Silver Fern Liana Leota knew moving to the other side of the world would be hard on her family, especially her mum, Robyn. She also knew her mother desperately wanted Liana to come home to have her second baby, but a cruel twist of fate meant Robyn couldn't be there – she passed away from liver failure nine weeks before the birth of her grandson Torres.
Liana misses her mum every day, but smiles to think that even after her death, everything is how Robyn wanted it. “She got her way in the end,” says Liana (28), who gave birth to Torres in Palmerston North five weeks after flying back from Manchester for Robyn’s funeral in April.
“Mums always do, I suppose. It was weird; I could barely walk in England, I had intense pressure on my pelvis and I couldn’t really move. As soon as I landed in Auckland, I had no problems. I could nearly run. I don’t know if it was the altitude, or if it was mum’s way of saying, ‘Yup, you should have been home a long time ago’!”
Having just returned to Manchester after three months in New Zealand with Torres and his big sister Brooklyn (10), Liana’s still getting used to life without her “amazing” mum, seeing the situation as a “silver lining in a really dark cloud”.
“It has been hard at times,” she says. “I had to Google a lot of the things that I normally just would have asked my mum about. It’s those little things that you take for granted. But I am actually glad I was home to have Torres. I thought I’d be okay, but having the family around has been amazing.”
Torres weighed a “whopper” 4.5kg (9lbs 9oz) at birth. "I was like, where did you come from? He was off the scales in terms of the Plunket books in no time as well with the way he eats,” Liana laughs. Torres has proved to be a similar child to Brooklyn, much to Liana’s relief, as husband Johnny Leota had to return to Manchester to play rugby a week after Torres was born.
“I was preparing for a screamer, because Brooklyn was the best baby, but he’s cool, calm and collected too,” she says. The 10 year gap between Brooklyn and Torres is partly due to planning around Liana’s netball career, but also due to a heartbreaking miscarriage she had at 20 weeks in 2008.
After that, “we waited another four years to fit in with netball,” Liana says. “The timing was good. When Johnny got the offer to play overseas I thought, this is perfect, and now it’s my turn to support Johnny and his career. It’s his time to shine.”
Luckily for Liana and Johnny, who played for the Manawatu Turbos before shifting to English club Sale, Brooklyn is proving to be quite the little helper. “She’s been great. Sometimes she tries to be mum,” grins Liana.
Having returned to Manchester, Liana says she’s glad to be back in her adopted home. “When we were in New Zealand, I’d be down in Invercargill playing netball, Johnny would be in Palmerston North, and we didn’t have a lot of family time at all,” she says.
“We’re a lot closer over here. I thought I knew Brooklyn’s favourite colours and singer, but now I’ve spent so much time with her over here, I’ve realised, oh, you liked all that when you were five, not now you’re 10,” she laughs.
But before she gets too comfortable, Liana says it’s only a matter of time until she swaps the “mummy brain for the netball brain” and comes back to bib up for the Silver Ferns. “There’s unfinished business. The world championships and Commonwealth Games are coming up, and I want to be a part of them,” she says.