Is having a child really better than winning an Olympic gold medal?

Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington says having a baby is her greatest feat but is motherhood that big an achievement, asks Anthea McTeirnan?

Rebecca Adlington with her Olympic golds, left, and posing for Hello! with Summer, her most prized possession

Rebecca Adlington with her Olympic golds, left, and posing for Hello! with Summer, her most prized possession

 

She won two gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games yet swimmer Rebecca Adlington has said that she regards giving birth to her daughter Summer as her “greatest achievement”.

It is early days yet, of course, and Adlington might change her mind if young Summer ever transgresses during her adolescence.

Adlington won her medals in the chunkiest of sporting events – the 400-metres and the 800-metres freestyle. Those events hurt. Really hurt. So she is a woman who knows pain. And that’s not to even mention the 100,000 miles of training that went into those performances – and her bronze medals in the same two events in the 2012 London Olympics.

Yet Adlington says that Summer’s birth on June 8th “was the most painful thing I have ever done but also the most rewarding”.

(And, no, the champion swimmer didn’t have a water birth. She had planned one but complications meant it was not to be.)

Gushing is the 26-year-old swimmer’s prerogative as a new mother; her daughter is beautiful and shinier than the brightest most golden medal.

But those Olympic medals won’t bite you. They won’t have tantrums on the floor of your local supermarket. They won’t get up too early. They won’t get up too late.

“Winning medals doesn’t really make a difference to real life but bringing a new child into the world is without a doubt our greatest achievement,” Adlington said, crediting husband Harry Needs’s role in the whole production.

But is having a child better than winning a gold medal in the Olympics?

Is motherhood really that big an “achievement”? Women have been becoming mothers for ages, after all.

Orla Uí Ríordáin sounds like a gold medal of a child. She is home from New Zealand, where she lives with her husband, to visit her mum.

She thinks being a mother is a tough job, but it is one “of those things you just do”. Her own mother is brilliant, she points out.

Your children “will look after you when you’re old”, says Uí Ríordáin, noting that a gold medal won’t do that.

Her sister-in-law, Alice Uí Ríordáin, is not sure yet whether she wants to have children. But she has only just finished her Leaving Certificate, so she deserves a break. She is pragmatic about the whole affair. Whether being a mother is better than winning a gold medal “depends on how your kids turn out,” she says.

Fair point, Alice.

Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible , is equally pragmatic about motherhood, although, given that her daughter is now 28, she is probably less gushingly hormonal than Adlington.

“Motherhood is so sentimentalised and romanticised in our culture. It’s practically against the law to say there are moments in the day when you hate your children. Everyone actually has those moments.”

Kourtney Kardashian, doesn’t have those moments.

“Motherhood has most definitely changed me and my life. Even silly things, like the fact that all of my pictures on my cell phone used to be of me at photo shoots -– conceited, I know! – but now every single picture on my phone is of Mason.”

Whether Mason will be as comfortable in front of the camera as his TV star mum, we shall find out.

Adlington is hoping that her apple won’t fall far from the tree and says she hopes that daughter Summer will follow in her footsteps and take up sport.

“I really would love her to get into the world of sport, but I’m not bothered if it’s not swimming. I just feel sport gives you so much more in life. My sport taught me everything that I am today: be dedicated and driven, committed, and you get to travel the world and meet amazing people.”

You may also get to win gold medals at the Olympics.

At the moment, Adlington would probably settle for a Taylor Swift-like quote from young Summer than a gold medal.

“My mom was always my friend. Always.”

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