After a whirlwind few months since the birth of their baby girl, former AFLW star Moana Hope and her wife, model Isabella Carlstrom, reveal how becoming parents has turned their world upside down (in the best possible way) and empowered them even more as women.

Moana Hope won’t stop gushing during the photo shoot for Stellar about how beautiful her wife, model Isabella “Bell” Carlstrom, looks at nine weeks postpartum. “When Bell was pregnant, I said, ‘Finally, I’m the lightest in the house!’ Well, that’s changed quickly – I already can’t say that anymore,” the former AFLW star jokes.

During the photo shoot, Swedish-born Carlstrom coaches Hope and her sister Lavinia “Vinny”, who they care for, on the tricks of the trade, while the couple’s daughter Svea sleeps on.

It’s an idyllic moment the family had planned to capture weeks earlier, until some serious health concerns burst their newborn-baby bubble. Along with the lack of sleep, raging hormones, anxieties and breastmilk-stained sheets that came after they welcomed Svea to the world on November 17, the couple have each had to negotiate their own health issues.

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“You literally have to sacrifice your body”

First it was Carlstrom. Immediately after her 14-hour labour, the 28-year-old’s blood pressure plummeted, and doctors rushed to stabilise it. From that point, she struggled with fatigue and lethargy, and during her six-week check-up, doctors discovered she still had 5cm of retained placenta.

“They had to do an emergency operation,” Hope recalls. “Now with more tests, we’ve found that Bell has hardly any iron [so] we’re doing iron transfusions to hopefully get her back to feeling healthy and happy.”

Adds Carlstrom: “You literally have to sacrifice your body, your mind, your spirit and then you have a baby. You can’t compare it to anything. It’s unbelievable – I have nothing but pride for myself, even in my hardest moments.”

While all of this was going on, Hope, 33, discovered a lump in her breast, which required urgent testing. “We’re very lucky it wasn’t cancerous because the doctor told me I had a 50/50 chance it was,” says Hope, whose father passed away from cancer when she was 12. “All I was thinking during all of this was, if anything happened to me, what would happen to Svea, Vinny and Bell? I’m just so happy it came back okay.”

It’s safe to say the fourth trimester – the 12-week period after the birth, when your baby is adjusting to the world, and you’re adjusting to your baby – wasn’t what they had hoped for. But herein lies one of the essential lessons of becoming parents, say the couple, who celebrated their two-year wedding anniversary in August.

“I came home from hospital and was completely caught off-guard – I felt insane,” Carlstrom recalls. “I was timing all my feeds and all that stuff, and it was making me so anxious. But I chucked it all away and I’ve never felt better. I’m taking it one day at a time and I’ve learnt about not having any expectations and just going with the flow.”

“Sometimes we couldn’t afford food”

Becoming a mother has also made Hope, who now runs her own traffic management business, reflect on her own childhood, and growing up as one of 14 children.

“Sometimes we couldn’t afford food. We couldn’t afford many things. But Svea will never not have food,” she says. “I’m going to work every day of my life so that she never goes hungry and she’s always loved. That’s one of the biggest things now – I’m so protective of her, and every decision we make is based around this tiny baby and our family.”

Which, of course, includes Vinny. Born with a neurological condition, the 27-year-old needs full-time care, and Hope initially worried the changes that come with having a baby in the house might be overwhelming. But she needn’t have worried.

“I love Svea,” Vinny tells Stellar. “I have my own family now and Svea is my little sister. I help change her nappies and take care of her.”

And Hope says Vinny loves helping out with the baby. “She’s up in the morning just so she can help change Svea’s nappy, pick an outfit and have a little cuddle,” she says. “And every time Vinny holds her, which is every day, Svea smiles straight at her. It’s so sweet and so beautiful. Vinny just wants to do whatever she can to help.”

With the help of her sister, Vinny has started up a clothing business, Vinspiration, which raises funds for charities that support those with special needs. And thanks to Vinny’s regular appearances on the couple’s social media, it has a big following.

“Women are rock stars”

While the couple are still trying to find a moment of alone time without a baby nestled between them, they say becoming parents has brought them closer. And Hope adds that seeing her wife carry and birth a child has made her want to get pregnant sooner.

“Watching Bell go through labour was the most empowering thing to witness. It sounds terrible to say, but her pain empowered me,” she says, adding that she hopes to be carrying their second baby by the end of the year. “Going through all of it has really been so beautiful. Women are rock stars.”

The family’s willingness to share the highs and lows of their relationship, home life and going through IVF have made them hugely popular. While Hope admits they did find out they were having a girl but kept it secret, she says they’ve never thought about censoring themselves.

“When Bell and I did our first appearance together at the Brownlows, everyone was like, ‘You finally came out!’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t have to come out. I am who I am and I’m in love with a woman,’” she recalls.

“On his deathbed, my dad would cry with regrets. Ever since, I’ve promised myself that I’d never live with regrets and I’d always be unapologetically me.”

This story originally appeared in Stellar and was republished here with permission.

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