Anna Stanley: "Motherhood Changed My Life"

May 7, 2008, 6:04 pmnewideanz

Having a healthy family is not something Anna Stanley takes for granted.

] As former Silver Fern Anna Stanley watches her tottering daughter Jaya biting into the pages of her favourite Spot storybook, she knows just how lucky she is.

As one-year-old Jaya is working hard at mastering her newly acquired walking skills, Anna and her surgeon husband Jeremy, who live in Mount Maunganui, are delighting in every moment of their daughter's development.

The netball star formerly known as Anna Rowberry has recently been reminded of just how blessed she is to have a happy, healthy child. The 31-year-old has become an ambassador for Rett New Zealand, and has taken to heart the plight of Kiwi families affected by a largely unknown condition that renders children unable to walk or talk.

Rett syndrome affects around 80 girls in New Zealand - boys usually die in infancy. These girls suffer from seizures and breathing difficulties, and their life expectancy is severely limited.

Anna is committed to raising awareness for families affected by Rett syndrome, such as five-year-old Alysha Pakes and her parents Megan and Rob of Tauranga. And it's becoming a parent that has helped her feel more empathy for their struggle.

'Now that I'm a mother, that's a huge influence in the charity that I would want to be involved with,' explains Anna, who married former All Black Jeremy Stanley two years ago.

'Being a parent, you realise just how dependent children are. You are their world and they depend on you for every little need. You can only imagine what it would be like to have a child with a disability who has to have 24-hour help, and a lot of these children with Rett syndrome have to have that.'

Anna became involved with the charity after reading New Idea's story about the Pakes family last September. She has been researching the disease, and learning more about the reality of raising a child with this rare genetic condition has made her cherish Jaya even more.

'We feel lucky to even have fallen pregnant because I know many people can't these days. We're lucky that it was easy for us and that we have a healthy little girl,' she says.

The respected former sportswoman, who retired from international netball 18 months ago when she fell pregnant, is loving life as a full-time mum and can't wait for her little girl to start talking.

] 'You don't get much back from them until they're about six months old, so we couldn't wait until the age where we at least got a smile,' she says. 'But even in those first six months you know you have a bond with them, even if they can't talk.

'Unfortunately, parents of Rett kids don't get to that stage where they get feedback from their children, but I'm sure through facial expressions they get to communicate with their child just as well.'

It is clear that Anna was meant to be a mum, and she couldn't be any happier with her new lifestyle.

'It's changed my life, but I don't think it's changed me much,' she says. 'You do become quite selfless, and you've always got to think of your child before you think of yourself, but I knew that was going to be the case - and it's not as if I was totally absorbed in myself before I had a child.

'There are things that I don't think you can really understand unless you become a parent yourself, such as the feelings you have and the way you change your outlook.'

The family-focused blonde was captain of the world championship-winning netball squad in 2003, and won a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in 2006. After retiring from the international game, Anna returned to the domestic competition for the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic in last year's National Bank Cup. Now, however, she is content to walk away from competitive netball altogether.

'It was a big decision for me to retire, but I knew I'd done all I could and all that I wanted to in the Silver Ferns,' she says.

'We're keen to get going on a good-sized family, so that makes it a lot harder to juggle netball. I'm happy just to watch the girls now, and give them encouragement.'

And as well as supporting the Silver Ferns, Anna devotes much of her time to Rett New Zealand, and is determined to give her all to this worthy cause.

'If through my involvement I can help raise awareness of the syndrome and support even one family, I will have contributed positively,' she says.

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