Jeanette Friis Madsen: “I’ve always struggled with my self-esteem”
Having more than two children was never on the cards for Jeanette Friis Madsen. But suddenly the reasons not to have another were getting harder to pinpoint – and now the 37-year-old designer and influencer is expecting her third child. Here she talks about always having struggled with low self-esteem and – despite her 300,000 followers on Instagram – still feeling awkward in front of a camera
When Jeanette was 26 and already the mother of two small boys, she was happy and thoughts of a third child were not on her radar. Now her boys are 10 and 12, and she is expecting her third child with husband and photographer Christian Friis.
“Having more children was never really on the cards. But the reasons that previously played a role were really practical obstacles and had nothing to do with not wanting another. Especially money played a role. I didn’t want three children to be a challenge financially. I think having children is expensive. Of course, it can be done in many different ways, but we’ve always enjoyed travelling and eating out without having to think too much about it.
During the pandemic, we talked a lot about our values and what was really important to us. It suddenly became clear that our children are big now. In many ways, they already look after themselves, and we got the feeling that we would soon get very bored. We are both extremely keen on big families, and there’s nothing better than children and creating life around you! I wasn’t as eager as Christian was to get started, but he believed that if we were going to do it, it had to be now as neither of us are getting any younger. Three months later I was holding a positive test in my hand.
I didn’t tell Christian straight away, but instead surprised him by wrapping the test in a late Valentine’s present. The thoughts that I’ve had throughout my pregnancy began racing through my mind already then. I was nervous about whether the pregnancy would survive the initial, risky weeks, and I couldn’t understand why I was lucky enough to get pregnant so easily at the age of 36.
Norman, our youngest son, has been begging us for a younger brother or sister for the past few years. We’ve always listened to him and comforted him, but were very clear that he wouldn’t be getting one. Because we really didn’t believe he would. Being able to fulfil one of his biggest dreams is wonderful, and the two boys are looking forward to the new baby like crazy.”
Not knowing the baby’s gender
“I quickly decided that I didn’t want to know the baby’s gender. I think that there are so few surprises and too little excitement in life. The baby’s gender wasn’t the most important thing anyway – the important thing was that we both dreamt of adding another baby to our family. It may well be a boy, but I don’t have a feeling of one thing or the other, and I can honestly say that I don’t have any preferences. I love boys, they are very straightforward and there’s not much drama about them.
I’ve only a few times experienced the feeling of wanting an ‘ally’, someone I could share my interests with. Especially now that the boys are older and have seriously started playing PlayStation with Christian, I do sometimes feel a bit left out. So although the boys are rooting for another boy for their ‘gang’, it would also be quite nice to have a little girl.”
An insecure girl from Skævinge
We meet Jeanette on a rainy afternoon in Copenhagen. Her due date is only two weeks away, but she arrives straight from the office where she is finding it difficult to let go of her work on Rotate – the clothing brand she and Thora Valdimarsdóttir, her friend and colleague, set up three years ago in partnership with fashion house Birger Christensen.
Jeanette grew up in Skævinge, which is a small town in North Zealand which – if you Google it – is described as a railway town with a little more than 2,500 inhabitants. Jeanette draws a picture of herself as a very insecure girl who found believing in herself difficult, and she did not have anything positive to say about her looks.
“I’ve really struggled with my lack of self-esteem. I remember that I was told when I was little – probably as a joke – that I had thick thighs and that my ears were really big and that I had a high-pitched voice. And I believed all that.”
This is not what you would immediately believe if you scrolled through Jeanette’s Instagram account where this pint-sized influencer with the almost perfect hair shares her life – especially in various glamorous outfits.
“I’m not really very good at having my photograph taken,” laughs Jeanette. “Christian shoots all my pictures, and he’s stunned that still now after so many years I can be so insecure and shy in front of the camera.”
But for Jeanette, it is not the number of followers on Instagram that counts. It is the idea of creating and shaping that has driven her since she was a very little girl sitting at her sewing machine at home in Skævinge.
“I’ve always loved sewing old clothes and putting my mark on them. I remember when I was a child, I changed my clothes several times a day. There was only what I had in the cupboard, what the child benefit could buy, so I didn’t have much to work with and just had to use what was there.”
Jeanette talks about her school years being characterised by bullying. Only when she changed schools in Year 8 and moved to the Alternative School in Hillerød did she feel any joy about going to school.
“I found a home in the company of the type of people that attended my new school. I learnt to speak in front of an audience and being forced to stand up in front of the whole school helped my self-confidence. After Year 10, I went to a production college where I did a very thorough sewing course. I learnt to make everything from bean bags for children’s nurseries to curtains for a rectory, but I also had time to do my own projects.”
It was during this period that Jeanette became a model and seriously started to dream about a career as a stylist.
“I wasn’t suited to being a model at all. It didn’t come naturally to me, and I had no idea about how to pose. After a while I was offered a job as a runner with my model agency Scoop Models – and that was something that suited me far better.”
Meeting the love of her life at 17
Jeanette met the love of her life, photographer Christian Friis, at Scoop Models.
“Christian had just moved back to Denmark from New York, and I had to help him find a model for one of his shoots. He wasn’t interested in any of the models I found for him, and in the end I showed him my own portfolio. But he wasn’t really interested in that either,” laughs Jeanette and continues:
“But he became interested. At least, he invited me on a date, and we started going out shortly after that. But it was a turbulent period and we were together on and off for two years. He broke up with me three times, and it was always about the fact that I was still so young – Christian is eight years older than me, and I was only 17 at the time. But I didn’t give up. I just knew that we were meant to be.”
An easy approach to motherhood
Jeanette had her son Wilbert when she was 24.
“It all felt very natural to me. Christian and I had been together for six years at that point, and we both dreamt of having children. Compared to other first-time mothers, I was perhaps young, but I remember everything as being very simple. My approach was not to spend unnecessary energy on worrying about things that I wasn’t able to change or predict anyway. Overall, I worried very little about anything. Luckily, that’s what I’m like – I’m good at living in the moment. I only had a few girlfriends who’d already had children and that made things easier because people came to us. While others went out partying, we had our own fun at home hosting dinner parties and SingStar evenings. Wilbert was able to sleep through anything, and there wasn’t anything that I wanted to do more than be at home with him.
From 1 child to 2
A wedding planned for the year after Wilbert was born was postponed as Jeanette suddenly got pregnant again.
“Falling pregnant with Norman wasn’t planned. I burst into tears when I found out because we had a wedding planned! At that point, Christian was working in Aarhus three days a week, and I was alone with the two babies. My mother was able to help out a bit, but she was still working so her help was limited. You make it work, but those years with two young children with just two years between them were hard, of course. Norman wasn’t a very easy child, and for the first time I experienced doubt, uncertainty and powerlessness about not being able to comfort my child. The feelings, frustrations and questions I should have had with Wilbert suddenly came along with Norman.”
Landing the dream job
After 13 years at Scoop Models, Jeanette was offered the job of assistant fashion editor at fashion magazine Costume.
“I hadn’t in my wildest dreams imagined that that would be possible. I’ve always heard that to become a stylist, you have to work your way up from the bottom and work for free. I always felt very lucky to be able to do what I’d perhaps always dreamt of doing, but hadn’t set as my goal. I hadn’t imagined that I’d leave my job at Scoop Models because I really enjoyed working there.”
Jeanette ended up working for Costume for three years before she left to set up party dress brand Rotate with Thora.
A pregnancy marred by worry
“I can feel that I’m in a very different place in my life with this pregnancy compared to the previous ones. I’m more scared and nervous in a completely different way. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s because I already have two children and back then I didn’t know any better. I’ve also thought about how it can be that I don’t think I’d do it again if anything went wrong. Luckily, my worries don’t have time to grow too much because I live so much in the moment. Often just lifting the lid on my worries and saying what I’m thinking out loud helps. This makes me feel much better.
If Christian goes out in the car with the boys, I sometimes get these hideous thoughts of ‘this is it – now something is going to go wrong’ – it’s not very typical of me and very unpleasant, but I’ve been told that this may be the pregnancy hormones playing up. Deep down, I’m just so happy and grateful for everything I have that I just can’t believe that it can last. Having those kinds of feelings is hard.”
A breach baby
“I felt indescribably ill in the first few weeks of my pregnancy. I felt extremely nauseous and very tired so I went to bed at the same time as the children every evening. I had no morning sickness because my nausea never went away, not even at night or with the help of ginger, motion sickness bracelets, pills for nausea or whatever else I tried. That was very new to me. I feel that my first two pregnancies were a walk in the park compared to this one.
When I was 33 weeks pregnant, we went for a 4D scan. I really needed to see the baby properly – not knowing the sex of the baby has made it more difficult to understand that I’m actually carrying a baby. At the scan, they could see that the baby hadn’t yet turned around. I wasn’t worried when we were told, but I later read that if the baby didn’t turn around, I could risk having to have a caesarean. That wasn’t exactly my dream so I went all out on following the tips I got from my midwife to get the baby to turn around.
All the exercises focused on getting the baby to do a somersault so I put my legs up, my head down, did rebozo exercises and sat the other way round on chairs. We chose to go to hospital to attempt to turn the baby around, but when we arrived, the nurse could tell very quickly that the baby had already turned around. When they scanned me, they were able to reassure me that the baby really had turned around. That was a huge relief, and now I’m just hoping that the baby stays in the right position.”
No antenatal classes
“I’m far more worried about this birth than I was with the other two. I was induced twice previously and have gone 14 and 12 days over my due date, but both times that was fine. The most important thing for me is the feeling of being in safe hands, and that is something I’ve felt at the hospital.
I haven’t planned or prepared anything. I didn’t do that with the other two either. I’ve thought that maybe I should have prepared this time as it would probably have given me some reassurance. But in my mind, giving birth is just something I have to get through, and I know that my body will do its best. I can prepare as much as I want, but I still have no idea what will happen – letting go of all control is scary, but also liberating and a good exercise.
The first time I gave birth, they used a vacuum cup on Wilbert, after I’d been given an epidural, and Norman’s birth took about three hours. I only had a few contractions that really hurt. I’m really hoping that the birth will be as easy as it was with Norman and that I’ll be able to go into labour naturally so that I avoid an oxytocin drip and especially a storm of contractions.”
Hard to accept the way the body changes
“At the beginning of my pregnancy, I struggled to accept the way my body was changing. I found it difficult to be gaining weight when no one yet knew that I was pregnant. It was as if my proportions somehow weren’t right. I’ve always been happy with my small bust and suddenly felt vulgar rather than sexy. The many ways that my body was changing wasn’t something I’d experienced in my first two pregnancies where my breasts only grew bigger after I’d given birth.
Because of my job I still had to produce pictures, and I thought that it was impossible to conceal that I was pregnant. At the beginning, oversized clothes were my friends. But when my bump started to show, I started showing off my shape instead of concealing it under oversized clothing. Tight dresses were my favourite, especially Wolford’s Fatal Dress, soft, tight jersey dresses and my leggings from The Mama Set.
Over the summer and in the past few months, I’ve been really comfortable in my body, and my skin has never looked better. I’ve enjoyed my pregnancy and enjoyed not having to think about what I’m eating and have actually still felt that I looked good. Just that is a huge victory for me! My struggle with low self-esteem and insecurity goes right back to when I was little when I didn’t think that anything I did was good enough. I still feel like that sometimes. ‘Have I been there enough for my nearest and dearest?’, ‘How do others view me?’, ‘Should I work more on myself?’ are just some of the questions that go through my mind. That’s why it makes me so happy seeing my children be the sweet and lovely children they are and that they’re doing well and feel good about themselves. Just like their father does. The fact that something I struggle with hasn’t been handed down to them makes me enormously happy and proud. Our baby is lucky to be about to live a life with them in it.”