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Love, Wisdom, Motherhood – Jessica Rowe

By Dan Hutton on August 27, 2011 in People

Photo: Georgie Gavaghan

During the month The Beast caught up with Eastern Suburbs local Jessica Rowe. The news reader, mother of two lovely daughters (Allegra and Giselle) and wife of Channel 9 news presenter Peter Overton shared her thoughts on getting started in journalism, finding love, becoming a mother, dealing with post-natal depression and her new book, ‘Love, Wisdom, Motherhood’…


Where are you originally from?
I’m a Sydney girl, born and bred. I grew up in Bondi Junction, Randwick and then a bit later, Double Bay.

Where are you living these days?
I’m living a bit further up the hill, in Vaucluse.

What’s it like living in Vaucluse?
It’s beautiful. I love it because there’s a real sense of community. I love that I can walk with the girls to the shops in about two minutes and I know the butcher’s name and the people at the newsagent and the local coffee shop and the chemist. I love that I can walk down the hill to Allegra’s preschool and to Bondi; it’s a beautiful part of the world.

You’ve got a bit of a Clovelly connection as well, don’t you?
Yeah. My dad and step mum moved to Clovelly thirty years ago. Dad calls it the pearl of the Pacific. He’s an avid scuba diver and set up the Gordon’s Bay scuba diving club. Much to his disappointment I get a bit scared swimming underwater so I’m happy just to stay on the surface. Clovelly is a gorgeous part of the world and as a single girl, I bought an apartment there and loved it.

Is there anything you don’t like about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
I think sometimes people’s impatience and rudeness on the road. That gets up my nose. Just chill out. If someone lets me in I put my hand up and wave thank you and I really get annoyed if I do that and somebody doesn’t thank me. It really annoys me.

Are you a bit of a granny behind the wheel?
Oh, I’m a shocker. I’m a real nana. People tease me endlessly about how slow I am but I say, “no, I’m not slow I’m just very careful and cautious”.

What about Peter, is he a bit of rev head?
It’s not so much that he’s a rev head, but he gets very annoyed if he has to follow me anywhere because he’s like, “Oh gee, how long did that take?”

How did you get your start in the world of journalism?
I went to Sydney Girls’ High, I think that was when I thought I wanted to be a journo. I got into Charles Sturt University but then I took a year off. When I did move to Bathurst I loved it. My first job after leaving uni was as a receptionist at Channel 9 answering the telephones and I was absolutely hopeless at that. I’d hang up on all sorts of people. While I was doing that I was sending out CVs and I got an opportunity at Prime Television in Canberra. I learnt a lot and I was able to make a whole lot of mistakes without the whole world watching. My late grandmother once said to me that she found one of the old VHS copies of me doing the weather and she said, “Oh, darling, you actually really were quite terrible.”

How long were you in the nation’s capital for?
About two and a half years and then I moved to Melbourne and worked for Channel 9 as a journo on their 6 o’clock news. Then I got kind of my dream opportunity to come back to Sydney to read the news for Channel 10, which I did for ten years and I loved it.

So you’ve worked for basically every network except for ABC and SBS, haven’t you?
That’s right.

Who has been the best to work for?
You know what, working for myself is the best thing of all, I would say, now that I’m a freelancer.

Has Peter worked for anyone else besides Channel 9?
Yes. He worked for Channel 7 in Adelaide. And he also worked for Sky a bazillion years ago.

What are you doing on television at the moment, because you’re more a mum these days than a TV personality, aren’t you?
Of course. I mean my job description is mum – mum, author, sometime news presenter and I’m working for Weekend Sunrise doing news reading for them. On Saturday and Sunday morning I’m up early but it’s a lovely way to keep my foot in TV and news, which I love. I think as a working mum you’re always looking for that balance. My paid work is a break from my full time job as a mum.

Have you got any plans in the pipeline for any other TV projects?
Well who knows, I’m always open for new things. I’m taking singing lessons.

Yeah. I auditioned for Playschool last year, but my singing wasn’t up to scratch, but I’d love to have another shot at that because it was so much fun. And then who knows? I loved writing and I’d like to write another book, but I’m not sure what on yet.

Did you always want to be a newsreader after going down the journo path?
Oh, no, I think I wanted to be a foreign correspondent when I was in high school, like so many aspiring journalists do. And then I was lucky that the presenting opportunity came along a lot earlier than I thought it would.

Did you always have the newsreader voice or is it something that you had to work on? Do they teach that at uni?
I’ll tell you what, at uni it was hysterical. We did some radio and they’d say, “Now talk in the microphone”, and my friend would tease me because I suddenly start talking differently. It takes time. Early on you feel you’ve got to put on this voice but it’s about being comfortable in your own skin and using your own voice.

How did you and Peter meet? Is there a romantic story there?
This is interesting. It’s sort of an extended romantic story. I first met Petey when I was doing work experience at Channel 9; he was a sports reporter and I was still at uni. I met him at the time and he seemed very much older and more together. And then many, many years later I met him again at the Logies and I happened to be with someone else at the time, who the less said about that the better, and I remember meeting Peter and having a chat and thinking, “Why can’t I meet a lovely decent man like this? Isn’t he gorgeous?” Then my relationship split up and I was in the news room chatting to a great friend of mine, Tony Peters, and he was saying, “Oh come on, there’s got to be someone” and I was like, “No, I can never meet anyone nice” and then I said to him, “Actually you know who does seem nice? Peter Overton.” He said, “Right, I know him, I’m ringing him.” I said, “No, you’re not.” So Tony rang Peter. Unbeknownst to me Tony had to convince Peter, and in the end finally Peter was like, “Okay, I’m free Sunday week but she has to ring me.” So I rang Peter and we both laughed and he sort of said “I like your style and okay, let’s go to Thai”, so we went to a Thai restaurant that following Sunday, had a lovely dinner and then he was going off to work on a trip and he said he would ring me when he got back. I thought, “Yeah, yeah, heard that before”, but he did. And when he came back from his trip it was my birthday and he asked me what I was you doing on the weekend and I told him I was going out to dinner with some friends for my birthday and he said, “Oh, I’d love to come”. I just thought, “Oh wow”. So he came along and that was the beginning of it, and I just feel so lucky that I met him at the right time. I feel so blessed because he’s such a good, decent man and that’s what I love about him. I can always count on him. I couldn’t have a better husband and a better father for my children, and for us to be a family is just the best thing ever.

Peter seems very professional; how does he feel about you referring to him as Petey in interviews?
Well he says, “At least you didn’t call me Petey Pie”.

Does he ever try to give you any tips on presenting the news?
You know what, he is so lovely because he’s kind of like my biggest cheerleader, which means so much to me.

Earlier this year you released your book, ‘Love, Wisdom, Motherhood’; is it your first book?
No, but it’s the first one I’ve written myself. I wrote a book with my mum called ‘The Best of Times, the Worst of Times’ and that came out about six years ago now and that was about my family’s experience with mental illness because my mum has bipolar disorder. So she wrote it from her perspective and I wrote it from my perspective. ‘Love, Wisdom, Motherhood’ is the first one I’ve written on my own two feet though.

Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Well for me it was a real labour of love. It was three years in the making and it sprang from my first mothers’ group that I walked into. Allegra, my first born, was just a couple of weeks old and when I walked into this mothers’ group I’ve never felt so alone or isolated. I knew I had post natal depression but at that stage I wasn’t willing to actually admit it to myself let alone to people around me. I’d like to think that the book is a safe place for women to go to and read and they’re not the only one having a shocking day, or having a boring day, or wondering if their career is over. They can read the stories of these other women and go, “Oh, look, the Governor General had moments when she didn’t want to get out of bed and Lisa McCune also had a post natal depression.”

So it’s a series of interviews effectively, isn’t it?
It is. I’ve interviewed 11 women about their experiences and then each chapter is their story. And then I’ve included my story too.

Who else is in there?
Heidi Middleton, Nova Peris, Tina Arena, Collette Dinnigan, Wendy Harmer, Elizabeth Broderick (the Sex Discrimination Commissioner), Gail Kelly (the head of Westpac), the Lisa McCune and the Governor General Quentin Bryce who I mentioned, Maggie Tabberer, Darcey Bussell and myself.

So is the book targeted towards mums?
Yeah, but dads get an insight into what women experience too. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be for new mums because I think there’s something in there for everyone. These women and their stories are so inspiring and so interesting that you don’t have to be in the early stages of motherhood to think, “Oh I want to read this book.”

What made you decide to write this book?
It kind of sprung from that first mother’s group when I thought, “Surely I’m not the only one” and I’d be yearning for those sorts of honest conversations. And I was also looking for something that I would find personally rewarding and also cathartic after I’d been through post natal depression. I wanted to do something empowering and uplifting, and from a personal perspective I loved it. I learnt a lot about myself through meeting these women.

Was it hard work putting it together?
It was but I enjoyed it because it was like my little space where I could get my brain cells working again. I had to be disciplined I’d actually write at my mum’s house. I’d take Allegra, I’d have someone to look after Giselle for me and I’d have a couple of hours on a Tuesday and a Wednesday morning at Mum’s thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to write X number of words today.” But it was good. I really enjoyed it.

Was it a cathartic experience?
Yeah, it really was because I realised I wasn’t the only one and I felt once I got through the post natal depression that I wanted to talk about my experiences. Having grown up with a mum with a mental illness and having worked for a long time with mental health organisations wanting to get rid of the stigma of mental illness and telling people not to be ashamed, when I realised I had post natal depression I felt ashamed and I felt the stigma and that knocked the socks off me. As someone who understands mental illness, has an understanding family, knows where to go to get help and has the economic means to get help, if I felt like that, how hard must it be for so many other women who don’t have an ounce of that. So that was why I wanted to talk about it.

Do you have any idea what triggered your post-natal depression?
It’s hard to say what triggered it or why I had post natal depression but for me I think there are a number of factors. Yes, I am a perfectionist and I am too hard on myself and I’m still learning to ease up and be gentle on myself. I went through IVF to have Allegra and, interestingly, there are a high percentage of women who go through IVF who have post natal depression. For me I think it was because I knew how hard won and how hard fought the pregnancy was and I knew how lucky I was to be a mum so I think that then put extra pressure on me to get it all right. And I’ve also got a family history of mental illness and I went through an incredibly stressful time just after Allegra was born when I lost my job as well.

Was it easier the second time around?
I did have the post natal depression the second time around as well but it wasn’t as severe. I was in a very different place because I’d already had that seismic shift that having a little baby does to your life. My work situation was a lot calmer too. So yeah, it wasn’t as severe and I recovered faster. The thing is, one in seven mums are going to have post natal depression. That’s a lot of women and I reckon the real figure is far higher because there is still that stigma and not everyone is coming out about it. There is this expectation both that women put on themselves and society puts on women that it’s meant to be the happiest time of your life and it’s meant to be perfect and if it’s not it can be quite difficult to actually admit it and deal with it. My message to mums is to talk to someone close to you, or talk to your GP. Beyond Blue have a fantastic website too. Once you get the help you recover so much faster and if you suffer on your own it takes far longer.

You mentioned IVF earlier; was there a stage when you were worried that you would never become a mum?
Oh yeah, of course. When I was going through the IVF I wondered if it would ever happen and IVF is such an arduous thing to go through and I reckon any woman who goes through it deserves a bravery medal because there’s no guarantee that you will fall pregnant. Medical science can do so much but then it’s in the lap of the gods or the goddesses as to whether you’re going to be pregnant or not.

Do you have one piece of advice to mothers that you think loosely sums up motherhood?
Just try not to listen to too much advice. You know your baby better than anyone else so trust yourself and back yourself. And if you are struggling, speak up, you’re not the only one and you don’t have to do it on your own. I can promise, it gets better.

Are there any more kids planned for the Overton-Rowes?
No, no.

Peter’s not after a son?
You know what, he loves having daughters.

Is he a good dad?
Oh, he’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

Is he as conservative as he seems on television?
No, believe me he’s not. There’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.

Do you wish you’d become a mother earlier?
No, because I wasn’t in the position to become a mum earlier because I hadn’t met Peter. That’s also part of the struggle for women; it’s hard to meet good blokes.

How old are your daughters now?
Allegra’s four. She starts big school next year. And Giselle’s two.

What’s the best thing about being a mum?
Just being entrusted with these beautiful little souls. I feel so lucky to be able to hopefully guide them through their lives and the love that you feel for these little people, it hurts, my heart aches for them. It’s extraordinary.

Do you support any charities in particular?
I do a lot with Beyond Blue. I’m a patron of their perinatal initiative and ironically they asked me to do that just after I had Allegra, before I had spoken up about my post natal depression. I also do a lot for some other, smaller mental health organisations. I’m on the board of the George Gregan Foundation and they’re fabulous, they raise money for kids’ playgrounds in hospitals.

Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to get into the world of journalism?
Go for it, don’t give up, don’t take no for an answer and be persistent and imaginative about how you can get your foot in the door. I remember early on someone said to me, “To get into media take any job you can get. It doesn’t matter what it is, once you’re in it is far easier to move around.” And don’t be too precious.

In an ideal world what does the future hold for Jessica Rowe?
That my girls are happy and healthy, that’s what it’s about for me.