VIKKI BUNCE retired from international hockey in 2016 having played more than 200 times for Scotland and 14 times for Great Britain. She appeared at three Commonwealth Games and two World Cups, won European gold, and captained her country. Oh, and midway through it all she also had a baby.

As thanks and gratitude are offered up to mums all around the country on Mothering Sunday, Bunce delivers an insight into what it was like to temporarily press pause on her playing commitments to start a family. And what it took – both physically and in terms of commitment and sacrifice – to then once again reach the top of her sport.

Many female athletes find themselves wrangling with the dilemma of whether to start a family at the height of their sporting prowess or wait until they have retired.

Bunce, who now coaches the national women’s team while also working as a performance manager with sportscotland, admits there is no general advice on what to do in that situation, believing it comes down to each individual’s set of circumstances.

For her and her partner Iain, baby Oscar - born in September 2008 - proved to be the perfect way to turn initial personal disappointment into the happiest of solutions.

“When’s the best time to start a family is not really something that is spoken about,” the 37 year-old explained. “I can’t recall getting any real advice one way or the other.

“But it was quite a simple decision for me. I had been in the initial GB squad preparing for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing but then the group was cut to about 23 and I wasn’t selected.

“So it felt like that was an ideal time to start a family. Apart from the Olympics there weren’t any other major hockey events taking place that year.

“I was clear in my head that I wanted to have a family but I didn’t want to stop playing. It seemed like a natural time to do that.

“Of course there were doubters. People saying that I would never come back and other nasty things behind your back. But that probably just spurred me on even more.

“I was only 25 at the time so there was no way in my mind this meant the end of my hockey career. And there was no reason why it should have been either.”

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Bunce continued playing hockey until she was three months pregnant and decided that was the right time to take a break.

“There wasn’t a huge amount of general advice on how long to play on for when you become pregnant,” she added. “The doctor tells you that the baby is so small at that point that unless you’re a boxer and someone’s battering you in the stomach then the risk of doing sport is really minimal.

“But I decided to play up until three months and then stop. I had been playing hockey for years so the break wasn’t actually too daunting.”

Although she chose to temporarily hang up her stick after the first trimester, Bunce was able to stay involved with hockey via a different avenue.

“My sister’s team asked if I fancied doing some coaching with them. I didn’t really have any coaching experience so this felt like a good opportunity to start when I was pregnant. I remember standing on the sidelines at a game on the day that I was due! So I was coaching right up until Oscar was born.”

Six weeks later and she was back in the gym, gradually building her way back up to fitness. But she admits it was a struggle to begin with.

“I felt a lot different physically at the start having had a baby. People always warn you about your pelvic floor being shot and it genuinely was. I remember going to the gym and building up my fitness.

“And then when I stepped on a hockey pitch I just about wet myself several times. It’s that unanticipated movement or changing direction quickly. That took a while to get used to and doing all the usual exercises too.

“But in the long run I was definitely fitter after having Oscar than I had been previously. One of my issues before I became a mum was that I always getting ill or injured and never properly recovering. But after having a baby I listened more to my body.”

Bunce was true to her word and proved the doubters wrong by returning to elite hockey, featuring at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 and joining up again with the GB squad ahead of the London Olympics.

But with a new baby in tow it became a juggling act at times. “It’s not easy and you rely on a lot of support from your friends and family. Looking back now, I genuinely don’t know how I did it.

“There were some really difficult times. We were in Delhi for a month and the Wi-Fi was rubbish so you couldn’t really Skype. And I remember being in Poland for a competition when he got chicken pox. It’s the things that happen when you’re not there that you can’t control that are hardest to deal with.

“Ahead of London I got asked to join up with the GB squad again. And the only way it was going to work was if I went down and the boys stayed at home. That was a big decision but the feeling was that if I didn’t do it then I would never know if I could have played at an Olympics.

“So I would travel down on a Sunday and stay until our last session on a Thursday before coming up the road. And I did that three weeks out of four. Oscar by that point was fairly used to me being away. And having people around you who understood your circumstances was a massive help.”

Bunce naturally felt guilty at times, even if new fathers rarely find themselves under similar scrutiny.

“There’s an unconscious bias in that situation where a woman might be judged when a man wouldn’t be. Even if you stay somewhere overnight for work, there are wee comments you hear from people who should know better. But if I were a man nobody would have batted an eyelid.”

With Oscar getting ready to start high school this year, Bunce believes having her son when she did is one of the best decisions she has ever made.

“When I look at Oscar now and how he’s growing up I wouldn’t change a thing. For any girls thinking of doing the same, the main thing is just to get the timing right if you can. But there’s no reason why they can’t come back and reach those same standards again.”