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As I approach the big 3-0 and my friends know I’ve been using this phrase this since my mid-20’s (I like to prepare, what can I say), the idea of motherhood has crept to the foreground of my mind. It’s a combination of things: each year a few more of my friends pass the engagement and marriage phase, entering into parenthood. And as we get older, we start to form friendships with our parents, seeing them not just as mum and dad but you know, people that we relate to. Then there’s that biological clock that’s hard to ignore. So as Mother’s Day approaches, we meet a woman who puts her family life at the centre of her career and is unashamed to talk about every detail of being a mum. From the emotional turmoil that comes with carrying to the stigma around postnatal depression, Debbie Le, also known as @thefashionablepan on Instagram, is all about the real.
Growing up in Vietnam, her family of four fled the country and lived in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. They sought asylum in Australia and were rejected. At five years old, Debbie was welcomed into the UK and began her new life in the borough of Greenwich, where she tells us, “I faced a lot of adversities in my life and I realised that as much as a lot of it was hard, it was a gift”. In our conversation, she serves us life lessons on gratitude, happiness and self-healing that we all need to hear, no matter our age or life stage.
Before you decided to have a baby did you have any ideas about how you would raise them?
No, not really. For me it was really simple. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to say but for me, as a woman, one of the most amazing things you can be blessed with – biologically speaking – is to have a baby. When I was young, I had these aspirations of a career but I also wanted to be a mum and I remember thinking that when I’m 28, this is the age I’m going to [do that].
Oh I’m 28 now.
Oh, honestly! Yeah, I wanted to have a good career, be married, have a house, have an amazing husband and then start having children. Anyway, none of that happened.
I was so career focused and I wasn’t in the best relationship. It was really important for me to be in a great relationship with great foundations and I couldn’t see myself bringing children to the world with, you know, an unhealthy one. I was single for quite a long time. I was on a self healing trip and I’m glad I did it. Personally, I don’t think I matured and became a woman until I was 35.
What made you think: I am an adult now, I am a woman now and I’m ready to have children?
I changed myself. I changed my thinking. I started thinking positively, accepting things and taking responsibility. Honestly, [before I was 35] I was quite selfish. It was all about me and I was put on a pedestal with a lot of my relationships. When I started to take responsibility and look into the mirror and say, “I am beautiful, I am who I am. I am accepting of who I am and everything in my life happens because of me and my actions,” that’s when I started to grow up.
When I met Luke, I met him on the tube. It’s an amazing love story! We fell in love very quickly and knew from the start that we wanted to be together and start a family.
Anyway, that didn’t happen very easily for us. We struggled to have our kids and had multiple miscarriages. We finally had Roman with an amazing consultant and lots of medication. I had scans every other week to sustain my pregnancies and I felt very blessed that I was finally able to have children. I’m sure I’m missing out a lot of things [from this story] – but when [the baby] came along, I wanted to be with him and play with him all the time. I wanted to be that mushy mum. But I wasn’t.
I had seriously bad postnatal depression. I was such a career woman, I had an amazing life and I liked to be in control of things and have a routine. Then I had this baby and I didn’t know what to do. As a result, I couldn’t admit to myself how hard this was and I didn’t know how to bring him up. I was just lost. I was on the floor sick with sleep deprivation, which is torture, but I sought help. I trained [my son] to sleep and I started to get my life back to normal. But as a result I lost my confidence, I lost my self-esteem, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt like I was just a mum. For me, it was a really sad time and it was all bittersweet because I wanted a child and I had my child – but I lost my sense of worth. Coming from a career of a fashion buyer where [fashion became my] identity, it was all gone.
And not out of choice
Yeah and not out of choice. So that’s when I started looking at Instagram. It was basically after having Rosie, baby number two.
How many years are they apart?
They are two years apart. So when we fell pregnant with Rosie, again I had to take the same medication, be seen by my consultant weekly and have a scan every other week. I knew what to do [this time round] because I was more experienced and I knew what to expect [emotionally]. But having Rosie saved me. I was a lot more laid back and a lot more lenient with her.
I think mums are a little more relaxed with the second one. My brother and I are completely different.
Well, I am the second one and my dad looks at me, looks at Rosie and goes, “yeah, good luck!”. After having Rosie, I joined Instagram to have a creative outlet but also because I knew if I had to post an outfit a day, it would force me to get dressed.
It’s almost like self-therapy.
It was. It forced me to look at my wardrobe and get dressed again in all the nice stuff that I used to wear. As a result, I started to get my confidence back. I started boxing and started to lose weight and tone up. I was getting my body confidence back.
Yeah, you look so much better than me and I’m embarrassed, I haven’t had two kids.
I had a mission and my mission was to get my fashion confidence and my body confidence back. Because I had a game plan, it became an addiction but a positive one. When I started to post these things on Instagram, I had lots of messages saying that what I was doing really inspired other mums to do the same: to exercise, to get dressed again. I know it sounds extreme but it works.
Because of my fashion background, a lot of brands started to notice my account. To cut a long story short, it got me to where I am today. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to have all that back – to be able to work and have an amazing career now, which is very similar to what I used to do – and be able to do it around my children.
Your kids are quite involved in your instagram. Social media has changed a lot since you first started, did you ever think I don’t want to show my kids until they are a certain age or have boundaries about how much you would share your private life?
I wouldn’t say that I set myself strict boundaries but I would just post as and when it felt comfortable. There are certain things I am very strict about. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, I always do my stories at the end of the day because I want to be present. My husband is so good at telling me off about that.
For me, it’s been incredible, I don’t know how long this is going to go on for and I’m just really grateful for the brands that have noticed me, for the accounts that have shared mine, for the people that have gifted me and those that have believed in me. It’s amazing you know Andrea, the people I have met on this platform, the friends that I have made.
In a few years if your kids were interested in getting on Tik Tok or being on Instagram themselves, is that something you would encourage or would you be a bit cautious, being in the industry?
You know what, they are learning already. They look at me and they are like, “mummy, why are you on your phone, are you working, are you being the Fashionable Pan again?” They’re [part of] the culture, learning [it] at school and on TV. It does worry me, especially when they become teenagers. When we were kids, we were actually kids, you know? If anything happened at school, you went home and you felt safe because all that was left behind. There was a separation and you felt secure at home. But now I see kids who bring that home because they are always online. I guess, as long as you educate them and set boundaries and teach them things that matter, then hopefully they will learn.
I mean I literally can feel how much you love them just from this conversation. I am an emotional person anyway but I can really feel it, which is really beautiful.
I think because I struggled to have my kids, I’m lucky and I know how hard it was for my mum and dad bringing us up.
Do your children know how you grew up?
No, they are too young to understand. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I look at them and I think you are just so bloody lucky, all this stuff that you have. Rosie has got so many Elsa dolls and so many dolls in general, and I never had a doll when I was her age. It’s hard because I don’t want to spoil them, but sometimes I’m like “aww I never had all that”. Luke is the same. He was brought up in England and he grew up in a home where he wasn’t given anything, so he spoils the kids more than me.
That’s how my parents grew up so that’s why they bought us a lot.
I think that’s also why I have that mentality that if I want something Andrea, I buy it.
You don’t deprive yourself.
No, I don’t because I remember when I was 15 right, I was bawling my eyes out and I was quite rude to my mum and dad because they wouldn’t buy me these Nike AirMaxes. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to feel unaccepted by my peers. And they wouldn’t buy it for me and I was so angry. They bought me like these velcro white Dunlop trainers that I could grow into next year.
When your children grow up, do you ever think, “I’d love for them to have this personality or for them to have this trait”?
As long as they grow up to be happy, have respect for others, be kind and hardworking, that for me is more important than being academic. Myself and my husband weren’t particularly academic but we’ve both got amazing careers, we’ve both thrived, To be successful is to at least try.
Life is a journey. They’re going to be who they want to be. You can’t control these things. My mum and dad wanted me to be a lawyer, an accountant, a teacher or a doctor. My siblings and I are none of those things.
But you know what, you had more options than I did.
I had the option of opera singer or lawyer.
When my mum sees pictures of me – she doesn’t know what an influencer is or what a blogger is. She thinks I am a model. She’s all, “look how beautiful my daughter is, I am proud”. For me, that makes me happy. I’ll tell you what Andrea, I know a lot of wealthy people who would rather be happy. I want to teach my children to grow up to be whatever they want to be – as long as they are happy.
Not sure what to get your mum for Mother’s Day? Shop according to her horoscope here.