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CELEBRITY / May ‘2018

Ada Nicodemou Talks Babies, Baking And Being A Working Mum

CELEBRITY / MAY ‘2018

Ada Nicodemou Talks Babies, Baking And Being A Working Mum

Diminutive Home and Away star, Ada Nicodemou is a woman of many talents. Baking is not one of these. Ada is holed up in a Channel 7 studio hooting with laughter at the thought of making her baby boy Johnas’ cake for his imminent first birthday.

Words ARI CHÁVEZ

“I need to bake the cake,” she states dramatically, “and I have never baked in my life! I’ve got it in my head that I want to do a Cheeky Monkey. I’m a sucker for punishment but I thought I’d do a trial run this weekend and see how I go.” She giggles, nervously. “Does it make me a better Mum that I am making my own cake? No. But I think it’s going to make me feel better so I’ll do it.”

Parenting history is littered with the birthday cakes of mothers – always mothers – painstakingly mixed, often at midnight while everyone else is sleeping, and placed tentatively in the oven and watched for signs of over-rising or, worse, collapse, before attempts at icing and characterisation begin. Thomas the Tank Engine, Cheeky Monkey, Dora the Explorer, Micky Mouse, Elmo, Big Bird…The list is relentlessly endless. For the baking-challenged amongst us, it’s a fresh hell indeed.

Ada is determined to succeed, however, despite not quite knowing her way around a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. Her Cheeky Monkey birthday cake is more than just a delightful surprise for Johnas, it will go some way towards assuaging her unease about her decision to throw her son a low-key birthday party. Defying the current trend, which sees parents celebrating the first-year-milestone with fancy catered food, and a guest list of wedding-esque proportions, Ada is keeping it refreshingly simple.

“We were going to throw one,” the unaffected thirty-six year old says, “but we decided against it. We had a big christening at the beginning of the year with one hundred and fifty people and it was gorgeous, it was amazing…us Greeks don’t do anything by halves!

And for the birthday we thought, ‘he’s not going to know the difference, he’s not going to get his sleeps, he’s probably going to be really unsettled, he’ll be really overstimulated’. We tried to write down the names of just family and it was fifty people before we invited friends!

"I think the first year is more about us, about going ‘oh wow, we made it! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind!’.”

I don’t mind doing all that if he appreciates it, you know, if he has fun. We decided that instead of doing all that, and spending all that money, we are going to have the most amazing lunch with our immediate family…French champagne and seafood and all of that. I think the first year is more about us, about going ‘oh wow, we made it! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind!’.”

Whirlwind is an understatement. After giving birth to her “happy, funny baby” in August 2012, Ada returned to Home and Away in February 2013 as feisty single mother Leah Patterson-Baker, a long standing role that has made her one of Australia’s most recognisable actors. She also reprised her role as the host of the matchmaking show, Please Marry My Boy, where she is the bubbly centre of a strange parallel universe where mothers are intimately involved in the choice of their sons’ partners, and stepped up as the face of two publicity campaigns. It’s a demanding schedule for anyone, let alone a new mum learning the ropes of motherhood and operating on minimal sleep.

Ada laughs, ruefully. “I have this really bad trait where I just don’t say ‘no’. And then I get really overwhelmed, and I’ve got this newborn baby at home that’s not sleeping and is quite challenging. Adjusting to motherhood and being a working mum has just been really, really hard. I just take each day as it comes and that’s all I can do. Some days are better than others.”

Ada’s life juggling multiple television and publicity commitments, a marriage and a baby, is a far cry from her sixteen year old schoolgirl-self who decided, on a whim, to audition for a role in a new television show, a decision that would lead to a twenty year career in show business. The role was Katerina in Heartbreak High, a gritty series about a tough, multi-racial urban high school. Initially a twelve week spot, her character proved so popular, the role was extended, ultimately for three years. Ada has worked steadily ever since on shows such as Police Rescue and Breakers, made appearances in Beastmaster and Pizza, and taken on a small, but significant, role as the White Rabbit Girl, Dujour, in The Matrix. Along the way, the striking and vivacious actor has been nominated for three gold and two silver Logies.

“I never thought I’d make a career out of acting,” Ada explains frankly, still sounding surprised at the thought. “I was at school, I went for an audition, it was for twelve weeks and I happened to get it. I thought, ‘I’ll do the twelve weeks and I’ll go back and do my HSC and I’ll go to uni and that will be the end of it’. And twenty years later I’m still doing it…it just happened this way. I’m really lucky. I know there are a lot of people out there who would love to be an actor and have studied…I’m acting full time, I’m practising my craft every day, so I do feel very blessed.”

“I never thought I’d make a career out of acting.”

Ada’s passion for her work is one of the reasons she cites for juggling the demands of motherhood and paid employment, but there is much more to the story – the need for an identity outside the home, a break from the relentless demands of a baby, the desire to maintain a sense of self, the relative ease of paid work –  that will be familiar to many mothers.

“It’s funny, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be when I had Johnas and whether I wanted to be a stay at home mum or not, and you just don’t know until you have them,” she muses, noting that her pre-child ideal for motherhood was to be around her child 24/7.

She pauses for a moment to weigh up her words. “I love him and I love spending time with him at home but I also do love going to work,” she says, carefully. “It’s hard saying that out loud sometimes, because you do have a lot of guilt around that, but I definitely wanted to go back to work…I do find work a lot easier. Some mothers love staying at home and I take my hat off to them, I think it’s fantastic, but I couldn’t do it.”

As it happens, Ada and her husband, chef and restaurateur, Chrys Xipolitas, have a thoroughly modern arrangement where Chrys looks after Johnas during the day, before heading off to his restaurant, Island, in the evening, and Ada spends time with him in the afternoons and evenings, and on her days off from her flexible filming schedule. The baby’s doting grandparents are also heavily involved in his care, making Johnas the centre of an enviable village of loving adults, who happily nurture and guide his development, and share his days.

Ada acknowledges that the support of her family has made parenting Jonas infinitely easier than it might otherwise be, yet, still, often refers to a post-baby life that is both demanding and unglamorous. In the age of the Celebrity Mum, where models and actors routinely present an image of picturesque, stylish motherhood, appearing both effortlessly nurturing and completely fulfilled, while their nannies and staff stand just out of shot, Ada is unexpectedly, and delightfully, candid about the challenges of motherhood and her need for a network of support.

“Every day is such a blur, isn’t it,” she asks rhetorically, bursting into laughter again. “Just this morning I was thinking, last year this time I gave birth to him. I don’t even remember it! I remember bits of it, and I remember my life before Johnas, but at the same time, look it’s such a struggle and everyone says how beautiful it is, and it is, but it’s also really hard. No one prepares you for that, and I just wonder sometimes if people aren’t that honest about it.

When he was a newborn it was really hard. He’s got silent reflux so before that was diagnosed it was just horrible. He was screaming and shouting. Those first few weeks were really tough and everyone kept saying, ‘oh it gets easier, those first eight weeks are the hardest’ so we were holding on to that.

And it does get easier but it’s still a struggle, like teething is just so hard. Johnas has been teething from five months. He literally has a full set of teeth in his mouth and he is not even a year old! He’s been in so much pain, poor little thing…and that’s the struggle. You can’t fix it and you don’t know exactly what’s wrong...I feel like I’m guessing.”

 

"Some mothers love staying at home and I take my hat off to them, I think it’s fantastic, but I couldn’t do it.”

Just as the realities of parenting have proven to be quite different from Ada’s pre-baby perspective of earth-mothering her child 24/7, actually getting pregnant was much harder than she anticipated. Prior to even considering a child, Ada and Chrys endured a tumultuous time in their marriage, which resulted in a brief, unofficial, separation in 2010.

The split was triggered by a chain of events, which started when Chrys’ then-restaurant, Zippo’s, was destroyed by fire. He fell into a debilitating depression, which, at its worst, saw him confined to bed unable to face the day. He agreed to attend the rehabilitation clinic, South Pacific Private, where he undertook therapy and began a medication schedule. It was a lonely experience for the thirty-nine year old, who had married Ada just three years prior in 2007.

“I didn’t want family and friends to visit because I’d been there before and you look forward to them coming and then you get down when they leave – I just needed to be by myself,” he later stated publicly.

It was a gruelling time for the couple and Ada, while refusing to comment publicly at the time, was spotted out and about sans wedding ring.

 

“I didn’t understand it,” confesses Ada. “I tried to fix it and I didn’t understand why he couldn’t snap out of it. I think men are ashamed of it, especially if you have to take medication or you have to go and see a doctor. It’s all good and well if you’ve got something wrong with you physically, you just go to a GP and you sort yourself out, whereas mentally, you don’t do anything about it. We have so many rates of suicide, especially in men, and older men, so it’s very, very sad.”

While the couple were tight-lipped at the time about the extent of their problems, they have since chosen to go public with their experience, and the strategies that helped them, in an attempt to help shine a light on mental health issues, and support other people who are suffering.

“Now I talk about things,” Chrys explained to a national newspaper in 2010. “I used to try and tackle things on my own and I would feel the pressure build up inside. Parts of me would get flustered, which was a trigger and makes me feel not in control. But saying it out loud, as I feel it, is so new for me, and I really feel Ada and I are a team now.”

“It was also part of our healing process,” says Ada, of the decision to reveal their troubles. “It’s okay to talk about it, we’ll all be better for it in the long run.”

After Chrys had completed his in-clinic therapy program, the couple reunited and decided they wanted to start a family, however Ada’s fertility was complicated by endometriosis and a polycystic ovary. After trying for a baby for twelve months, the pair decided to try IVF and were successful on their first attempt, an uncommonly lucky outcome. With one in six Australian couples now experiencing fertility problems, and rising, Ada is passionate about women becoming informed about how their bodies work.

“I didn’t know my body,” she reveals, “and I was so ashamed about that. I thought, ‘jeez, I’m a woman, I should know how my body works’ but it wasn’t a concern of mine until I couldn’t fall pregnant and I thought, ‘well hang on a second, if only I knew this earlier, I might’ve made different decisions’.

You do whatever you can to fall pregnant, I think, but you don’t realise how hard it is to fall pregnant until you start. I think it’s really important for women to know that it’s well and good to put it off and have a baby when you’re ready – I’m not saying have a baby when you’re eighteen years old but, unfortunately, at eighteen years old you’re a lot more fertile than you are when you’re thirty five, let alone forty and so on. It’s all good and well to make those decisions, but I think they need to be informed decisions.”

She’s quick to acknowledge the good fortune in her situation aware, perhaps, of the heartbreak those undertaking multiple IVF cycles, or simply unexplained and prolonged infertility, experience.

“We’re very lucky, we’ve got a beautiful little boy and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We might have to go down that way again, and that’s fine, and we’re very lucky that we have those options.”

"I thought, ‘jeez, I’m a woman, I should know how my body works’ but it wasn’t a concern of mine until I couldn’t fall pregnant."

We talk briefly about the possibility of more children or, more accurately, the pressure to have more children quickly. Ada sounds exasperated.

“You meet someone and they say ‘when are you guys going to get married?’. And you get married and they say, ‘when are you going to have a baby?’. And you have one baby, you’ve literally given birth, and people are like, ‘so, when are you going to have another one?’. And you’re like, ‘wow, let’s just enjoy the moment!’

She pauses for a moment, perhaps reflecting on the months of reflux Johnas endured, the sleepless nights, the rollercoaster of emotions new parents typically experience, the demands of her work schedule, the needs of her child, the blessed Cheeky Monkey cake she needs to conjure up, somehow, in the next few days, the whole complex, whirling kaleidoscope that is parenthood.

“I definitely do want to have more children down the track,” she says, eventually, “but I don’t feel like I’m ready yet, so we’ll see how we go.”

And with that, she’s off. Swallowed up by the demands of work and more interviews and further publicity and, of course, her “laughing, happy” baby boy, Johnas.

ARI CHÁVEZ

Ari has had work published in Australia, England, Japan and Singapore. She has a delightful toddler, Gabriel, who was born with coffee in his veins. She is currently completing her first novel as part of a PhD project.