In many ways, Sylvia Jeffreys’ time working in the cut-throat world of breakfast television was the perfect preparation for motherhood.
As the news presenter on Nine’s Today for 4½ years, Sylvia’s alarm would shake her from sleep five mornings a week at the eye-watering time of 3.15am. Coffee and adrenalin were her constant companions.
Since having Oscar, who is nearly six months, the 34-year-old has again learnt to appreciate the preciousness of an uninterrupted slumber. “The first three months were a little dicey but now we’re in a nice pattern,” she says.
At nine weeks, Oscar suffered an infant health scare, which in the midst of a pandemic-induced lockdown, added “an extra layer of anxiety” for Sylvia and her husband, fellow journalist Peter Stefanovic.
“As soon as things started shutting down and GPs were only taking people in an emergency, I started worrying about how I would get care for Oscar if something happened,” she says. “You jump at every noise they make when you’re a first-time parent. Everything can raise some level of anxiety … and when you don’t have other family members looking on, it can be really hard to feel your way through it.”
Fortunately, Sylvia’s mother, Janine, was given permission to travel from Queensland to Sydney to help care for Oscar, who has made a full recovery.
When Sylvia speaks to Sunday Life from her home ahead of our cover shoot, Oscar is asleep in his pram. She says there are positives and negatives about becoming a mother during the pandemic. “We had Pete home a lot and were able to immerse ourselves in the newborn bubble,” she says. “There was no FOMO for us, no racing to social occasions. On the negative side, of course, the grandmas haven’t been able to come down as much.”
With the borders between NSW and Queensland now open, Sylvia and Peter, who was raised in Cairns, have wasted no time taking Oscar to meet his extended family. Sylvia says it’s important her son bonds with his aunts, uncles and cousins, just as she and her two older siblings, Andrew and Claire, did growing up in Brisbane.
The family is also close with Peter’s brother, Today host Karl Stefanovic, his wife Jasmine Yarbrough and their daughter Harper, who was born in early May.
“It’s very special to share this ride with Jasmine and Jenna [brother-in-law Tom Stefanovic’s wife] and particularly lovely for the boys’ mum, Jenny. My brother and his wife Aki also welcomed a little boy, Kenzo, 10 days after Oscar arrived. So it’s raining bubs on both sides.”
Sylvia’s parents separated when she was three, and she and her siblings were raised by Janine, a social worker.
Money was tight but Janine valued education and encouraged her children to seize every opportunity, from sports teams to school captaincy.
Sylvia can fully appreciate the sacrifices Janine made now she’s a parent herself. “Mum’s so emotionally invested in everything she does,” Sylvia says. “She was carrying a big load with her work and then coming home to three kids who were probably not consistently angelic.”
Sylvia is about to experience her first taste of life as a working mother, taking her seat as co-host of Today Extra alongside veteran entertainer David Campbell.
At its core, the show serves up “feel-good, magazine style” content, including a healthy dose of celebrity interviews and infomercials. And while there are those quick to write it off as fluffy, Jeffreys, a self-described “news hound”, says recent events, from the summer’s bushfires to coronavirus, have frequently put the mid-morning shows at the centre of breaking stories.
“There’s definitely an opportunity to feed more news through the program and I will jump at that,” she says. “I love, more than anything, delivering live and breaking news when it happens. There’s a great privilege and responsibility that comes with that and it’s a bit of an adrenalin rush at times.”
To start, Sylvia will co-host Today Extra three mornings a week (Belinda Russell, her maternity leave cover, will continue to co-host on Thursdays and Fridays) until Oscar is a little older.
She says the network (which is owned by Nine, publisher of this magazine) has been very supportive by “allowing me to come back on my terms”.
As soon as she joined Nine’s Brisbane bureau in 2005, Sylvia was considered a rising star of the network. In 2011, her reporting on Queensland’s devastating floods and cyclone Yasi caught the attention of the Today bosses, and she moved to Sydney the following year. After a series of reporting and fill-in presenter roles across several Nine news shows, she was promoted to the plum news presenter role at Today in 2014.
Still, life at Nine hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Sylvia and Peter, who married in 2017. In late 2018, along with Karl, they were dumped from their respective roles at Today and Weekend Today (though Karl returned to Todayin February, alongside Allison Langdon).
Having previously said she was “collateral” for the brothers’ oustings, Sylvia says she struggled most with the “external noise” of the media coverage of the shake-up, as well as the prying eyes of the paparazzi.
“There were times when it was a shock, and it wasn’t perfect having everyone not only talk about your private life but [also] your professional life. But I suppose Pete and I knew everything was going to be great.”
Within months of leaving Nine, Peter joined Sky News to co-host its morning news show, First Edition, while Sylvia spent much of 2019 reporting for A Current Affair. She says the experience gave her a couple of career highlights, including travelling to drought-affected regions to interview families at the heart of the crisis.
“Seeing what people were going through first hand was eye-opening, distressing and frankly quite shocking,” she says.
While pregnant with Oscar, Sylvia interviewed Olympic-champion swimmer Libby Trickett, who had written a book about her battle with postnatal depression. “I found that [book] a really useful resource as an expectant mother,” Sylvia says.
Sylvia hopes that between Today Extra and caring for Oscar, she can still file occasional stories for ACA. And despite Peter’s 3.45am starts, his early finish means the family will spend most afternoons together. “Pete is such a hands-on dad, he just loves it. We feel really bonded as a unit of three.”
Still, she acknowledges that working mothers often experience “a sense of guilt for not being able to give 100 per cent to any one thing at any one time. It’s irrational but it’s very hard to overcome because you want to be everything you can at work but you want to give 100 per cent as a mum.”
And while spending their Saturday nights watching videos of their son is a world away from the red-carpet events that used to fill the couple’s calendar, Sylvia has few, if any, complaints.
“It feels like someone has struck a match in my heart,” she says of motherhood. “Like everything is on fire, it is so strong and overwhelming. I cry at the drop of a hat, and not from sadness, but this immense feeling of love and gratitude. The consequences of everything I do are not just on me now, they are on him.”
By Melissa Singer, Sydney Morning Herald
Sylvia Jeffreys is managed exclusively by The Fordham Company.