is also easier to entrust a little one with a childcare provider or to divide care with your partner.’ She is convinced that most women do not feel comfortable leaving their 12-week old baby with a stranger at day-care. They are often left with no choice, however. ‘They’re trapped in the system,’ she says. ‘There is still a lot of room for improvement in that respect. Starting with feeding and changing rooms and day-care centres in office buildings, so that mothers can continue to breastfeed their babies while working. Not every woman wants to do this, but if the facilities are there, at least they have a choice’.
Not always perfect
Women set the bar impossibly high for themselves, Anna explains later. ‘We need to travel, eat out often, constantly purchase new things, compete with men in our careers. If we don’t have a ‘good’ job or an Italian espresso machine on the countertop, we don’t count. To achieve all that, you have to work hard, and as a mother, you often feel guilty about it. In Romy’s opinion, it would make a difference if we let go of the idea that everything has to be perfect. ‘I’m really not always a great partner, wife or mother. That’s just not possible when you’re tired and have so many sleepless nights.’ After every pregnancy it took her months to return to her former self, she says. ‘Since the birth of Juniper, I’ve been quite anxious. It feels like tempting fate to have two healthy children and then go on to have a third. I know it’s the hormones, which helps me keep things in perspective, but all my child has to do is clamber into a climbing frame and my anxiety takes hold. Anna is very different from me in that respect.’ Anna laughs: ‘If a child can climb up on his own, he can manage to get down again.’
It helps to talk to other women about struggles and insecurities. ‘I don’t mean that you have to blindly adopt everyone’s opinions, but listen, learn and take away the aspects that work for you. If you can’t wait to get back to work after three months, that’s fine. If you feel this gnawing at you, however, it should be just as acceptable to react accordingly and take extended parental leave, for example, or choose to stay at home for a few more months if that’s possible.’
Romy herself chose to stay at home to take care of her children while Arie works. Anna: ‘There is now often the idea that this is not feminist but for me, feminism lies in freedom of choice. I myself find staying at home much more challenging. I’m worn out after a day with the children, while work gives me energy.’ Romy believes that mothers tend to feel criticised. ‘Like if you tell them, for example, that you are taking a different approach to a certain aspect of parenting. Those things can exist side by side, though. I don’t think Anna is a bad mother because she created a successful business while I’m at home full-time, and vice versa. We can learn from each other, that’s what it’s all about.’