Monique Bowley has been a professional basketballer, radio producer, reality TV star and podcast queen, but she says her latest role as a mum is proving the hardest and happiest gig of all.
Monique Bowley and Nikolai Beilharz: Bowled over
It took several cups of tea to bring Monique Bowley and her now-husband Nikolai Beilharz together.
Monique, a radio producer and podcaster, was working at ABC Radio Adelaide when Nik arrived in 2014.
He had just moved here from Melbourne after securing his dream job hosting The Country Hour.
“I thought he was a bit cute,” Monique says.
“You have to take your own teabags in at the ABC and Nik’s office was right near the kitchen, so I’d wander in there and ask him for tea bags all the time.
“I did it so many times that the girl sitting next to him was like, ‘You know she could get a teabag from anyone and she keeps asking you’. Then we started getting coffees together and that was it.”
Things were going well until Nik announced, “apropos of nothing” that he didn’t want children.
“He just said one day, ‘By the way, I don’t want kids,” Monique says.
“I started crying, as you do. I said, ‘This is a really big deal; it’s probably a deal-breaker for me’. So, he went away and thought about it and did some work on it and talked to some people and he came around.
“I couldn’t pressure him; you can’t force someone into these big decisions. But Nik is good at going away and doing the work.”
Nik, who was recently appointed co-host of ABC Radio Adelaide breakfast with Stacey Lee, says a big part of his change of heart was realising a future with Monique meant children.
“I thought it was pretty unfair to ask her to give up something she really wanted,” he says.
“I guess the hesitation was not wanting to give up what I knew; the free time and living in different places and following a career progression. All that stuff is so easy comparatively.
“But then, after thinking about it, I did wonder – do I want to get to the end of life wishing I’d had kids and not having given it a go?
“Plus, Mons did a very good sales job and talked about how there are bigger things than you in life and moments where perhaps it’s good not to be selfish.”
Monique, as one of four siblings, had always wanted a big family, at least three or four children.
Her parents Steve and Geraldine own an oyster farm in Stansbury on the Yorke Peninsula, where the close-knit family often get together. Monique is close to her siblings, older brother David, a winemaker and owner of Vinteloper winery, and two younger sisters, Hannah and Brigid.
“Growing up in a big family, you always feel like you’ve got a team; you are part of a big tribe,” Monique says.
“I wanted to replicate that, to have four kids and create my own tribe.”
Prior to having children, Monique had built a diverse career across sport and media, including a stint at the Australian Institute of Sport as a young basketball star. She went on to represent South Australia in the under-14s to under-20s teams and Australia in the under-22s World Championships.
Monique’s competitive streak came in handy when she won a spot on reality TV show The Great Australian Bake Off in 2013. A keen baker, Monique was also president of the Adelaide branch of the SA Country Women’s Association.
Meanwhile, her media career was also gathering pace. Monique was producer of Amanda Blair’s FIVEaa radio show for seven years and the duo have remained best friends. She then moved from radio into journalism, ending up at The Messenger with her own column.
Then, in 2015, Nik was offered the hosting role of The Country Hour in Melbourne – even more of a dream job this time as it would be in his hometown. While Nik was excited about the move, Monique admits it was a tough decision.
“I had bought a house in Alberton and I had my dog Maggie and I loved my job and my life here. But I knew this was a great opportunity for Nik,” she says.
When they first arrived in Melbourne, Monique ended up meeting high-profile journalist Jamila Rizvi from website Mamamia. The two women hit it off and Monique was offered an editor’s role. However, her real passion remained in radio and podcasts.
“Mamamia had this fledgling podcast and I thought, this could be so good, they just need someone with radio production experience to get it off the ground – i.e. me,” Monique says.
Luckily, Mamamia owner Mia Freedman agreed and Monique was appointed director of podcasts for the brand. Within 12 months she had helped create six podcasts and achieved more than a million downloads for the brand.
“I love my work for so many reasons,” Monique says.
“By the time I was at Mamamia, I had spent so long working in the male-dominated world of talkback radio; being told no one was interested in what women thought, or their voices. That’s how we cracked a million downloads so quickly; finally we were making podcasts for women that they wanted to listen to. It was intoxicating.”
As part of hosting and producing podcasts for Mamamia, Monique was often immersed in shows about kids and families, including This Glorious Mess, a parenting show, and The Bump which she co-hosted with celebrity mum Bec Judd (married to footballer Chris).
“Bec had four kids and I had none, so it was actually the perfect combination because I was a novice with all the dumb questions, and she had been around the block with kids several times,” Monique says.
By 2016 Nik and Monique were married and were keen to start a family, but after several months of trying, worry set in. Monique continued to host The Bump, while privately dealing with her own pregnancy struggles.
“It was tough because you’re trying to keep this curious, up-beat persona going but you’re also having this really deep longing,” she says. “Trying to hide that on-air was tough.”
When Monique did become pregnant in 2017, the couple’s joy quickly turned to despair when she miscarried at 13 weeks. Monique says it was “the saddest I’ve ever been” and she ended up telling her devastating story during a podcast.
“We were making an episode of Out Loud with Mia and it was just a normal episode and I burst into tears,” Monique says.
“Mia said ‘Just let it out and say all the things you want to say’ and we were recording, so I did.”
In the emotive podcast, Monique talks openly about the trauma of losing a baby and the everyday reminders that hit “like a punch in the guts” – such as seeing pregnant women and new mothers, the agony of the maternity clothes she’d ordered weeks earlier landing on her doorstep, and the ultrasound bill arriving in the post.
“Mia said, ‘If you are comfortable with it, I think we should publish this podcast because it’s going to help so many people,” Monique explains.
“I’m glad I did it but I have never been able to listen back to that podcast, it’s too raw. But recently, a woman approached me to say she had also miscarried and she had found my podcast and it saved her. That was pretty amazing.”
Monique left Mamamia soon after losing the baby: “Sometimes when big things happen in your life you reassess. Mamamia was a great job, but it was exhausting; like being on a rocket. I needed a change.”
Monique was soon picked up by the ABC where she was appointed Executive Producer of Podcasts, a position she holds today. She has been instrumental in developing hugely successful series such as The Pineapple Project and Fierce Girls.
“At the ABC I get to make podcasts I’m massively proud of; shows that make a difference,” Monique says.
“The Pineapple Project first came about because I wanted to make a show about women and money that wasn’t boring. It won an award in that first season and has now had millions of downloads, but what’s more rewarding are the emails we get saying ‘Hey, I just clawed my way back from 50k of debt’ or ‘Thank you for helping me save for my kids’ Christmas presents’.
“And Fierce Girls was similar; I wanted to make a podcast that told stories of kick-arse Australian women who were brave, fierce, fearless. The women you don’t necessarily learn about in school. And it’s now in its eighth season, cracked millions of downloads and has just been published as a book. I cannot wait to say to my daughter and son one day, ‘Hey, mum made this’.”
When she was pregnant again not long after her miscarriage, Monique admits she was nervous about sharing the baby news.
“I didn’t feel relaxed about it until the baby was out and laying on me,” she says.
“I was sure somehow he or she would be taken away from me – it’s not a sure thing. I also didn’t want to splash my pregnancy news across social media because I know what it’s like to see other women pregnant when you want to be so badly. There are so many emotional layers around this baby business; it can be very fraught.”
Pregnancy was tough going – “like being seasick, having a hangover and the flu all at the same time” – Monique says she was never the “glowing type”.
Through her diverse experiences of pregnancy, Monique says she has reassessed her ideas around announcing baby news and considers it “dangerous and unfair on women” to keep things quiet for the first 12 weeks.
“We should be telling people sooner than that because in that first period of a pregnancy, you feel so unwell and you can lose that baby at any moment and that’s a real loss and grief,” she says
“If you’d told people about it, they could help you through it, rather than it being this kind of silent, protected thing. I think the 12-week rule has got to go.”
Monique was induced at 38 weeks, and says during the 10-hour labour she “went to another planet”.
“I went completely quiet and couldn’t speak and just had tears streaming down my face,” she says.
“Nik had never seen me play basketball, so he’s never seen that ferocious and focused, physical side of me and it was probably pretty eye-opening for him.
“I think he thought I’d be the screaming-banshee-type in labour – like in the movies – but I wasn’t. This sounds corny, but it was completely the opposite, it was like the athlete’s mindset: super focused, bearing down and just quietly getting it done.
“Once Ted was out, I was just completely wiped. I was in shock at what my body had just done. We’d gone to all the classes and watched the videos but nothing can prepare you.”
While both Nik and Monique doted on their new son Ted and revelled in the novelty of first-time parenthood, they admit the relentless realities of a newborn baby came as a shock.
“Why doesn’t anyone talk about how hard it all is?” Monique laughs.
“Ted was a fussy, crying baby. The witching hour started at 3pm and went until 10pm. I’d get anxious around three o’clock every day, and Nik would strap Ted to his chest and walk the streets of Carlton. But you just have to ride it out.”
Things got even busier when the couple’s second child, Margaret, was born mid-COVID lockdowns in Melbourne last year. Despite their best efforts, the couple was not able to get Monique’s mum Geraldine to Melbourne to help with the newborn and toddler Ted.
On the day she went into labour, Monique filmed her teary, solo drive to the hospital and posted it on social media for her 15,000 followers. As she pulled out of the driveway, Ted began to sob.
“Nik yelled out, ‘He’ll be fine’ and I said, ‘I know! But what about me?’,” she says.
“That’s how I know I’m hormonal and emotional enough to birth. I was all over the place. And it was just so weird going to the hospital alone.”
After dropping Ted at childcare, Nik was able to attend the delivery, which was less arduous than Ted’s, largely because Monique knew what to expect. As the baby was about to arrive, obstetrician Dr Joe Sgroi asked Nik if he would like to help “catch his child”.
Monique says that after doing all the hard yards, there was no way she was giving up that honour. She was able to reach down (“I have long arms”) and help deliver baby Margaret.
“It was completely amazing; I will never forget that. That’s the incredible film I will be playing in my head on my death bed,” she says.
These days, the couple agree that parenthood is much easier the second time around, helped by the fact that Margaret is a smiley, happy baby.
It’s a busy household: Monique juggles part-time work with motherhood, and Nik, as a breakfast-radio host, is not home for the busy morning routine. However, his hours mean that he can be with the kids in the afternoon.
“Nik is such a proud dad. Every milestone the kids hit you can see him pumping up his chest and boring all of his friends with it, who don’t have kids. He’s that dad,” Monique laughs.
Nik says he’s enjoying fatherhood and teaching the kids the basics around sharing and caring, as well as playing.
Monique and Nik agree that Ted has a great sense of humour, while Margaret is the “firecracker who throws herself at everything. She’s really determined and super assertive already”.
Thriving as this young family is, there have also been some major challenges. Last year, after the couple decided to return to live in Adelaide, Monique suffered a debilitating back problem, needing emergency surgery when Margaret was just five months old. The condition is ongoing and, cruelly, prevents Monique from lifting either of her children.
“It’s awful, especially for Margaret who has to climb up into her own high chair and into her cot,” Monique says. “I try to get down on the floor with her as much as I can and be with her down there. But she’s also had to learn to be very independent because she knows I can’t pick her up. It’s tough.”
The family now lives in a beachside suburb, close to Monique’s sister Hannah, who also has two young children, and there are lots of trips to the beach, as well as weekends with Nanny and Poppy in Stansbury which is a “kid’s paradise”.
“There’s the big farm, the tractor, the beach, the boat, Nanny’s making cakes. It’s just the best,” Monique says.
As they settle back into Adelaide life Monique says she often wonders “Have we been kissed on the arse by a fairy?”.
“We really are pinching ourselves. We live in this amazing location, we are both working in these great jobs, we have the kids and we have family everywhere. It’s unbelievable.”
So, will they be adding baby number three into the mix?
“I’m 40 this year and Nik keeps saying, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’, and I say, ‘I want to be pregnant’, which frightens the life out of him,” Monique laughs.
“But I just don’t think my back is going to handle it and I have to think about what’s best for the kids I have now. The spinal problem I have is serious and I have to respect that.
“I am blessed to have two healthy kids, a boy and a girl, and every day Nik and I both know how lucky we are.”
This article first appeared in the April 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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