Jordanne Whiley, the four-time Wimbledon champion, announces the joyous news this morning, via The Mixed Zone, that she is expecting her first child with partner Marc McCarroll. Indeed, she was 11 weeks into the pregnancy when she won the doubles title with Yui Kamiji earlier this month. Here, she tells Sue Mott about her plans for motherhood and how tennis will fit in
You always remember your tenth Grand Slam title. In the case of GB Paralympic tennis star Jordanne Whiley it will be for a number of reasons. For combining with her Japanese partner, Yui Kamiji, to win a record fourth Wimbledon ladies doubles title. For improving the c.v. of her new relatively new coach, Marc McCarroll, who also happens to be her boyfriend. For wiping out the memory of two first-round losses at the French Open. For fighting back after going a set down in the final against a powerful Dutch duo. For battling tiredness and sickness which had afflicted her throughout the tournament …
…oh, come on, we’re just playing for time now.
For – and this is the real story – being eleven weeks’ pregnant with her first child and, incidentally, throwing up pretty continuously, certainly not just mornings, from the moment she found out in May.
She told Marc, momentously, in the middle of the FA Cup final. “I said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant’. And he was so into the football, it didn’t really register ’til half-time. Then obviously he was very happy.” (Marc is an Arsenal fan.)
“It was planned. After Rio we decided we wanted a family. I thought, ‘If we start trying in May I could still play Wimbledon, and it worked. But I had no idea how incredibly sick I’d be. Some days I’d be inked all day. For three days I couldn’t leave the house. At the French Open, I was really, really ill. So sick I thought it was a stomach bug. Even the doctors thought it was a stomach bug. But by Wimbledon I was a little more prepared. I knew how to manage it a bit better.
“But still – winning the title – Yui and I couldn’t believe it. Actually in the final, she kept asking me, ‘Are you all right?’ She’s so sweet. She was really worried about me because I was pushing and over-hitting, determined to give it everything I had. To forget about feeling sick or being tired for the next few days. And then we won …”
Jordanne, 25, told the world’s media at the time: “This definitely feels the most special [of all my Grand Slam triumphs] to me.” Now we know the real reason why. She was playing, statistically, in the Ladies Doubles And A Half.
Even then the joy was not unmixed with worry. “Marc, if you don’t know him, well – it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone in terms of showing his emotions. He’d lost both his parents when he was young and then he had his accident [a road accident in 2003]. He’s been through a lot. So when we found out I was pregnant we didn’t know whether the baby would have my disability. My condition [osteogenesis imperfecta – brittle bone disease] can be inherited. The doctors told us it was 50-50 chance.
“We were so nervous. We did have option to have IVF to remove the gene to make sure the baby would be absolutely fine. But we decided to do it naturally. We got really lucky, although whatever happened we’d have loved our child just the same. But the wait was still the most nerve-racking 10 days of my life. I don’t think I got any sleep. When they told us it was all clear – it was the best day of my life.
“Marc cried – and you know we’ve been together five and half years now – and I’ve known him for ten – and I’ve never seen him shed a tear in his life. And it was so nice to see he had some emotion and how much it meant to him. He’s been really supportive. Carries things for me. There’s been a really big change in him so far. When the baby’s born I think I’ll see a few more tears. He’s going to be a great father.
“I like to think I’ll be very good mother, too. I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life between travelling and competing as a Paralympic athlete. I want my child to grow up around disability. I want to teach them kindness first. And they’re not having any devices like iPads or phones. I want them to climb trees, get dirty, have family outings to the park, go bowling. I want to be a really interactive mother. That’s why I’m not planning to retire from tennis, but I don’t want to come back to tennis too soon. I don’t want to be away from them weeks at a time. I want them to know that their mother is there and really, really cares for them. That’s very important to me.”
Jordanne is well aware that about a million parents are viewing this laudable theory and saying, OK, good luck with that ‘devices’ plan. “Yeah, I know I’m going to get to the point where I have to do it but I’m going to try and go as long as possible,” she responds defiantly.
As an athlete who once at the US Open crashed into a fence, broke a rib and carried on to win the match, the fear of pain is notably absent. “The birth holds no fears for me. I always say, ‘If it’s not life-threatening, I’m just going to carry on’. I’ve been through a lot of pain in my life – and obviously no one likes pain, but I do have high threshold. I always think, ‘Play through it and suffer afterwards’. So that you know you’ve done your best.
“I’ve told the midwife I don’t want an epidural if I can help it and I’m planning a water birth. I’ve been watching One Born Every Minute for tips. The pain doesn’t scare me because I know something wonderful if going to come of it.”
Yeah, sleepless nights and sick that isn’t even yours, says the experienced voice of parenthood. She isn’t worried.
Nor is she concerned about any perils associated with resuming her playing career when the time is right. Like Serena Williams, she is in break, not retirement, mode. She retains a powerful attachment to tennis, a sport her father, a Paralympian himself, introduced her to when she was three.
“I plan to come back in a year or 18 months. Obviously I’ll have to see how I go. But I haven’t ruled out the Tokyo Paralympics. I’ve been encouraged by seeing what Sarah Storey and Jess Ennis have achieved. It’s definitely possible for mums to be elite sportswomen. It’s even easier with Marc as a coach within my sport. We can travel as a family. I think it will definitely work.
“It will be nice for our child to see ‘this is what Mummy does’. I’d like them to grow up around lots of different people, different cultures, different disabilities. So that it’s really normal for them. It’s how I grew up with my dad. I never batted an eyelid if someone was a little bit different. That’s something I’ve always treasured. I’d like my son or daughter to have that as well.”
Her doubles partner and close friend, Yui, is definitely going to be involved in the transcontinental upbringing. “She’ll be flying over from Japan, I’m certain, when the baby’s born. She’s really one of my best friends. I’ve never seen her angry. Or even if she is, she looks like a little angry rug-rat so you can’t take her seriously. It only lasts five minutes. I once beat her at an US Open final and that night we were sharing a McDonalds in our room.
“I always refer to her as my Bag For Life, because she’s so reliable and happy-go-lucky. When I said that once – to Clare Balding on TV – I thought, ‘God, I hope she doesn’t find that offensive’. But luckily I don’t think she knows what a Bag For Life is, so everything’s fine.”
In the short-term there are a few things to iron out. “Marc and I have been talking about marriage, but the baby’s the most important thing to us. Plus we’re moving out of West London to Oxford. That’s a few too many things at once. I think he’s going to ask me to marry him at some point – but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
“I just know he’s happy. His sister’s over the moon to be an auntie, and he feels his family is growing. After the tough time he’s had, he’s not losing someone, he’s gaining someone this time. It’s very lovely.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles