Rebecca Adlington: My Precious Moments
The olympic gold medal-winning swimmer on life as a new mum - and how baby summer loves being in the water too
Did you always want to be a mum?
Always. I've got two older sisters and all three of us wanted to get married and have big families; I already have a nephew, but because of swimming I've had to wait. I'm still young, and Harry, my husband, is three years younger – he's 23 – but quite a lot of school friends have two or three children. I look at Facebook and think gosh, they have families already.
How was your pregnancy?
I didn't have any morning sickness, just a bit of nausea, and was tired for the first 12 weeks, then no problems really. It took some getting used to being so restricted physically; it was strange not being able to go for a run. But I didn't get backache, probably because my muscles were strong. I was starving all the time, especially in the first trimester. Eating got rid of the nausea, so I did a lot of it. And I swam until about two days before I gave birth.
Describe birth in one word?
I was all set for a water birth but the midwife said I needed help and I had to get out of the pool, which was disappointing – it helped the pain so much and really relaxed me. People said, 'You'll be fine, you're so fit,' but I'm not sure how my training benefited labour. It was so painful, and I can't imagine how it could have been less so. The memory is still very fresh, I guess. I only had gas and air but didn't say a word. I was just concentrating, pushing, not talking. That's probably from swimming – you don't talk when you're in the pool, you just focus and do what you have to do. Harry had expected me to be shouting at him.
How did you choose a name?
We had two we really liked, then when she was born Harry didn’t think they suited her. For a few days we called her ‘Baby’ until my sister came over with a list – she knew we were struggling. Summer was perfect: she was born in the summer, we were married in the summer, and it’s a bright, happy word.
What’s the best thing about being a mum?
I totally appreciate it now when people say having a baby is life-changing. People tell me to sleep when she sleeps and I’m like, ‘What? I’ve got all these jobs to do!’ When she sleeps I have a shower, do some washing, sort the dogs out, tidy up, answer my emails. But it’s the best job in the world. I love just smelling her and cuddling her. I miss her so much when we’re apart. It’s amazing how you just love them totally from day one.
Who’s your biggest parenting influence?
Mum, we’re really close. Dad too, actually – I always feel bad if I mention Mum first. When you have your own children you appreciate the sacrifices your parents made for you.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
So many people throw advice at you but the only person you really listen to is your mum – she just gets what you need. My mum always cleans when she comes over – she’s so good to me! I read quite a lot of books. I was clueless about all the practical things such as knowing the temperature of the nursery, or the bath, so safety stuff is useful, but for all the other stuff you just have to roll with it – the baby leads the way. At first I just wanted reassurance – I felt I didn’t know what I was doing, but then each day I grew in confidence.
Do you and Harry share parenting?
We’re good at helping each other out. When he’s not working (he’s a personal trainer) he’ll get up with her and let me have a lie-in, then I’ll have her all day when he’s working. He likes to have fun with her so I do the practical things like trimming her nails and – when she has a cold – administering her nasal spray. The nasty jobs that she cries at – I do them!
What’s the one attribute you’d like to pass on to Summer?
I think my ambition and commitment. If I’m going to do something I give it 100 per cent, so I’d love her to have the same drive.
Perfect family day?
It would have to be swimming – do anything else, like go on a nice walk, and she just falls asleep, whereas if we take her swimming she’s alert and absolutely loves it. She’s so content in the water, so relaxed. We’re really excited, too, to spend our first Christmas together as a family – it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Do you want to get Summer into sport?
I’d love to. Sport gives you so much. For me, I have the medals but it doesn’t end there. I’ve met my best friends, I’ve travelled the world, it’s taught me to be dedicated and disciplined. It has been hard, but I don’t think anything is easy in life. Swimming and sport is how I got my confidence, too – which is important for a young girl. At the swimming club, everyone has wet hair and is in a swimming costume and it’s not based on how you look. I’d go to school with wet hair and everyone else would have spent hours doing their hair and make-up. But then I enjoyed it more when I did get dressed up, because it was a novelty.
What have you had to give up?
Before Summer, if I wanted to do something, I just did it. Now you have to think and plan, and it takes half an hour to leave the house. As for going out, I think you enjoy it more if you don’t do it that often. Because my friends are having families too, the big nights out are turning into weddings and christenings and first birthday parties – which is really nice.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Exercise. Having time to myself to swim or have a run gives me the chance to be me.
If you could invent something for new mums, what would it be?
A nappy-changer robot. The amount of nappies we’re changing every day is just ridiculous.
Would you like more children?
Yes, we’d both like that. But Harry wants four – I don’t! I’d be very happy with two. Practically, with four, how do you do it? It’s a lot to handle!
Rebecca is pleased to support Huggies Little Swimmers. She was chatting to Ali Horsfall.