These female athletes prove that new moms are basically superheroes
Usain Bolt’s gold medal haul was bested by a woman who gave birth 10 months ago
Aside from the swollen feet, morning sickness and strangers rubbing your belly like you’re a laughing Buddha statue, motherhood tends to throw career goals into a flux. If you jump back into work after delivery, you get mom-guilted. If you take a break to raise your child, the fear of having to prove yourself all over again might slow you down and fill you with self-doubt.
Unless you’re 33-year-old US runner Allyson Felix and you break Usain Bolt’s record and become the first athlete in the world to win 12 world gold championship medals. Ten months after giving birth.
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#9 Life looks different. Cammy is 10 months old today. Figuring out this mom life. I’ve had to fight a lot this year- for my health, for my daughter, for women & mothers, for what I deserve and for my fitness. I’m really proud to be at my 9th world championships and this one is extra special because my baby girl is in the stadium to watch it all. #WorldAthleticsChamps
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Or if you’re 32-year-old Jamaican runner Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce who won the 100m final at the IAAF World Championships in Doha – the oldest woman in the world to do it. The mum of a 2-year old son, she was joined by him on the field mere minutes after her victory.
It’s baffling then, to see female athletes wading through archaic maternity policies — policies that sports giants are still adhering to. Olympian runners Felix, Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, broke their silence about Nike’s problematic approach towards pregnancy and set the ball rolling towards an investigation. The company, otherwise perceived to champion sportswomen, was said to impose pay cuts ( 70 per cent in the case of Felix) on female athletes during and after pregnancy.
History is testament to the fact that women can do it all and have been at it for a while. Serena Williams’ 2017 Australian Open victory came when she was eight weeks pregnant and that same year, Dana Vollmer, then six months pregnant, competed in the 50-metre freestyle at a national meet. Indian female atheletes have, for decades now, busted myths about pregnancy and performance. Runner Rachita Mistry, discovered she was pregnant while she was training for the 1995 Asian Athletics Championships. She believes she reached the peak of her career after she became a mother – in 1997, Mistry became the national champion followed by bagging an Asian Games medal in 1998, and breaking the national 100m record in 2000. “After that (having the baby), I started achieving better, better, better. I wanted to become a mother. I became a mother. I wanted to do all those things for my daughter, I did them,” said Mistry in an interview with Scroll. Boxer and mum of three, Mary Kom became the first Indian boxer to win a gold at the 2018 Common Wealth Games — and is currently training for the 2020 Olympics where she will no doubt be a force to reckon with.
Does pregnancy slow down female athletes? A gynaecologist busts myths
While sport is hardly the only industry where women are side-lined or stigmatised after motherhood, the physical demands of being a sportsperson and the effects of pregnancy make it easier for companies to single out female athletes. Perhaps it lies in the misconception that pregnant women must refrain from engaging in strenuous physical activity of any sort according Dr. Anjali Kumar, chairperson and HOD, obstetrics and gynaecology, Artemis hospitals (Gurgaon). “Many believe that exercise increases chances of a miscarriage. That is factually incorrect. Women can continue exercising and stick to their normal workout routine as long as they aren’t going overboard. On the other hand, introducing new forms of physical activity that are more strenuous than what you’re used to is not the best idea,” explains Kumar. A trained athlete, who is used to high-intensity workouts, can continue doing the same unless advised otherwise by their gynaecologists.
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Olympian Mary Kom is an unbeatable force
It is proved that an average pregnant woman’s endurance levels are said to be at par with that of a super athlete. Going by that, if you are in fact a super athlete, my guess is, pregnant female athletes would translate loosely into superhuman. The biological rationale behind this? Kumar explains that a woman’s body undergoes multiple changes to meet the increased oxygen demand – a pregnant woman’s blood volume is 50 per cent more than that of a regular human being, the cardiac output (blood pumped by the heart) increases by 10 per cent when pregnant, and the number of red blood cells increase by 18 per cent. Hormonal changes include increased levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which in turn leads to increased oxytocin that subsequently increasing one’s pain threshold. “These physiological changes can sustain up to 12 months after pregnancy, which contrary to popular belief, increase a woman athlete’s endurance and better her odds,” says Kumar.
Hearing the news of the two female athletes breaking records, an old friend, and new mum reached out to me on Instagram saying that even though she by no means was an athlete, perhaps except at speed eating before her toddler could fling food at her — she felt reinvigorated when reading about these super women. We’re well beyond the point of having to prove ourselves, we’ve done that time and time again — but imagine what women could do with a little bit of support. The gendered barriers women have to face might be stronger than men have had to — but we’re well equipped at turning our perceived weaknesses into strengths. Just ask Usain Bolt.
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