JANA PITTMAN I’D TAKE MY KIDS OVER MARRIAGE ANY DAY
THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER TALKS BREASTFEEDING, RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWNS AND HOW SHE’S CREATED A FAMILY ON HER OWN TERMS
She made her name representing her country at three Olympic Games.
But while Jana Pittman has scored big on the track, she has learnt that there are some hurdles in her personal life that she just can’t jump.
“I wanted the traditional marriage with five kids,” the 35-year-old tells New Idea in an exclusive interview. “It’s always what I dreamt of – and it’s what my friends got – but it just didn’t play out that way for me, unfortunately.”
She married British athlete Chris Rawlinson the week after she competed in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but the pair began proceedings for their first divorce three years later. However, after it was finalised in 2010 they reunited, married again, and relocated to the UK before calling it quits for good one year later. Jana returned home with their son, Cornelis.
“I didn’t want to put my family through another divorce by marrying too quickly,” she explains. “And I had fading fertility, which is where my IVF journey started. So, prematurely, I had to make a decision about having kids. It was really now or never for me and I didn’t want it to be a never.” Making the decision to get pregnant alone, she conceived Emily via IVF and an anonymous sperm donor. Last year she used the same donor to conceive her third child, Jemima. Luckily, her decision to build a family solo was one that her own family rallied around.
“They were great,” she says. “When I told my mum she was completely onside and very supportive. For years and years “family” has been the traditional model of man gets married to wife and has children. It’s what we’ve grown up with. But not everyone can have that life.”
Acknowledging that she’s “lucky” to live in an age and a society that’s more accepting to unconventional parenting models, Jana praises her family for providing a support network that’s invaluable.
“It’s not easy,” she says of child rearing. “But having children in a couple isn’t easy. I have two friends who are married who don’t have any family and I think they have it even harder than I do. I literally live a few doors down from my parents and my brother – he has a strong role in the lives of my kids. So I’m not doing this alone, despite the fact that I’m single.”
In April last year the worldchampion hurdler made headlines across the country after she took to Facebook to announce plans to marry for the third time. Having met IT consultant Rajiv just a few months earlier – shortly after the birth of her third child – Jana called him her “soulmate” in the jubilant post. But while the former athlete thought she had found her happily every after, she now reveals that the “whirlwind” romance has come to an abrupt end.
“Unfortunately that relationship didn’t continue,” she says sadly. “I’m back to that square-one phase but, you know, it is what it is. I feel like I’m quite successful in some areas in my life, but that’s not one I’m able to conquer. I’m so time-poor with such a huge career and three beautiful children – who I spend
every free moment with – that there’s not a lot of room for someone else and they often feel left out and then they leave.
“I hear the same line time and time again: ‘I’m really sorry, but I don’t want to be fourth in your life.’ And then I’m like: ‘Okay, see you later!’ I think if you haven’t met the love of your life it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and you still have options. You just have to accept the hand you’ve been dealt and make the most of what you do have.”
Acceptance of failure has been a hard lesson for the high achiever, and just as her love-life has been far from plain sailing, one aspect of motherhood in particular proved to be problematic for the resourceful Jana: breastfeeding.
“You think it will come naturally,” she admits. “So when you give birth to a baby and you can’t feed her it’s heartbreaking.
“With my son I had mastitis – which is an infection in the breasts – and I got that four times. I was training for the World Championships at the time so it was just too hard and I gave up. Months later I had huge regret and thought I hadn’t worked hard enough … I just felt like a failure. With my second baby, Emily, I was determined that it would be different. I worked really hard but had the mastitis again.”
At her wits’ end, help finally came after a helpful midwife suggested Qiara – an all-natural breastfeeding probiotic isolated from healthy human breast milk.
“It helped me to get rid of the mastitis and I was able to breastfeed Emily for five months, which was a miracle considering the struggles I’d had before,” she explains. “But it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I think the biggest message I’m trying to get out there is how difficult it is and that it isn’t for everyone, and to not beat yourself up about it, which so many women do. It’s like a marriage – if it doesn’t work, then it’s hard.”
Having left professional sports to become a doctor, Jana is about to start her final year of studies with an end goal of becoming an obstetriciangynaecologist .“I love women’ s health and empowering women,” she says. “And I find pregnancy and infertility fascinating. Yes, there are people who have questioned me, asking, “How are you going to juggle three kids with a medical career?” That’s something I’m still trying to figure out, but I know that my children will always come first. Motherhood is my new Olympics, for sure … but just like athletics the rewards are so great at the end.”
But for women doing it tough, Jana’s biggest piece of advice is perhaps also her simplest: “You’ve got to give yourself a break,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’ve had far more failures in my life than I’ve ever had successes and I have been shattered every time something went wrong. My marriage failed – shattering; the first time I gave up trying to breastfeed – shattering; losing the Olympics – shattering. There’s always pain, but we need to learn not to block it and to deal with it and then move on.”