The sporting mothers of Wimbledon

On Sunday we got to see two mothers in the Wimbledon tennis finals; Serena Williams in the women’s singles and Victoria Azarenka in the mixed doubles with Jamie Murray. Sure, there has been many fathers in the finals before but let’s face it, the challenges for men as parents is never quite the same as it is for women. For starters, it is biological.

I love tennis as it is as much a physical game as it is a mental game. At many a Wimbledon final q positive attitude has beaten talent. At the elite level of tennis where everyone is just as talented, it often comes down to one’s mental attitude and how one handles adversity. All types of sport are good for mental fitness but in tennis especially the singles, where there is nowhere to hide apart from you, your racket, the net and your opponent, it becomes very evident. For someone to win a grand slam, they must be good at managing their emotions and staying positive when it counts and not to mention in the full glare of the public eye.

What has this got to do with mother’s in the Wimbledon finals I hear you ask? Well if there is anything that can make you feel like a failure very quickly it is motherhood. You give birth and suddenly another life is thrust into your hands and unlike tennis, you haven’t had any practice runs but, yet you are supposed to know what to do and just get on with it. I mean how hard can it be? You have seen teenagers pushing prams and they seem to be coping well so surely it can’t be rocket science, right? Well that maybe the case until, you have one yourself.

Everything is easy until you are thrown in at the deep end, with no experience. The mother and baby books scarcely touch on how toe-curlingly painful latch on pain can be. I wouldn’t mind, but normally you are called on to do this motherhood thing when your body is not exactly at its most robust either. Even if you have had a relatively straight forward delivery it still doesn’t stop you from feeling sore and tired. Throw in the fact that you are sleep deprived and the baby won’t stop crying. Then you can’t remember whether you used the left or right breast for the last feed, add that into the mix and you now have the recipe for feeling like a complete failure.

This is where you learn to manage your emotions and put one foot in front of the other and stay positive and tell yourself that in 6 weeks, you will know and understand your baby’s cries and you will cope better. When you wake up with bags under your eyes for the umpteenth time because the baby is fractious for no reason, you can collapse in a heap on the floor or you can just plod on and know that eventually you will serve that ace and turn the whole game around.

Serena Williams was bed bound for 6 weeks after having her baby. To come from there and 10 months later be appearing in the Wimbledon finals is nothing short of a miracle. The psychology it takes to achieve something like that is just beyond mere mortals if you ask me. Yes, she has got an army of helpers, but no amount of help can do your training for you. No help will give you the self-belief to think when you are bed bound, that you can come back and challenge for the Wimbledon Finals. Your coaches and team therapist can give you all the advice in the world but you have to walk through your pain with your C-section scar staring unblinkingly at you and somehow manage your emotions and tell yourself you can do it.

I identify with Serena’s story so much because I too had complications after the birth of my second child which I documented in my book; ‘Octopus on a Treadmill’: Women, Success, Health, Happiness’. I had to have double surgery after having my baby. Luckily being a mere mortal, I didn’t have to gear up for a tennis grand slam final but just the day to day task of putting one foot in front of the other seemed gargantuan after my surgery ordeal. My health visitor, God bless her, did her usual assessment during one of her visits to see if I was suffering from postnatal depression. I guess she could tell from the haunted look in my eyes that I wasn’t quite enjoying this motherhood thing. Luckily, I wasn’t depressed, but to me I might as well have been because everything just seemed too hard. Just going for walk round the block with the baby felt like climbing Everest! Then I chose to breastfeed on top of all that without anyone telling my breasts that my body had been traumatised by the double surgery so, they weren’t exactly in the mood to produce milk on demand. Imagine if I had to get over all that and then go and play in the Wimbledon final 10 months down the line?

I don’t mean to take anything away from the fathers who have appeared in the tennis finals, but I doubt any of them had to cope with a C-section, breastfeeding and latch on pain! Their wives have babies and the men, if enlightened, take paternity leave to help but then it is back to business as usual, bodies intact with a few sleepless nights thrown in. Women on the other hand must overcome their body which changes significantly during pregnancy and then start their climb back to a match fitness.

Then there is the psychological side of things. After a baby, your priorities change. You have got another human being completely dependent on you. Your hormones are still raging, and you are in mother earth mode. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hit a tennis ball for hours on end and hitting the gym when they are like that. Your body wants to do one thing and one thing only, that is nurture your baby, but needs must, bills have got to be paid so on we trot back to the world of work, totally conflicted, guilt-ridden and with an ache in our hearts.

My heart broke for Serena when she didn’t win because I understood the huge sacrifices she would have had to make to get herself match fit. Then in the presence of her newly minted Duchess friend and all the press about what she was doing for other mothers, her ‘A’ game just did not turn up. Life can be cruel like that sometimes. She fought hard because she has got a champion’s mentality and it must have taken some grit to even get to the finals but sometimes, just sometimes the sacrifice does not pay off. That is if you call being runner up at Wimbledon with the prize of £1.125m not a payoff!

She didn’t get the ultimate prize, but she did get people talking about women giving birth and returning to work. Something that I don’t think women are given anywhere near enough credit for. I personally think any woman who gives birth and goes back should be given a pay rise just for coming back because ultimately you come back twice the woman you were!