Jiggling an adorably chubby newborn, Sally Obermeder casts a critical eye over the dip-and-veggie platter in front of the camera and decides she doesn’t want to eat it. At the photo shoot for her latest recipe book – her third joint effort with sister Maha Koraiem – Sally suggests the food stylist add a few more capsicums, perhaps some nuts or baby carrots, to make the dish more visually appealing, all while her two-month-old baby, Elyssa, snoozes blissfully in her arms.
Sally seems the picture of multi-tasking, 21st-century motherhood, calm and in control, even while operating on minimal sleep.
“Not much bothers me,” says the co-host of Seven’s afternoon show The Daily Edition.
Since her diagnosis five years ago with an aggressive form of breast cancer – the day before she gave birth to first baby Annabelle – Sally says she has lost the oppressive urgency to achieve and the brutal self-judgment of her early 30s. It takes a lot to rattle her these days – because going through cancer treatment has equipped her for almost anything.
Sitting on a plastic seat outside a Sydney photographic studio, Sally cuddles her baby daughter for more than two hours and tells The Weekly the extraordinary story of how Elyssa came to be – thanks to a selfless stranger on the other side of the world.
When Sally and husband Marcus first set out on their surrogacy path in 2014, the couple had four frozen embryos (from their own eggs and sperm) left over from Annabelle’s IVF conception in 2011, but were told Sally couldn’t carry a baby again because the cancer would probably come back.
With commercial surrogacy illegal in Australia, Sally found an “altruistic surrogate” in the US, but it took more than two years, including one heartbreaking miscarriage at 11 weeks, before Elyssa was born last December.
Mindful of how fortunate she was to have survived cancer, Sally says she remained philosophical throughout the surrogacy experience.
“It was like, ‘well, we’ll do what we can, and if it happens, we’re luckier than we ever imagined we could be. That’s honestly how we feel.”
In a summery blue mini-dress and fluttery fake lashes, Sally looks a lot more glamorous than the average new mum, but her hair is pulled into an easy topknot and she appears to be makeup-free. Juggling her baby throughout the interview, from feeding and burping to rocking and shushing, Sally seems besotted.
Check out her Instagram feed and anyone would assume her life is all mother-daughter manicures, incandescent smiles and off-the-shoulder playsuits, but Sally admits her social media image isn’t the whole picture.
“That’s the highlights reel – I’m only showing you the fun stuff,” says Sally, pointing out that no one wants to see her doing the laundry. “Don’t believe that crap … I still will have a child having a meltdown in the aisle because she can’t have a Kinder Surprise.”
Five-year-old Annabelle is funny and sweet, but also headstrong.
Just the other night, Annabelle and Elyssa were tag-team crying at bedtime, tormenting their parents for much of the night.
“Annabelle is at that age where everything is a negotiation and really she just wants to wear me down until I give in,” says Sally. “Motherhood is hard. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it, and just because I appreciate it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. It can be relentless.”
Still, Sally seems to exude an underlying contentment. A few minutes later, while photographers and stylists buzz around them in the studio, Sally kisses her baby’s velvety head and slowly sways her little bundle back to sleep. “I’ve waited for this for so long,” she says, looking at Elyssa. “It’s everything I dreamed it would be.”
Read more in The Australian Women's Weekly, out now