Nuria Val: On becoming a mother and travelling the world
Nuria Val, founder of skincare brand Rowse, started working as a model when she was 17. Since then, she has travelled the world – both as a model and as a photographer. Here Nuria talks about meeting photographer Coke Bartrina, who was to become the love of her life, about becoming a mother and about having the world as her workplace with a small child in tow
Nuria Val grew up in Barcelona. Since she was a child, she has lived a life characterised by curiosity and done things her own way. Without any clear idea of what she wanted to do in life, she started working as a model when she was 17.
“When I started working as a model, I travelled to the most beautiful places in the world. This is where I discovered my passion for photography and documented the places I visited. After working as a model for three years, I went back to Spain to go to university.”
But Nuria’s curiosity and restlessness made attending school every day and sustaining a routine in day-to-day life difficult. So she dropped out and started working as a model and travelling the world again.
“I never had a clear idea about what I wanted to do or what my life was going to look like. Everything happened organically, and I’ve always been open to new adventures. After studying, I lived in LA and learnt a lot about myself which meant that I was able to make the change from model to photographer. Before then I hadn’t really felt like a photographer although I’d taken pictures for many years. The fact that I work both in front of and behind the camera has often made me feel insecure, but in LA I started to believe in myself.”
Nine years ago, Nuria was contacted by the photographer Coke Bartrina who was interested in doing a photoshoot with her. This was a meeting that would change her life.
“I was meeting Coke to talk about a campaign we were going to shoot on a boat. I was excited about the meeting because I didn’t know him at all. Maybe he would be really odd! It turned out he had the same crazy ideas that I had – and we just clicked.”
The first meeting on the boat became the start of their relationship, but Nuria and Coke were both living busy and unsettled lives which made it difficult for love to take root.
“After our first meeting, I moved to LA and he came to visit me. Then he went to Mexico where I visited him, and then I went to Cape Town for three months. He wasn’t able to visit me there. After a year, he said: ‘Do we really want to continue like this?’ and I realised that we had to change something if we wanted to keep our relationship going.”
Work life and love life fuse
“I never really felt settled until I was about 27 or 28, and my father died. That was life-changing for me. I needed a home after several years of almost ‘fleeing’ from everything. That’s why Coke and I bought a flat in Barcelona. It suited us perfectly that we could continue to travel, but that we had a place we could call home.”
In the same period, they were contacted by a German brand offering them a special job opportunity.
“They offered us money for a four-day road trip, but we ended up travelling for 25 days. It was a fantastic project that opened up the opportunity for us to start travelling together while working for different brands.”
Not all couples are able to work so closely together as Nuria and Coke did. Although it could be challenging, they had a special synergy when working together professionally.
“Working and travelling together like we do is intense. We’re both incredibly dedicated to our work. We have to have very clear communication in place in order to separate work from our personal lives. But it works really well because we understand the way the other person thinks and works. Actually, I would say that we fight more at home when we’re not working than when we’re working together. Many people tell me: ‘I just wouldn’t be able to work with my partner like that’, but I feel so lucky to be able to work on these projects while exploring the world with someone I love.”
The busy and unsettled lifestyle that went with modelling suited Nuria’s temperament perfectly. But she had long had a dream of starting her own business and using her creative talents. So when she met Gabriela Salord, marketing expert and co-founder of ROWSE, by chance during Paris Fashion Week in 2018, the two women found they had a very special chemistry.
“We talked a lot about our plans and quickly discovered that we shared a fascination with nature. I had a dream of starting up something myself, and Gabriela was at the same point in her life, but she was more interested in the business aspect. We came from very different backgrounds but had a strong connection and shared values. That was the start of Rowse.”
In 2019, the two women launched Rowse, a plant-based beauty brand.
“Our approach to beauty is using raw ingredients – going back to basics. Gabriella and I didn’t know each other when we started Rowse. Then Covid-19 happened shortly afterwards. I think we met twice in the first two years, but we feel like sisters. We want to do this together, and Gabriella gives me the freedom to develop the brand, which is something I’m very grateful for.”
During lockdown, Rowse went from being a hobby project to taking up most of their time.
“In the beginning, I took our products along when I was travelling and took photos everywhere I could while working freelance for other companies. Gabriella still had a job. But a year later she quit her job, moved to Madrid and we opened Rowse offices in both Madrid and Barcelona.”
Rowse suddenly grew and that meant that Nuria had to take on a whole new level of responsibility.
“I wasn’t at all clear about what running a business was all about. I’ve worked as a freelancer all my life and had a lot of freedom. Suddenly I was responsible for a team. I was the boss of that team! For me, it’s been a process to learn and understand how to work with others and how I can be the best possible boss. It has been exhausting and incredibly exciting all at the same time.”
While Rowse expanded and the world changed during lockdown, something inside Nuria changed as well.
“Before Covid, I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to have children. But during the lockdowns, I learnt that I was actually able to enjoy working in the same place for more than a week at a time. I think that it’s part of my personality that I have needed new surroundings to be inspired. Travelling has become an addiction of sorts, especially because I felt that I needed to travel in order to be creative. But during Covid I enjoyed being at home for an extended period. I also think it was hard, but I was able to focus on Rowse, and I saw myself in a different light. Then Coke and I said to each other: ‘Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s have a baby!’”
A new life
One morning Nuria woke up with a feeling that something was different. She and Coke were going on a road trip, but before they left, she decided to take a pregnancy test. The test was positive. They left for their trip, and she had still not told Coke about her pregnancy.
“I was quiet the whole trip. In the evening, we went to a restaurant, and I was confused and behaving very strangely. After dinner, we parked the car in the most beautiful spot. Then I told him I was pregnant. He lay awake all night imagining our new life with a baby.”
But the pregnancy worried both Nuria and Coke a great deal.
“We were ecstatically happy, but also afraid. Being happy is a strange feeling when you’re also worrying and really wishing that everything would go well. Initially, after I found out I was pregnant, I thought it was all quite stressful. I worried about the baby. About the responsibility. But luckily everything went smoothly.”
The birth of Olivia
Nuria’s pregnancy progressed well and as time went by, the worry lessened. She was positive about giving birth and fully expected it to be vaginal. She reached her due date. She was at home in their flat one day when her waters broke.
“After my waters broke, we went to hospital. I never had any contractions so 15-16 hours later they gave me labour-inducing medication. But I didn’t dilate. It took 28 hours for me to dilate fully, but Olivia wasn’t in the right position so I couldn’t push her out. I was really exhausted and just had no more energy left. So in the end I asked the staff for an emergency caesarean.”
The whole thing went very quickly and Nuria was taken to the operating theatre.
“They took me from the lovely maternity ward with its Japanese almond trees to a cold and sterile operating theatre. It was quite overwhelming. I hadn’t expected a caesarean at all and didn’t know what it entailed. While they performed the caesarean, it was quiet and I was lying there waiting for them to get the baby out. Everything went still for 15 difficult minutes. When they got Olivia out and she started to cry, I was so relieved. Coke cut the umbilical cord and they placed her on my chest. She was crying loudly and when I said, ‘Hi, Olivia,’ she stopped crying and listened to my voice. I get really emotional just thinking about it now. It was an incredible moment.”
Although Nuria did not get the birth she had expected, more than anything she is impressed with everything her body has done.
“A woman’s body is fantastic. The day after giving birth, I got up and held Olivia. The operation was intense and they’d cut really deeply – but I was still able to hold my daughter. It was incredible.”
The first months as a family
Nuria and Coke spent five days in hospital after the birth before going home to their flat in Barcelona.
“Going home was great, but I still had to recover from the caesarean. And breastfeeding…! I remember that it was December and I wasn’t wearing any clothes because I was in so much pain. At the hospital, they told me to put cauliflower leaves on my breasts to reduce blockage of my milk ducts. So for the first month, I just lay in bed with these leaves on my breasts.
Breastfeeding is so difficult. When you’re pregnant, you think about the birth, but for me breastfeeding was far worse. In Spain, there’s this expectation that you have to breastfeed your baby. Everyone you meet asks you: ‘Are you breastfeeding?’ I want to speak openly about this being a difficult time. I found establishing breastfeeding difficult and I never succeeded in breastfeeding 100%.
For me, wanting to feed my child felt like an almost animalistic instinct, but I also felt wrong because I wasn’t succeeding. I ended up combining breast and bottle, and everyone had good advice about what I was doing wrong and told me that I wasn’t putting her to the breast often enough, which I was. But she was still hungry. My own feelings combined with the expectations and attitudes of others was something of an eye-opener when I became a mother.”
Nuria and Coke spent the first month together while they were getting used to being a family of three.
“Coke was incredibly dedicated and helped me a lot in those first few weeks. A month in, I quietly realised that the baby would be fine and that everything was going to be OK. When she cried, I knew what she needed and didn’t panic like I did at the start.
I started working a bit after about a month. I took brief telephone calls and I helped my team when they needed it. But mentally I was just not back in my creative space or able to send an articulate e-mail. I’m very glad that I was able to stay at home for more than four months.”
Making everyday life work
Both Nuria and Coke travel a great deal for work – both together and separately. They both work for themselves and are very dedicated to their work, which can be a tall order when you have young children.
“What was most challenging for me was planning our day-to-day life. When Olivia was born, I was coordinating the diaries of both her grannies. Our mothers have been incredibly helpful, but they also have their own lives to lead. We knew that we would need help because I have my business and Coke also needed to work. After a while we got a nanny, who comes in three days a week, and on Mondays and Fridays we work from home. But it’s almost impossible to get any work done. It was easier when she was a baby, but now she is into everything!
I still travel a lot, but since having Olivia we have to plan everything very carefully. There’s no room to improvise. When I was pregnant with Olivia, I thought: ‘Wow, what do we do now? Can we ever travel again?’ I was afraid that it would affect her negatively if we travelled a lot. But we’ve realised that if the family is happy, she’s happy. So we’ve actually travelled with her pretty much since the day she was born. And it’s been fantastic. Sometimes all three of us travel together and sometimes we travel separately.”
But the travelling is not quite as it was before Nuria became a mother.
“Being away from her is difficult. It feels like I’m missing a limb when I’m not with her. When I’m away, she’s with her father, and I’m so lucky to have found him. We understand the importance of each other’s careers so we’re both willing to make sacrifices when we need to support each other.”
Thoughts about the future
“I never dreamt of becoming a mother. Maybe I blocked it out because of my job and my lifestyle. I used to think: ‘maybe I won’t ever be a mother’, but now Olivia is the best thing that’s ever happened. It’s a responsibility that changes your life forever, but at the same time it’s so satisfying. It’s not what I was expecting, but the thing was that I just didn’t know what to expect.
I want to spend more time with Olivia before having more children. I think it would be hard to have another baby. We have a small house in Catalonia with olive trees and we make our own olive oil. We’ve just renovated the house and I have a dream of spending time there with Olivia, just us three, before I get pregnant again. But we definitely want more children.”
Text Katrine Yde
Translation Rachael Morgan, Hero Agency
Photo Sissel Abel,
Nuria Val, 34, photographer, model and co-founder of ROWSE – a plant based beauty- and skincare brand founded in 2019. Nuria lives in Barcelona with her boyfriend Coke and their one year-old daughter, Olivia. ROWSE can be purchased in Wood Wood at Frederiksberg and I Love Beauty in CPH K. Read more about the brand online.