25/06/2018 09:06 BST

As A Working Mum, People Said I’d Have To Leave My Baby Because ‘That’s What The Men Do’

Paralympian Sarah Storey reveals the tough decisions she has had to make as the first British Cycling programme rider to have a baby.

When I was pregnant, a few people suggested I would have to get used to spending weeks apart from my daughter because “that’s what the men do”. But, like many other mums, I found my own way of making my career and parenthood work for my family.

Whatever job you are doing, when you have a baby there are bound to be decisions you have to make, that never crossed your mind previously.

My job, as a professional cyclist, is quite unusual because I rely on my body to be in the best physical shape to perform at the highest level, so I knew my pregnancy and giving birth need to be timed as carefully as possible, but prior to pregnancy, I didn’t have any preconceived plans about how I would manage travelling for my job with a child. 

As I was the first British Cycling programme rider to have a baby I had to forge my own path without any precedent.

It was the breastfeeding journey my daughter and I enjoyed, that made many of my decisions, and meant I didn’t follow advice offered because “that’s what the men do”.

Dame Sarah Storey
Dame Sarah Storey with her daughter Louisa

Louisa breastfed until she was 3.5 years old, so we had to travel and stay together throughout that time. This included meticulous planning for the Rio Paralympic Games where I stayed outside of the Village to ensure Louisa’s needs were put first.

Deciding when to spend a night apart from my daughter was a decision I thought would be easier to make than it was. In the end the circumstance of how we flew home from the Rio Games made the decision and because Louisa couldn’t fly on the same gold-nosed plane as the British team, we spent our first night apart on different airlines from Brazil to the UK.

Second time round, with my son Charlie, decisions are still cropping up I never envisaged having to make.

Dame Sarah Storey
Dame Sarah Storey with her second child Charlie.

Just a few weeks ahead of the World Track Championships, the Yellow Fever advice for the host nation changed meaning a vaccine was needed to travel.

As a breastfeeding mother to a four-month-old, who was too young to be vaccinated, I couldn’t be vaccinated unless I stopped breastfeeding. We couldn’t travel unvaccinated and I wasn’t prepared to stop breastfeeding and travel without him. So I was faced with a difficult decision.

It was a roller coaster of emotions, but in the end I felt a sense of relief when I realised that actually it was a no-brainer. I wouldn’t be putting my baby at risk of serious illness. There’s no job worth more than the health of a person. So I withdrew from the competition. 

Dame Sarah Storey

I have surprised myself with my ability to make adjustments for my family. For instance, athletes are renown for being precious about rest and sleep, and I didn’t have a clue how I would handle things to ensure I got enough rest to perform, but it’s amazing how you can adapt.

I learned to safely co-sleep with my babies, something I never expected I’d be doing, and this undoubtedly ensures I get much more sleep than getting out of bed or sitting up for the night feeds. The added bonus to this is they both sleep well wherever we travel, not needing time to adjust to a strange place or new bed because they are always next to me. It’s also less packing as we have never used a travel cot.

I was once told it would be hard to combine the most self-absorbed job (sport) with the most selfless job (parenthood), but I think the balance of switching from one mindset to the other has given me a different perspective and although I am making decisions I didn’t consider, they are all easy ones to make. Whatever your job, we all have one thing in common, our kids come first.

Dame Sarah Storey