The freedom of vulnerability

As a seasoned podcaster, TV show host, and events creator, Zoe Marshall is a busy woman even before you throw kids into the mix.

But in 2018, she did just that, with the birth of her son Fox – and after being a mum of one for three years, Zoe is about to begin her next chapter of motherhood. As I write this, Zoe is 32 weeks pregnant, and anxiously anticipating the arrival of her second child. As you read this, Zoe is a mother of two, a baby girl the newest member of the Marshall clan.

“I never thought that I would be a mum, let alone a mum of two,” Zoe confesses, an air of nervousness in her voice, “I honestly feel a little bit out of my depth.”

After seeing what a devoted mother Zoe is to Fox, their adventures proudly recounted on her Instagram, one would think she’d feel nothing but confident about adding another little one into the mix. But after growing up an only child, she says she’s “never seen what a family looks like with siblings.” Zoe’s natural fears are those of most parents, and she’s not ashamed to share them with her audience. She has regularly opened up about the hurdles she’s faced throughout her pregnancy – and there have been more than her fair share. “Honestly, this is probably the first good week,” she shares, eight months in. Between severe morning sickness, gestational diabetes, and pelvic symphysis, she’s had to face as many mental challenges as she has physical. “I felt like I couldn’t really enjoy my pregnancy or connect with my pregnancy from the start, because I was so overwhelmed with being sick. I cancelled all my work, I couldn’t see friends, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t leave the house. I was on the couch for three and a half months.”

This experience is all too familiar for so many, and Zoe says this is part of what makes it so hard. “I think we’ve normalised morning sickness because everyone’s having babies, and everyone’s having morning sickness, but it is The. Worst. Thing. It is so torturous, it is so cruel, it is horrible emotionally and mentally. And I think that we need to normalise supporting people through that,” she explains.

Zoe’s biggest support is her husband, Benji. Never afraid to step up to the plate, Zoe says Benji is the one that holds the fort down. As well as “taking over parenting full time” when Zoe was in the throes of morning sickness, Benji has taken to fatherhood like a duck to water. “He is so exceptional as a parent, he often is the leader,” says Zoe. “He’s very paternal and he’s always wanted babies. For example, we sleep in separate rooms, we have for almost a decade. We’ve put the crib in his room for when baby comes home. So when she wakes up, he’ll bring her to me to feed … and then I’ll put her back to bed in his room. I’m just so highly attuned in those early days that I can’t sleep at all with a baby next to me, because I’m constantly alert. Whereas he loves her being with him.”

Their somewhat unconventional parenting style seems to work wonders for the whole family. Zoe and Benji make it a priority to nurture their own relationship as a couple, through regular date nights and quality time shared together. In turn, Fox thrives – clearly seen through his adorable relationship with both his mum and his dad, despite their busy schedules. In Zoe’s words, “There’s a priority on [Benji and I] being healthy, as a couple, because we know that the family unit works better when we are.”

As well as nurturing her family, Zoe places the utmost importance on nurturing her relationship with herself. “It does sound strange, but I really do love myself!” she laughs, “It feels weird for me to say that out loud, but I think because I really do, I know that I need to do things to fill my cup.” This, Zoe says, is what allows her to be a truly present parent to her children, because everyone’s needs are being met.

Research professor and author Brené Brown has said: “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.” If this is true, Zoe is the most badass of them all. She is open and honest with her audience, sharing the ebbs and flows of her life with a vulnerability that only makes her more lovable. In today’s social-media-soaked society, such gems are few and far between. This only drives Zoe to be more transparent. “I think it’s a real injustice and it’s a real shame for people to have a platform and to be selling an illusion,” she says. “There’s something so beautiful about raw vulnerability and honesty. They’re the people that I resonate with, they’re the people I connect with. And I think there’s something so beautiful about leaning into that.”

She is so steadfast in this belief that it is the whole premise of her podcast, The Deep. Since launching in June of 2020, Zoe has interviewed more than 30 incredible human beings, including people who have battled postnatal depression, widows, abuse survivors, addicts, and terminally ill parents. Each of her guests show their strength through their vulnerability, in the same way Zoe does herself. “The people that I tend to engage with are people that keep it real. Because that makes me feel more human, and less alone,” she explains.

It was this sentiment Zoe channelled when she opened up to the public about her miscarriage in 2019. The candid video she posted to her thousands of Instagram followers opened up a poignant conversation about pregnancy loss, and became a space for people to share experiences and support each other. Though it wasn’t easy, she recognises how crucial community support is around these heartbreaking experiences. “Miscarriage is so common and you will know someone that has gone through it. And wouldn’t you have wanted to be there for them, or share that with them, or make them feel less alone?” she asks. Zoe’s advice is that we need to destigmatise the discussion, and honour miscarriage and stillbirth. “I feel like [Australia is] so behind … there are other countries right now that are giving grieving parents time through miscarriage and stillbirth, but we still don’t have support here for that.”

As children, both Zoe and Benji were raised in low socioeconomic backgrounds, with parents that juggled several jobs, and relied on hand-me-downs or the lost property box for their school uniforms. “Times were tough for us both in different ways,” says Zoe. “I feel like it’s so vastly different for my children, whose needs are so fulfilled in every way.” The juxtaposition between their childhoods and their kids living the lucky life is what fuels Zoe and Benji to ensure their kids know just how fortunate they are.

“My conscious contribution to their upbringing is to make them so aware of their privilege. To make sure they understand what the world looks like. Especially with Fox, being a white-presenting, cis male in this world, he was born with privilege. I think that he really has to understand what it is like for people that aren’t like him, and he then has to help and work towards bringing those people opportunities that they might not have, because of those things,” Zoe explains. Although he’s only three, it’s these values that she’s hoping Fox will carry as he grows older and ventures into the world.

“Basic things are already in place in our household, like being gender-neutral; there aren’t ‘girl’ things and ‘boy’ things, boys aren’t necessarily stronger or faster [than girls]. He needs to know environmentally what things mean, what recycling means, what eating meat means, all of the things! They’re little conversations, but it’s something that is going to be ingrained in my children.”

Zoe only wants the best for her daughter, too. “Bringing a woman into the world feels like a greater pressure for me than anything else. Raising a strong, independent woman that understands her rights and can take up space in the world is all I want for her.”

As Zoe traverses the peaks and valleys of motherhood, she finds herself thinking about her own mum, who passed away when she was in her early twenties. “Her presence is so missed in this stage of our life,” she explains. “I wish I could ask her things that she did with me that I need answers to. Like, ‘What kind of birth did you have?’, and ‘How was your recovery?’, and ‘Did I feed well?’, ‘Did you do time outs?’, or ‘Did you do the thinking spot?’

“I just want to know how she survived, being a single mother. And I also just really want to thank her, more than I got to, because you only know how hard it is when you’re in it, and you never appreciate that constant sacrifice until you’re in it.”

It’s her raw openness that makes Zoe the powerhouse she is. She’s not afraid to bare it all in the name of transparency; in the name of uplifting others. She reminds us to cherish what’s important, and let go of what is not. Unafraid to wade in the discomfort and tell the truth about her story; she’s a badass. Zoe Marshall is so adored not because she is perfect – but because she isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be. After all, no one has it all figured out. We’re all just doing our best. And Zoe is the greatest example of how just that is more than enough.

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