BY: MELISSA WALSH
With a list of incredible accomplishments under your belt, as a world champion swimmer, Olympic gold medallist, media personality, and now with your beautiful son, Zander, in your life, how has the experience of motherhood been for you?
Motherhood has been a roller-coaster of emotions! Whilst I have been so incredibly grateful to have a happy, healthy child, I certainly have had moments of wondering how there are so many babies born every day! Zander was an absolute live-wire even in the womb, and that transitioned into a non-sleeping baby who flat out refused to shut his eyes…. so after much prodding, and some pride swallowing we went to sleep school when Zander was five and a half months old. Not only did it change our lives as he started to sleep, it gave me the best gift of all, and that was the ability to actually enjoy him. After a tough start, I can honestly say that motherhood for me now gets better every day.
When did you decide it was time for you both to have a baby? Was it a difficult choice to make as you are such a busy woman?
My husband, Sam, has always been great with kids and has wanted to be a father for as long as he can remember, but it was a bit more of a process for me. I always knew I wanted to be a mum, but I often looked at working mothers and wondered if I could keep all those balls in the air like they did. When did they find time to sleep? Eventually I couldn’t ignore the cluckiness any longer, so we decided the time was right to start trying for a bub.
How was your pregnancy/birth?
I had a fantastic pregnancy; I actually loved being pregnant! I was fascinated with the changes my body went through and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face every time my little tadpole moved, and move he did! I have so many videos of my belly moving as though I was housing a nightclub within, Zander was certainly having a blast in there! Labour and birth was a different story. I was very lucky, it was only six hours after my waters broke that Zander was born but it was also quite intense from the start. I was agitated beyond belief in the car, and by the time we arrived at the hospital I was feeling the need to push, so no examination, no drugs and an hour or so later we were parents! Sam was incredible, he knew exactly what I needed, when I needed it, we didn’t need words. Sadly, I didn’t feel the initial rush of love that so many experience, I just felt exhausted, overwhelmed and broken. I could barely hold Zander as I was shaking so much, I think my body had gone into shock with it all! It certainly took me a few days to wrap my head around it all, especially as my milk didn’t come in until day four and as a big bub, he was starving. Welcome to parenthood!
Did you have many people offering you advice about pregnancy/birth/ and now raising a toddler?
Yes, but we also knew who we were going to listen to and who we were going to politely ignore. The only advice I would ever offer now is that everyone has a different experience and that no two babies are the same!
As a very busy and active working mum, how do you juggle day to day life?
Sometimes I don’t know! I am very lucky that my husband is my rock and a brilliant, capable father who doesn’t blink an eye at being the sole parent for sometimes weeks at a time. But both of us travel for work so moving back to Queensland to be close to my parents last year has been the best thing we did. Mum and dad are retired, completely besotted with their only grandchild and desperate to help out, so life has been a lot smoother since we made the move. I have learnt to keep a detailed diary, discuss upcoming trips early and embrace the guilt I feel when leaving…
What is it like travelling with Zander, or alternatively being away from him when you have to travel?
Travel used to be one of my greatest joys, but now I find it quite difficult. Most of the time I travel alone, and I miss my little family like crazy. Thank goodness for FaceTime! I really hope we can travel a lot with Zander as he gets older; the ‘not sleeping thing’ when he was little was tough as he wouldn’t sleep in a car, on a plane, in the pram… It was easier to just stay at home!
What difference has it made having him in your life?
I think the more accurate question is what has stayed the same, and the answer is nothing! I had no idea how hard raising a child is, but I have also never felt such joy, or pride in watching him learn and grow. One of the greatest gifts he has given me is perspective, and the ability to say ‘no’ to people/work situations that don’t impact my life in a positive way.
Do you still manage to have time for yourself when you are not working or being a mum?
Very rarely! I think that is why I do enjoy being on a plane… I can read a book or a magazine, watch a movie uninterrupted and feel no guilt about being uncontactable for a period of time!
Do you have any advice for other working mums out there? Eg: any tips on how to juggle work and motherhood, how to not feel guilty when we leave them, how to make time for yourself etc.
I just think it is always good to remember that we are not alone in our struggles, so open up to your friends and talk it through with someone who understands what you are going through. Find sanity wherever you can!
Returning to work when Zander was three months, was that a difficult thing to do? Do you have any advice or tips for other mums who are going through the same challenges?
Returning to work so early was a blessing and a curse at the same time. I was so sleep-deprived that I actually enjoyed being away from Zander for five hours a day, two days a week and using my brain made me feel a little more like my old self. On the other hand, sleep deprivation and live TV is an incredibly stressful combination and I found myself begging my brain and my mouth to connect so I didn’t say anything stupid! I was lucky that I was working with the divine Jennifer Keyte at the time, who was not only a mentor but an incredibly kind and understanding friend when I needed it. So my only tip is to not be afraid to be honest with how you are feeling at worK. We as women seem to feel we will be judged as weak if we are missing our babies or not keeping all the balls in the air, but sometimes just being able to acknowledge those feelings with a trusted confidante can give you the self-belief to trust it will all work out.
Getting babies to sleep is one of the hardest things. How did you find the sleep clinic for you and Zander? Would you recommend the service to other mums and dads?
Sleep school saved our lives and gave us so many gifts. The gift of sleep (which has helped me so much in my life), the gift of rationality, the gift of enjoying the small milestones with your child and, just as importantly, the ability to change my initial thoughts that I was failing as a parent. I would, and have recommended sleep school to many people, and my only advice is to go as soon as you feel there is a problem!
How do you find the experience of being a mum compared to being an Olympic athlete? Are there any similarities? eg: any state of mind skills you applied from your swimming days to getting through challenging days/nights with a new baby.
I don’t think there are many similarities between being a parent and being an athlete. Being an athlete is quite selfish; being a good parent is selfless. You have a certain level of control over your own destiny as an athlete, you mostly feel like you have very little control as a parent! The only connection I can relate to is trusting your instinct, I knew what my next move as an athlete was, and I ultimately know what is in Zander’s best interests, even if others would like to tell you otherwise!
How is your Target/Spalding active wear line going? Was that something you had wanted to do for some time? How did it come about?
Creating activewear with Spalding for Target is one of my most enjoyable and satisfying work elements. I have always had designs in my brain, and think I am quite a creative person, so having the platform to design fashionable, comfortable and affordable activewear for every age, size, and shape gives me such a buzz! I have to stop myself from going up to women and giving them a hug when I see them in our gear!
Do you feel it is important for mums to take time out and enjoy some exercise or activity?
Absolutely. I think I would have lost my marbles if I didn’t get out of the house every day, even if it was just for a quick walk around the block with the pram and my dog, Lester. Fresh air and exercise release those endorphins that are so necessary for parents. I feel like I am so much more capable of keeping my life on track after exercising!
How soon after Zander’s birth did you get yourself into exercise again?
I was just going for short walks as soon as possible but didn’t do anything other than walk for the first six months. Only then did I feel ready to get back into Pilates, which I love.
Did you find it hard to lose the baby weight afterwards or did you not put on too much weight?
I didn’t put on too much weight during pregnancy; I think around 12 kg, and considering Zander was over four kilos at birth I was mostly baby! I wanted to try and stay active for as long as possible in the lead up to giving birth, and as much as I craved toasted sandwiches and salt and vinegar chips in the first trimester, I couldn’t get enough fruit and vegetables into me for my second and third trimester. I really put no pressure on myself, nor felt pressure from anyone else to lose my baby weight quickly, I was more concerned with giving Zander the best possible start to life.
What is the best and most challenging part of being a mum?
The best part is easy; it is a love you never knew you were capable of. The most challenging part? All of it!
What traits and qualities would you like to pass on to your little boy? Do you have any aspirations for him in the future?
A lot of people ask me if Zander is going to be a swimmer, and in some ways I hope he isn’t as I think you put enough pressure on yourself as an athlete without the expectation that you need to be as good or better than your parents were. I definitely want him to enjoy and be involved with as much sport as possible, and if he wants to make a career out of being an athlete then I will support him 100%. My dreams for him are to be kind, respectful, curious, determined and above all, happy… and to stop terrorising the dog!!!!
Do you think you might have another baby sometime in the future?
We would love to be lucky enough to have another child, but being an Olympic year it is all about work for me at the moment. Hopefully next year will be a very different story!