Perri Shakes-Drayton: ‘It’s weird giving birth in a pandemic – but I’ve felt so lucky’

The former athlete & olympian, 32, shares her opinions... and her life

Perri Shakes-Drayton

by Perri Shakes-Drayton |
Updated on

It’s Mother’s Day this week – my first as a mum! I had my baby boy Matthew last August and, as all new mums will tell you, life changes overnight. Before, my life had been all about me, but now my number-one priority is Matthew. It’s been a total roller coaster. Breastfeeding was painful in the beginning, but my career as an athlete taught me perseverance and so I just kept pushing through and it’s fine now.

There have been a lot of sleepless nights; I’ve got a whole new appreciation for sleep! And those who say “you can sleep when the baby sleeps” are liars! Whenever he’s sleeping, I have to get on with all the household chores that I haven’t been able to do because I was looking after him. I’ve also tried to use that free time to work out.

Throughout my life, I’ve been so used to being fit and toned that as soon as I got the all-clear from my doctor, I was right back into it. Not just because of aesthetics – although I wasn’t feeling very attractive – but because of what fitness does for me on the inside and how good it makes me feel.

It was weird giving birth during a pandemic, but I’ve felt so lucky too. Lockdown has meant that both my husband Mike [former high jumper Mike Edwards] and I are working from home, so we have far more time to bond with our son and see him grow and change. Even though it’s my first Mother’s Day as a mum, I actually haven’t got any plans, thanks to lockdown! Hopefully my husband will get me something, but in reality Matthew’s the gift. I’ve not had one day apart from him and I don’t want to!

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‘It’s important for kids to feel represented in books and on TV’

I read recently that only two per cent of children’s books in the UK feature a black leading character – and that blew my mind. For me personally, growing up I definitely didn’t feel that how I looked, and how I styled my hair, was represented in books or the media.

I remember I used to put towels on my head to pretend that I had long straight hair; I just wanted to fit in with what I saw on TV and what I was reading. It’s so important for kids to feel well-represented, because it gives you someone to look up to and a sense of self. My son Matthew has a little black doll that he plays with, and my husband and I want to make sure that he is exposed to all different cultures and races so that he understands diversity. Thankfully there are more and more books out there that have a diverse range of characters. I’ve teamed up with Tangle Teezer to support their launch of a collection of books called Hairy Tales, which put black heroes and their natural afro-textured hair centre stage. We need more of these types of books.

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