I’m a pregnant roller derby athlete

I’m a pregnant roller derby athlete Photo credit Marko Niemela (https://www.facebook.com/punkmarkophotos/)

Part One: Holy shit this is happening

I want to start out by saying; this is me being honest. This is what I went through. It might not be popular, or what other people went through… but this is what happened, and how it made me feel, and how I handled it. I’m here to share my experience so others don’t feel judged by expectation, so please don’t jump down my throat for my choices.

Pregnancy has a million expectations on women, and that’s part of what makes it difficult… because it’s not just the craziness of hormones and body changes you’re handling, but also the set of parameters of how you should feel because of that expectation of “OH THIS IS ALL WORTH IT, ‘CAUSE: BABY”.

That makes me furious. It ignores my struggles and frustrations like I should be some happy robot housewife from the ’50s.

So without further ado, here’s my story of learning about my pregnancy…

I took the pregnancy test shortly after coming back from our off-season. Balls and I always wanted kids, but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. Like, immediately quickly. Last weekend I was eating bloody steaks and drinking amazing wine and scrimmaging (not all at once, but you know).

When I went to the GP the next day – according to them, my future contained no more of most of my favorite foods, and no more roller derby.

It hit me like a train. I didn’t feel a shred of excitement. My identity was skating, it was playing the sport, coaching, and training with my best friends. I was now out of contention to skate at the upcoming World Cup. (While it’s not impossible to return, the pressure of competing with that caliber of athletes so immediately post-natal is unrealistic with my timeline and time off playing. I’ll do my best to come back but that pressure is unrealistic when also having a newborn).

Photo credit Zakas Photography (https://www.facebook.com/ZakasPhotography/)

Photo credit Zakas Photography (https://www.facebook.com/ZakasPhotography/)

I felt loss. Not only of control of my body, but fear about what would happen to my strength, my skills. I work so hard on skating, on my body, it’s a huge investment. It felt like that would all just unravel based on recommendations for pregnancy activity.

I also felt guilt – like I was letting my team down being out so soon in the season. My due date coincides with WFTDA Champs, that also means our coach (Balls) is out.

While a baby was something we were looking forward to in our lives, the results of that test made me full of confusion. I felt an array of sadness, guilt, loss, expectation. I felt guilt for feeling sad about my pregnancy. How useful is that?!

In the first day I got my act together and was like “Ok, this is happening, no turning back now”.

I told my LRG teammate Kitty first, ’cause I knew she’d understand. It was hard for her too when she got pregnant.

To me, having a kid is exciting, but it’s not my main purpose in life, it’s not what I spent much my days thinking about. I wouldn’t say I was even broody. But I’ve heard these same feelings can creep up even when you have been obsessing, trying, and broody. It has never been the most important goal in my life. Maybe I’ll feel differently after the kid is here, but for now, that’s where I’m at. I have loads of aspirations that are just as important to me as parenting will be. I still feel that way.

Kitty came over with some flowers, and we cried a bit and worked on processing the info. It was nice to not feel alone, and she validated my feelings. She didn’t try to tell me it was all worth it, and that I should just deal with all the negative. We just… talked about how crazy it all is.

I read this article recently by the New York Times that sums it up nicely:
“Becoming a mother is an identity shift, and one of the most significant physical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience… Most of the time, the experience of motherhood is not good or bad, it’s both good and bad. It’s important to learn how to tolerate, and even get comfortable with the discomfort of ambivalence.” 

But then, while all this was going on, Balls got a message from Lexi to leadership that she was pregnant! With my permission, he told her about my news and we talked. It was the first joy I felt about it. I was happy for Lexi, and Lexi seemed genuinely excited… and also I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t disappointing everyone, and if I was, I wasn’t the only one to blame. We gushed about it, and decided to tell the team straight away.

I still felt pretty disconnected from the idea of this thing inside me, but these were the first glimmers of positive emotions I had. That made it easier to imagine, but it didn’t by any means overshadow everything else I was experiencing.

I decided to take some control after feeling so much loss of control in my body and identity. So the next day I researched a million articles on playing in the first trimester of contact sports. Kitty anonymously “asked for a friend” on some of the derby moms groups about the situation, and continuing to train.

While I waited their response, I found that most of the articles pointed to studies based on car accidents, not actual sports. The info is sparse and generally says – Relax, take this time to take it easy. Go for a walk, or take a pregnant lady class.

All I could think was “Groannn“. (Mind you, while this was happening Serena Williams was busy winning the Australian Open, while pregnant. My total hero!) In the meantime, I found that rugby guidelines simply advised against contact, and hockey was ok with contact into trimester 1 – both were just based on club policy.

While waiting for further info from Kitty, there was an initial training session where I coached and just tried to avoid contact, and I decided that that felt so ridiculous to me. I didn’t have any morning sickness and was feeling really good – normal even, all things considered – and was super keen to keep playing into my first trimester.

In the next few days I got a response from an Angel City skater who played WFTDA Playoffs 8 weeks pregnant and continued on through her first trimester. I also heard from a close friend/old teammate from Madison that played through the first trimester for both of her pregnancies. Her midwife had advised her that it’s so small, and so well protected in your pelvis, that really only serious injury would be the thing that made it miscarry. (Not normal bumps from playing). She skated – jammed even! – till 12 weeks with one and 9 weeks with the other, the second one she only stopped due to fatigue.

With that information, seeing as how I had never had or seen anyone with a major uterine injury from playing, I made the choice to play.

I made the choice to play.

I made the choice to keep playing, but at this point I was open with many of my teammates about my pregnancy. Balls was really supportive, and let it be up to me. He has been really great about that in general, and it helps to have my partner not place any limitations on me.

The response from the team was really great. I was really afraid people wouldn’t play with me since I had told them. I gave them the option to not pair up with me, and checked with people to make sure it was ok, but in the end no one refused me. Gaz said something like “Women have been doing stuff for thousands of years so if you’re ok with it, go for it” and other people said things along the lines of “your body, your choice”. It meant the world to me to hear that.

I continued to play for another 2.5 weeks until I started to just feel so tired and bloated, the idea of smashing into people sounded terrible. But in those 2+ weeks, it meant so much. I had closure, I had control, I had the choice, and most of all I had SO much fun playing party roller derby with Brawling.

I felt ready to partake in this next adventure, take on a new role in the team and in my life. Getting to chose my own risk assessment also was a really big deal in helping me handle the loss in confidence that came for me with being labeled ‘the pregnant lady’. It just seems that all of a sudden you’re looked at, and supposed to look at yourself, like this fragile flower ‘in my condition’. That makes me crazy. And so I’m focused now on doing everything I can in the meantime, pushing myself and smashing this pregnancy thing at my own personal Birth Champs in Nov.

I’m still skating at training at the moment, just no contact anymore. The next step in my journey was the whole “fake injury for the rest of the league until my scan”, but I’ll explain more of that experience in my next blog post.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2: The “secret” struggle, and follow my blog and my coaching page for more updates!

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