MOTHER AFRICA: IMARI DU PLESSIS ON FINDING HER PARENTING STYLE

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Glamour couple of global cricket, Faf and Imari Du Plessis, have been deep in that blissful, all-consuming bubble of love that new parents experience … and are finally ready to introduce the world to their five-month-old baby girl, Amelie. In this exclusive and refreshingly honest interview with The Delivery, the intensely private South African cricket captain and his wife discuss their hopes and dreams for their daughter … while Imari opens up about the very real challenges of motherhood.  
Congratulations on the arrival of your beautiful girl, theres no doubt children change your life in many ways how has your journey into parenthood been?

Imari: When I first saw Amelie I couldn’t believe we waited so long to have her, because she took my breath away. She is the most beautiful little girl I could imagine and has challenged me beyond what I thought is possible. She is strong, determined and full of energy. Faf and I both have big personalities so I don’t know why I expected anything else. I am a huge perfectionist and I had life figured out, had systems to run every aspect of my life and now I am struggling to get the basics done day-to-day.  This has brought out the intense nature within me to push myself to the max.  I don’t know why I’m competing with myself, but we are living in a global culture where weakness is hidden well from others and I refuse to accept help.  I know that I sometimes push myself to burn out, but if I do then I take a nap and start all over again. My capacity is growing in this season of life and it’s never easy to grow. I am terrified that my growing pains will damage my daughter emotionally, because I want the absolute best for her future. Never have I been more determined and sure of what I want in life, but so anxious at the same time and helpless at other times. I’m unashamedly myself and more comfortable in my own skin than ever. I have no time for drama and I’ve lost my filter. You have so little time for anything else as a mother, so I just do what I can and have stopped feeling guilty about it. It’s refreshing.

Faf: The day Amélie was born my life changed instantly.I experienced a love so deep, powerful and scary that it hit me…that this is what unconditional love feels like. She has been our greatest gift and blessing in our life.She has changed my heart,family is everything to me now.I know that my most important job on this earth is to be the best dad that I could possibly be for her

Whats the greatest lesson your daughter has already taught you?

Imari: How amazing the innocence of a child is. My daughter is just so happy to see me and beams when I drag my tired bum into her nursery. She is pure love and joy. She doesn’t hold any grudges and she doesn’t see my irritation. I feel unworthy of her love and her need for me. The smallest thing amuses her, it teaches you a new outlook on things you take for granted.

Faf: That Amélie just want us and nothing else, her smile when she sees us every time she wakes up. The most important thing that I want to give my daughter is me and my time always.

Theres intense global public interest in your personal lives, how are you handling this with a new baby and whats your stance on sharing her on social media?

Imari: My dream is to give my daughter a childhood with safe boundaries and to protect her innocence so that she can come into her own.  We have decided to not share too much about her as our protective responsibility as her parents. When you allow social media into your life you invite the bad along with the good and I don’t want to expose her unnecessarily to anything that could harm her. Many people choose to do that and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I even find many accounts of people sharing their kids inspiring, but you have to do what your gut tells you as a parent.  I’m happy with my choice, old fashioned as it may seem.

Imari, how was your pregnancy experience?

This pregnancy increased my inner strength like no other experience before.

I found out I was pregnant during a time when my husband was unfairly embroiled in a media storm over an on-field controversy. That’s when I decided that I want to keep family life private, because I hate watching my loved ones torn down without being able to defend them.

First trimester morning sickness had me bed ridden.  This was only relieved by temporary cravings for anything deep-fried and spicy. At this point I forced myself get out of bed and move, but I would just feel sicker afterwards.  At one stage, I was meant to babysit for my pregnant sister-in-law but ended up needing babysitting myself. I only kept moving in the hopes of maintaining healthy habits.  What helped immensely with the headaches and nausea was when I started going for pregnancy massages – yes in my first trimester! From my second trimester, things started to turn around and I trained with an inspirational trainer, Ashley, who was also pregnant and I continued pilates until less than a week before the birth.

Then there was my 20 week fetal assessment scan. A rare anomaly was found in my scans which meant further testing and counselling.  It was emotional turmoil going through the process without Faf, who was playing in New Zealand at the time. I have so much admiration for my husband who held it together professionally with such grace during this uncertain time. He had to deal with a hysterical pregnant wife in another time zone and he supported me with such a gentle kindness. We weathered this storm together for our daughter and 10 days later celebrated a great outcome.

The third trimester was the challenging home stretch.  I only saw Faf for maybe two weeks during this entire time. He was finishing off the New Zealand tour, headed to India and then the UK. Emotionally I was really pregnant and would cry at the drop of a hat. Random people started to comment about my body changing and my size. Up until this point I felt surprisingly good about myself, considering the drastic changes your body goes through and my background of depression and eating disorders. One day a shop assistant told me I was really big compared to other mothers and I just felt so violated. I battled to hold back the tears as I paid for my shopping and I sat in my car crying.  Towards the end I felt judged by people in my peripheral circles, the only label I seemed to carry was ‘highly pregnant’ and it was the sole focus of conversations with others. People obviously just take an interest, but it’s a strange reality.

Being alone for most of my pregnancy at home started to take its toll in the last month of pregnancy. I didn’t get to do the normal preparation into parenthood with my husband so I assembled things myself whilst nesting like crazy as a distraction.  I experienced a lot of anxiety, because of the uncertainty of natural birth timeline and guilt for possibly taking Faf away from a huge career highlight (playing cricket at Lords).  He constantly reassured me that our family comes first, but I felt regret for the missed opportunity to play his first test at such a sacred ground. At a certain point all these collective things had me pressed from all sides, so much that I didn’t realise I was actually sick for a few weeks.  I knew all the stories about pregnancy and feeling tired towards the end so I just blew it off, but I had an infection that wasn’t under control even after a dose of antibiotics. I remember crying and staying in bed for a day and then just going ahead full steam the next.

“We can’t really plan our harvest, we just have to sow into her as best as we can and pray for her and ourselves.  We have however vowed to build her up with our words so that she will always hear our reassuring voices when it comes to how she is valued.”

Did you have a birth plan and how did it unfold? 

My plan was natural birth above all else and I fought for that plan. I had an amazing doula on the journey. My gynae and her receptionist were also a real light on this road. I didn’t get the experience I wanted so badly. I sometimes feel a faint glimmer of failure and disappointment for this, but I’ve realised that my daughter is healthy and perfect. No experience could replace that and I choose her above it all every time. Faf arrived home a few days together before I went into labour. The actual day I went into labour and how our daughter was born was a typical reflection of our life. Chaotic change overs. I don’t know why her sudden entrance surprised us.

Amelie was born after a regular check up ended in an emergency C-section. She was in distress, because I was sick and didn’t know it. Luckily, I went to the doctor that day. Everything happened so fast that I was shaking, but then I heard her first cry and I started crying. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear concerned doctors and Faf cut the umbilical cord. He was in awe of her beauty. I heard him say it so many times across the room and as I laid eyes on him for the first time after he’s seen her, it was as if something in them had lit up. I could see the change in his soul. That moment when they laid her on my chest is a feeling you can’t describe – it’s one to be felt.

Looking back on all this I realised one thing and that is why I can honestly, openly share all of this for the first time, I know that on this journey, God worked for the good of us. So many things happened in this last year that could have taken us down a dark road but we were covered on all sides and I needed to get through this all to realise that the honour belongs to God for carrying us.

How would you describe your parenting style? 

Pedantic. I research a lot, because I know nothing and I keep on trying new things until something works.

Because you are raising your daughter in the spotlight, have you considered how you want to help her create her own identity outside of being Faf du Plessis daughter? 

I don’t feel much of a spotlight on us, because of how we choose to invest our time and energy. I believe that our choices of a home centred life, surrounded by friends with a variety of shared interest outside of cricket and a strong church base will introduce Amélie to a life of balance.  We want her to be authentic and  know her worth – that she is special, loved, fearfully and wonderfully made.

“My plan was natural birth above all else and I fought for that plan…. I sometimes feel a faint glimmer of failure and disappointment for this, but I’ve realised that my daughter is healthy and perfect. No experience could replace that and I choose her above it all every time.”

Whats your approach to raising your family with such a nomadic existence?

Firstly just making the decision that it won’t be an issue is important, from there on you just make it work.  I travelled with a three week old baby to London and people thought I was brave. Honestly I was just naive. I wouldn’t have put that kind of pressure on myself for a holiday, but I will do anything for her father. Family time to connect will be non-negotiable, we need quality time together often. I travel with a camp cot so that Amélie has some stability when it comes to her sleeping environment and I follow a routine with her to give her stability. We also go to church whenever we travel and as we are part of a global church with one culture, it always feels like home when we visit other countries.

Have you identified any particular values or character traits you want to instil in your children and how do you plan on doing so?

We can’t really plan our harvest, we just have to sow into her as best as we can and pray for her and ourselves.  We have however vowed to build her up with our words so that she will always hear our reassuring voices when it comes to how she is valued. As parents we see discipline and our role to lead her as important, even if we have to be unpopular at times.  We want to be involved in her life and create a safe an honest communication space for her.

Pram: Stokke Xplory

Beauty secret for new mothers?

Simplify all your routines. I hopped between skincare brands to find something that really improves my skin during pregnancy. I discovered a Barcelona based product – PH Formula. The skincare range is simple, but the actives highly concentrated and products have multiple uses which leaves your beauty bag lighter.  I use organic body creams and body wash so that Amélie and I can double up when travelling. My best makeup find has been IT Cosmetics CC Cream, it’s a miracle all star product that evens out skin tone, covers dark circles, plus it’s filled with peptides to give you that fake glow – because there is no way you will be rested right now.

Decorating a nursery is always an exciting time, what was your style inspiration?

We are moving into a new house 18 months after our baby’s birth, so I used the palette already in the room and invested in some simple timeless pieces of furniture so that it can go into any nursery in future, plain or extravagant. My favourite piece of furniture is my Stokke Sleepi Bed. It is so versatile and can be converted into a toddler bed and into chairs for a children’s room later on. I try to not go too overboard with trends and select decor items with special meaning. I don’t like clutter. When we do move I want to make the nursery matte black and have full block-out curtains. Amélie is a little bat and likes sleeping in the dark.

If you could go back in time and tell your pregnant self one thing about motherhood, what would it be?

Sleep and rest without feeling guilty. You will never have the opportunity to do that again. The only regret you will have is not using the time you could have done that. Your first pregnancy will be your last opportunity to relax. Start to simplify your life as much as you can so that it’s easier to adjust to motherhood.

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