Just weeks after giving birth to her second baby, Zoe Marshall, podcaster and wife of NRL star Benji, moved to Queensland with her family to live in a hub for the rest of the footy season, describing the whole ordeal as “the strangest two months”.
Speaking to The New Daily from the Rabbitohs apartment-style resort at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, Marshall, 37, said she “is beyond grateful” to have her young family together.
Amid criticism of double standards by the Queensland government in allowing Sydney NRL wives, partners and families to leave Sydney for a dedicated NRL bubble, Marshall says it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I feel almost guilty to be here,” she said.
“This is my husband’s job. They [the NRL] have worked with the Queensland government to make this happen. There are incredibly strict protocols, but I am so privileged and grateful to be here.
“[It] doesn’t go unnoticed with how many people have suffered and not been able to travel and see their loved ones … people have missed out on life events.”
In between giving birth in Sydney in June, two weeks of hotel quarantine and settling into the hub, Marshall has taken on an ambassadorial role in support of International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day on September 9.
With two young children Fox, 3, and Ever, 11 weeks, she recently partnered with DrinkWise to urge women to avoid alcohol when planning a pregnancy, during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The COVID birth rate is surging, so it’s a timely reminder, given July birth rates in Victoria alone were up 20 per cent on last year, jumping from 4508 to 5448 births.
Marshall said she knew the importance of saying no to alcohol during her pregnancy, and her breastfeeding journey now with Ever.
“An alcoholic drink is going to go directly into my breast milk. I’m her food. I know, this is my job, this is the season I am in. I have to commit. I want them to thrive and I am responsible,” Marshall said.
“All mums want to give their babies the best start possible in life, and for me, that involved not drinking alcohol when pregnant, and continuing to avoid it while breastfeeding too.
“The pandemic has presented so much added worry to pregnancy, birthing and those precious early newborn months for us mums, and even though I’ve been here before with … Fox, it can be extremely overwhelming and hard to filter the relevant information.”
She said Benji is the “leader in the family”: “He has been supportive, even to the point he doesn’t drink because I’m not drinking. It’s a natural choice. We’re on the same vibe”.
Life inside the hub
Living in the hub has had its advantages, as she bonds with other WAGS who also have young families, and where she can spread the word on FASD.
“We are together with them. I am feeling very grateful to have the support of some of the other women”.
“We have WhatsApp groups where we share things. Foxy hit his head on a table and gashed his head open. I went to the mums (there is a team doctor but the club had a match that night), what do I do?
“It was nice to have immediate people around. I’ve only met these women in July but I feel very close to them because we’re all … in it together and that has been a comfort.
“I’ve been able to share the message with them, and in turn they can support me.
“If we are socialising and they are drinking, they understand that, and ask what can we get you, a soda water. It’s opened everyone else’s eyes as I am talking about it with them … and they then share.”
Marshall says hotel quarantine was about keeping Fox entertained, with more screen time and chicken nuggets and chips than she wanted, but she admits she had to “just surrender”.
The serviced apartment means a kitchen, a laundry and a decent bedtime hour, which allows her to indulge in her guilty pleasure – watching the occasional episode of Love Island.
As for hub breaches – like the infamous AFL breach in Queensland last year with a Richmond WAG – Marshall is very clear: “We have committed so much to be here. No one is jeopardising anything”.
“Everyone wants the best outcome. Everyone has sacrificed the same amount that no one wants to stuff it up.
“I am grateful that the NRL is continuing for entertainment. A lot of people in lockdown areas are living for the weekends of footy and I don’t think anyone wants to ruin it for anyone else.
“I find it’s been quite lovely.”
FASD a ‘preventable condition’
Meanwhile, the FASD statistics reveal 30 per cent of women report consuming alcohol while pregnant, according to recent government research.
And 48 per cent reported drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.
Obstetrician Dr Vicki Woodward, who has seen the devastating effects of alcohol on newborn babies first hand, believes all Australians need to know the facts.
“FASD is a preventable condition that can cause irreparable damage,” said Dr Woodward, who has also delivered babies for Fifi Box and Eddie Betts.
“This isn’t just an issue that women should know about, it is just as important that their partners and families know about it too.”
DrinkWise CEO Simon Strahan said while rates of abstinence in pregnancy were going in the right direction (from 58 per cent in 2013 to 70 per cent in 2019), there is much more to be done.
“It’s great that more and more pregnant women are saying no to alcohol, but we won’t be satisfied until that number is 100 per cent,” Mr Strahan said.
Adds Marshall: “Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about children impacted by alcohol if you’re drinking while pregnant or breastfeeding, because there’s something being missed if 48 per cent of women are drinking while breastfeeding”.
“No one wants to put any child in harm’s way, so it’s kind of like jumping on board and being in this together.”