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Friday, May 11, 2012
The pros of post-partum competition

By Adena Andrews

Paid maternity leave is a luxury many professional athletes do not have. A woman who was at the top of her game pre-pregnancy might be forced, upon her return to competition, to once again fight for roster spots and for sponsorships. Pregnancy is a game-changer for any female athlete, no matter what field she is playing on.

espnW talked to some professional athletes who are struggling to get back into playing shape after giving birth and, simultaneously, enjoying motherhood. Here's what they had to say:

Tiffany Williams, track and field (400m hurdles)

Daughters: Saniya, 1 and Samya, 7

After having my second child in 2010, I returned to working out five weeks later, but I wasn't running the times I was used to running. I went from being the fifth-fastest in the world to not even on the radar. Almost two years later I'm just getting back to my old form, and I'm excited about it.

Although it was tough to return after giving birth and I don't have a sponsor yet due to my performances, having a child is the best decision I've ever made. I love watching them when they come to practice with me every day at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. As a parent, sometimes you have to put your career to the side and concentrate on the lives you are responsible for.

Nichole Denby, track and field (100m hurdles)

Daughter: Jordyn, 2

I didn't know I was pregnant; I just knew something was wrong with me. I was late to practices, not performing well, and had headaches. I just thought my iron was low. Then I went to the doctor and found out I was pregnant. I went back and forth on the decision of having her. I knew if I wasn't running, I would lose my contract and couldn't race to make money. How could I support a baby with no money?

After I made the decision to keep her, I was terrified to tell my coach. He was a bit disappointed, because that was supposed to be my year to show everyone what I could do on the track, and I blew it. However, I didn't stop training until I was eight months pregnant and my belly was too heavy to carry.

I returned to the track six weeks after giving birth, having lost 10 pounds of muscle from being inactive for more than two months. Two years later, I'm back to my pre-pregnancy shape and in the top 5 in the world, but I'm still bothered by nagging pelvic and back pain from the pregnancy. But when I see Jordyn at practice with me, being the little mascot with the stopwatch around her neck, I know I made the right choice. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

Ann Wauters, Seattle Storm, Center

Son: Vince, 11 months

Daughter: Lou, 11 months

My partner and I actually got pregnant at the same time. A lot of people thought we were crazy for having a house filled with two women and their raging pregnancy hormones. It was hectic, but having that experience together and having the kids be just one month apart is priceless. It's like they are twins.

Taking the time off for my pregnancy was actually good for my body; my joints got rest. I've played professionally year-round for 12 years, so I'm used to waking up with joint paint. When I was pregnant, I felt none of that.

The best thing about being a mom and playing sports is that it puts everything in perspective. You leave basketball on the court and go home to live another life where your kids love you regardless of what the stat sheet says.

Andrea Riley, Phoenix Mercury, Point Guard

Daughter: Tiana, 1

I found out I was pregnant when I was on the Los Angeles Sparks and it was the day before our last playoff game. I was two months pregnant, and just didn't notice. My mom kept asking me "Do you have something to tell me?" She also said she had been dreaming about fishes, and that usually means someone in the family is pregnant.

For the duration of my pregnancy I was very lazy. I was afraid of hurting the baby by overdoing it. The Tulsa Shock were very supportive of me, and our coach, Nolan Richardson, told me to not feel pressure to hurry back.

Tiana was born by cesarean section, so it took me eight weeks to return to training. As an athlete, your abdominals are extremely important, and to have them cut open for a c-section makes your time away from court even longer. My patience is very short, so waiting to get back on the court was the worst part for me.

When I finally did return to playing, I was 30 pounds heavier, but I lost that in a couple of months. As an athlete, losing baby weight is the easy part. It was the mental aspect of playing that was the hardest to get over. My confidence was down, and there were some days I didn't think I would get back to my old form. I would talk to other WNBA moms, like Tina Thompson and Candace Parker, to help me through the rough times.

I love my daughter but she is a handful. I see so much of me in her, especially when she gets an attitude with me. Maybe when I'm further into my career I'll think about having another.

Catriona Matthew, LPGA

Daughters: Sophie, 2 and Katie, 5

The toughest part about pregnancy for me was developing gestational diabetes, which I did with both of my pregnancies. It goes away the moment you have the baby, but it forced me to be careful with what I ate. Even then, I still gained 30 pounds during my pregnancy with Sophie.

I returned to playing nine weeks after giving birth. Eleven weeks after the delivery I won the 2009 Women's British Open. It was a very emotional win for me.

One thing that's different about being a golf mom is that I travel more or farther than most athletes. My husband is also my caddie and we travel to different parts of the world every other weekend. We almost always bring the kids with us. We can't leave the house without their teddy bears for sleeping and the iPad to occupy them on the plane.