She?s a supermodel, VJ, businesswoman, spokesperson, celebrity, but there?s one role that one of Thailand?s favourite faces isn?t quite used to yet: that of mother.
Helen Berger gave birth to daughter Haley D?iana Berger in May this year. ?Everyone?s asking me, ?How does it feel to be a mother?? I don?t know how to answer that,? she confesses. ?I just don?t feel like a mother yet ? right now she just sleeps and takes my breastmilk. When I hear her say ?mum? then I?ll think, okay, this is the real deal!?
Helen?s a bundle of emotions: happy, excited, tired, worried, angry. Articulate as ever though, she?s keen to recount the birth of Haley, which in a word she describes as ?traumatising?.
?The birth?s story is awful,? she says. ?It was like the worst experience of my life.?
Helen had spent her pregnancy giving interviews promoting natural childbirth and emphasising the importance of a healthy outlook and body throughout pregnancy. But Helen?s visions for the birth of her own child were not to be realised. ?All of a sudden we were in there, going through labour. It had been like six hundred years and the doctor came in and said, ?We recommend a Caesarian.? "
Helen was against the idea and asked for a second opinion, which confirmed the first doctor?s diagnosis. She and husband James consented, and she was then given a choice between having a general anaesthetic or an epidural. Wanting desperately to be awake for the birth, she chose an epidural. ?For nine months I had been planning to hear the baby?s cry and to see my husband?s face at the birth.?
But the last thing she remembers of being pregnant is a desperate feeling of not being able to breathe. ?The next thing I knew I was waking up hours later, flat on my back throwing up. They said ?Here?s your baby.? "
She later found out that the epidural needle had been inserted too far, causing her to pass out. ?I was druggy, wasted ? like your worst, worst, worst hangover. I was not welcoming to the baby ? I was just really annoyed.?
Helen isn?t sure how things managed to go so wrong. ?I?ve been trying to look at it from all angles. It?s only been six weeks since I gave birth; I?m still very sensitive about it. I get very depressed some days because I had planned for so long, really wanting to be pregnant and to be there when she arrived. The whole thing, I missed it.?
Luckily, she says, James had a video camera that recorded the nurses putting the baby on her breast after the birth. ?If I hadn?t seen that connection I don?t know how I?d be feeling. Just seeing that on the video made me think ?OK, at least she knows I?m her mum!? "
Her pregnancy had been normal, although she struggled with morning sickness day and night for the first five months. The biggest change was her weight, which rose steadily during the nine months. ?I gained 40 kilograms,? she says with healthy nonchalance. ?I lost 17 kilograms within the first two weeks after the birth. The rest is kind of steady and will probably stay that way until after I stop breastfeeding.?
As her body changed, so too came the realisation that her life had truly changed. ?I was not out partying, not staying out till the early hours of the morning anymore!?
Changes continued, of course, with the birth. ?It?s true what they say: you do NOT sleep. She sleeps through the night soundly now, but you?re still on alert, still on standby, like your pager will go off any second.?
And the first time she went out for lunch at a restaurant with girlfriends she didn?t make it through. ?The first thing I noticed was people smoking. It had never bothered me before because I used to smoke. But all of a sudden it bothered me a lot – a lot. I had to go home. That mother instinct kicked in.?
Helen and James have eschewed the help of a nanny for at least the first four or five months of Haley?s life. But with James working hard on his fledgling business, Helen has found the load heavy. ?For the first three weeks I was really on my own. I felt depressed and lonely, even though my girlfriends would stop by and see me. You?re confined and you feel like no one knows what you?re going through,? she says. ?But it?s beautiful, the whole thing, as you watch her each day.?
Her mother rang when Haley was three weeks old to tell her she was making a surprise visit. ?I was in tears. I was like, I really need you mum! You should have come yesterday!?
It was a special time for Helen and her mother. During previous visits, Helen says she had always been busy and hadn?t bothered to spend quality time with her. This time was different. ?Talking is all we did. We were inseparable. I felt like we really bonded – it took 30 years for us to really get along. For the past nearly 13 years now [since Helen came to Thailand] we got along, but it was always me looking for my own identity, trying to get away, starting my own life.?
Career plans are on hold now, but Helen will eventually go back to work. At the moment it?s a struggle for Helen to settle on a new image for herself in her own mind. ?I still have this image of myself as a model, personality, VJ. I didn?t want to let go of that; I still don?t want to let go of that. I?m finding it hard.?
Helen says she wonders how people will cope with the fact she?s now a mother. ?You can?t always be that fun, carefree person, pushing people?s buttons and pushing the limits of what people are going to accept in society in their pictures. You have to start taking responsibilities for your actions, for society.?
At least on one front she?s still making a stand. ?I won?t let breastfeeding stop me from going out. It feels so natural. I don?t care what anyone else is thinking and I?m not going to deprive Haley of that.?
In the meantime, Helen?s watching her daughter develop a personality just like her own. ?What goes around comes around,? she laughs. ?She already shows a stubborn streak. I can see that she?s going to be tough. She?s going to be a go-getter. She?s not going to be sit back and be weak.?
The most important qualities she?d like to teach Haley are compassion, kindness and fairness. ?That?s what I want to show her. Not so much teach her but show her, and she?ll learn from that.?
As for her relationship with her husband, Helen says the change a child made to their lives was at first a shock in terms of how little time they get to spend together. ?It?s been tiring, but very rewarding. We look at her and we say ?Oh my gosh we did this!? And we high five each other!?
So will Baby Berger Number Two be on its way some time soon? ?The first week after Haley was born, I was absolutely not going to have anymore children. But now I can see that I would. I think I?ll continue until I?m 35; then I can stop and enjoy it all.?