The Mixology of Mommyhood and Roller Derby

Breeder Crucie Jammer BeaniesBy Breeder (a.k.a. Rachel Saunders, Ph.D.)
*Photo credits to Lisa Edmondson, Jennifer Ramos and Bill Smotrilla

“Being a Mom and playing Roller Derby just don’t mix.” This is what a colleague of mine told me when I asked why his wife had retired early from the sport. When you have kids, you simply hang up the skates.

I couldn’t swallow it. I had an 18 month old when I started skating and was still rolling strong as he hit four. It was hard, especially while nursing, but we made it work. Was it easier for us because my son was past that grueling infant stage?

I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the answer to that question over the past year, as I’ve lived the Mama/Derby mix from its inception. My second son is nearing the coveted one-year mark, “when everything gets easier,” and I have new perspective and respect for the women who juggle these two seemingly incompatible worlds.

For those of you contemplating conception, for those of you currently gestating (BIG congrats!), for those of you supporting teammates through their pregnancies, for those of you wondering how, when, or if you will return to the sport after giving birth, read on. I’ll discuss considerations in breaking the news, when to stop skating, whether and/or when to start skating after birth, and some insights into the mixology of Mommyhood and Roller Derby during that critical first year.

Breeder Q Hit 2013Telling Everyone You Have The Plague
Roller derby is a contact sport.  Two or more gals, on wheels, throw themselves into each other, at high speeds and on purpose.  Beating up bitches on skates is perhaps not the smartest thing to do when you know there’s a microscopic life nestled inside, burrowing it’s tail off into your uterine lining, trying to get a secure hold.  From the instant you discover you are with microscopic child, full body contact may not be such a great idea.

Yet, most women aren’t ready to announce at 4 weeks gestation that they are pregnant.  Maybe they are worried about their spot on the team, maybe they have a history of miscarriage and don’t know if this one will make it, maybe they want to keep skating for cardio and don’t want the judgment from those who think they should hang up their skates.  Or maybe they do want to hang up their skates.

The timing behind announcing you are pregnant will depend on several team and individual specific factors:

-       Know your team’s policies on attendance, skating pregnant, and taking leave
-       Decide if/when you would personally like to stop contact and skating
-       Know your personal comfort with The Truth versus bending reality

Check your team’s bylaws. Some will have clear policies on attendance and pregnant skating that will influence when and how you tell your leaders. Some policies leave the choice up to you.

A quick comfort check is usually all that’s needed to know where you stand on contact while pregnant. You may have a harder time knowing whether you want to stop skating. Some skaters know they want to stop immediately, by the 2nd trimester, or sometimes the 3rd. Others decide they’ll stop when they start to feel their balance has shifted. Still others have no clue. If that’s true, know that pregnancy progresses slowly, and your body will tell you whether or when to stop. Personally, I made it comfortably skating no contact to 30 weeks before breaking a toe at home. Of course, pay attention to your own level of comfort – everyone is different!

Should you want to stop or be required to stop, know your team’s leave policy. Make sure to abide so that you can return (should you want to). Consider continued participation at the highest level possible – be that listening in on practices, off skates reffing, helping with drills, or coaching. Stay mentally in the game.

Be cautious of bending reality (aka lying). Gals have feigned many an injury in order to skate “no contact” while waiting out the early weeks of pregnancy – I did. This may seems legit for those who have a history of miscarriage. And it IS customary for many women to keep their news private and announce at the end of the first trimester, at about 12 weeks gestation. Because this is your team, because Derby involves foundational levels of trust, because you are always relationship building – my personal preference is to stay as honest as possible while at the same time holding your pregnancy as private as you need to. It might mean extending an injury so that you can continue skating no contact with no judgment, it might mean telling a trusted leader early on, or it might mean slightly twisting the truth. Do what’s right for you, but give the implications some good consideration before moving forward.

Pregnant JammingWhen To Stop Skating
Pregnancy bylaw clauses range from “No pregnant skating” to “Can skate no contact until 24 weeks gestation” to “Skate at your own risk” and so on.

Your team will likely have a rule about pregnant skating, and you will have your personal idea about what that rule should be – these two things could clash. Know that you may feel anything from peaceful acceptance to utter outrage at being “controlled and discriminated against.”

Rules regarding pregnancy are made with the best intentions. Leaders are usually concerned about safety – for you, your baby, and for your teammates. And sometimes rules are made by leaders who have never been faced with a decision about whether to skate pregnant. They have to go on best intentions and often err on the side of caution.

If your team has a restrictive rule that contradicts your desire to keep skating, consider opening a dialogue. Research other team policies and discuss. Talk to other skaters who have walked the gestational skating road. Educate. But in the end, accept. And find other avenues to skate if needed.

I was fortunate to be on a team whose policy was “Congratulations. Period. Or lack thereof.” I remember our coach telling me, “It’s your body. You make your own choices.” I had deep respect for her wisdom and confidence in me.

Should you continue to skate, consider your teammates. Especially as your belly grows, your participation in practice may begin to affect their experiences. Though you may feel you and your baby are perfectly safe, those around you may flip the eff out. There are those who may be desperate to stay away from you for fear of accidentally knocking you down. Should you discover you are becoming a stronger and stronger repelling magnet, you may want to extend an empathetic ear to the nervous skaters being impacted by your skating. This would be a good time for a team discussion. Balance your desires with their fears.

Breeder Helmet BabiesWhether you skate or pick up another athletic pastime, Lord knows you’ll want to stay fit! If you do prefer to hang up the skates, consider some activity to keep your endurance and core strength up. Many expecting Mamas have found yoga and swimming to be comfortable.

Breeder San Antonio 2014Whether And When To Start Skating After Birth
In Roller Derby, pregnancy is ominously referred to as “The Nine Month Injury”. But really, it’s more like “The Permanent Injury” because, statistically speaking, most new Mamas never come back.

From a biological standpoint, this makes perfect sense – new Mamas are wired to protect their infants. They are hyped up on some serious love hormones, and they have a strong drive to connect to, constantly be with, feed, and grow this beautiful new creature. Putting themselves in the middle of a war zone, on skates, is anti every biological urge they are feeling to protect their baby and be safe. Getting injured for real would hamper their ability to sustain this new life.

When I was pregnant the second time around, I asked several skaters, “At what point do new Mamas come back?”  The answer was always the same.  First awkward silence and then, “They don’t come back.”  As though my fate were decreed.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, that’s it.  You trade your skates in for waking up night after sleepless night in a cesspool of leaky breast milk, infant vomit, blow out diapers, and tears. You’re a Mama now.

Okay, there’s that. But there’s also this unexplained addictive mad love relationship with a sport and community you may not be ready to give up. The pull between baby and Derby is intense, and there is no easy answer. Stopping all together or transitioning back in as a Mama is a super individual quest, and there will be an answer that is right for you.

Should you decide to stop or even just hit the indefinite pause button, Derby and your comrades won’t evaporate. War veterans always have each others backs. You may not be in the ultra inside loop, but there will always be welcoming arms and a gaggle of girls to instantly hang with.

Should you decide to start skating again, the question of timing comes up first. When do you put the skates back on? When do you start contact? When will you be bout ready?

Everyone told me six weeks after giving birth – wait six weeks at a minimum before putting on skates. I lasted until four weeks and very defiantly attended my first postpartum practice – on skates, full contact. Retrospectively, that was a hasty mistake. If you are as strong willed as me, I know you’ll make the mistake on your own anyways, so by all means go for it. Still, I’ll try to explain why chilling out may be a safer and saner path as you mix Mommhood and Derby.

Some Insight Into The Mixology of Mommyhood and Roller Derby
Assuming you’re a Mama who wants to play Roller Derby, here are a host of issues to consider:

Breeder Lore Centex 2 2014Pregnant Participation. While pregnant, stay mentally in the game. Participate at the highest level possible. Attend practices, participate by listening. If you are on skates but no contact, turn as many drills into no contact and endurance drills as you can. During scrimmage scenarios, be the jammer on the outside track – skate, skate, skate until the four whistles blow; try to out skate the jammer. Coach at bouts. Ref during practices. Offer strategy advice during drills. Ask questions. Offer feedback. Stay on the team.

Breeder Breastfeeding 2013The Art of Pumping. There is no way to describe the pain that is a can opener to 3 ounces of milk in the boob. Empty Those Ladies, my friends. Nurse or pump to complete deflation immediately before practice as well as after. (Minimize the time between those two nursing/pumping sessions to keep your supply up.)

If you are leaving baby at home with a partner or caregiver, it WILL pull on your heartstrings. But pump, leave the milk in the fridge, and know that all will survive. You will likely find that despite their initial protests, 5 mins later they are happily snuggling or playing (have them send you a photo/video for peace of heart and mind) – and YOU will feel empowered and an all around better Mama for having walked out that door to play Derby. Yours and baby’s attachments to each other will be strong. Nurture and grow that. Heading out for Derby practice is the beginning of small separations that will become longer and more significant over the course of your child’s life. Relish in your time together, AND nurture yourself by playing the sport you love.

Wall BirthBeware the Gina-Shinah. So you just defied physics and pushed a baby out your vagina? Goooo, Mama! However, you’re going to be sorer than you know, especially if, in a nice, low squat, you take a hip to the bum (illegal though it may be). Be cautious of contact early on, when you may not be fully healed. Ditto for birth by cesarean – being healed for contact is extra special different than being healed for typical daily routines. Please take it slowly.

Elastigirl. During pregnancy and for a while after, hormones cause ALL of your ligaments to loosen. This is great for all the stretching while growing and pushing a baby out, but this is bad-news-bear for being a safe skater after birth. It’s super easy to sprain an ankle or break a wrist when your joints are loosey goosey.

Personally, I thought this was hogwash, and I promptly sprained my ankle no less than three times in my first two months postpartum. I often said at practice – “I don’t know how to describe it, I just feel ligamenty.”

You are Elastigirl. Super power? Yes, for pushing babies out. Not so much for skating a contact sport. Pay attention to your elasti-feeling, and consider no contact until you feel less stretchy.

Shhhh, Incontinence. I know, it’s a dirty word. But it’s real. You’ll suddenly feel like a Grandma – not being able to jump on a trampoline, sneeze, take a hit, or stand on the jammer line without peeing your pants. For most women, this disappears by six months postpartum – for others, it’s a life long adventure, sometimes requiring surgery to fully fix. If this affects you while playing Derby, you might consider wearing a pad. Otherwise, just go with the flow – the tiny uncontrollable flow . . .

From Marsupial Pouch To Muffin Top. Your body is uh-mazing – it grew a baby from scratch! Once you split into two separate persons, you’ll feel the void, and your belly will take many months to shrink and tighten back up. Immediately after birth, you’ll feel like you have a very floppy marsupial pouch. If you still feel like this when you begin skating, consider a postpartum support belt to increase comfort. As the months carry on and you try to get back into your form fitting bout-fits, you may find you have a muffin top. Again, support belts. But also know that it took nine months to stretch your belly – it’s reasonable for it to take nine months to snap back. Likely no one will notice your “Mom Belly” but you. If you are self conscious, try on the badge of honor lens. You created the cutest, sweetest, most precious human being on this earth with your body – your belly is a reflection of that miracle.

Your Reserves. What, what?! You gained 40+ pounds during pregnancy? Me too. And a lot of other Mamas as well. You’ll drop 10 or so at birth, but the rest, I affectionately called “My Reserves”. My theory is that your body draws on these reserves for nursing and meeting your baby’s needs over the first year of life. It’s biology’s way of making sure your body has what it needs to feed baby if food is scarce. And if food isn’t scarce, it slowly lets go of these reserves over time.

Extra pesky weight that just won’t come off can change your skating game. Where you once felt muscular and agile, you now may feel like clunky molasses at best. Your feet will stick to the track, your reaction time will be slow, and your balance will feel off. It’s normal, it’s okay, and it will dissipate in time.

Breeder Lore Centex 2014Having The Life Sucked From You. I am die-hard pro nursing – there is nothing that will stop me from using my powers of lactation. Not even the consequences. You see, when you feed another human being with your body, it takes its toll. You consume extra food, your body works very hard to magically transform it into milk, perfectly your baby communicates with your breast to tell your body just how much to make, you expel milk when baby needs it, all while keeping your own body running, and repeat. This, in and of itself, is an exhausting full time job. But you want to play a full contact sport, sweat like a beast, build muscle, and push your endurance to the max, too? Three times a week? Go for it, yes. But know that you will feel a level of energy depletion that you may not have felt skating Derby in the past. The lactation/Derby combo could bring you to your knees. So just take good care of yourself, and get as much rest as possible.

Sleep Deprivation. Except now you will be experiencing the special form of torture that is sleep deprivation. Amazing hormones will carry you through those first 4 – 6 weeks of new parenthood, and the sleep deprivation won’t feel that bad. However, we’re building a cocktail here – you’re an extra-poundage, ligamenty, lactating, sleep deprived cow who wants to be a super star athlete and function at pre-pregnancy Derby levels. As time drones on, it’s a compound effect. The draw on your body’s resources to produce milk while only getting 2-3 hours of sleep at a time gets old by month 6, 7, 8 . . .

You may feel playing Roller Derby and being a Mama mixed just fine at month 2. Oddly enough, it’s tougher by month 6 – the height of nursing, the height of sleep deprivation, when baby is making huge physical and cognitive leaps and probably teething, too. Starting at 6 months postpartum, I often found myself participating off skates at practice because I just didn’t feel safe.

The good news is that by one year, baby is typically nursing a lot less, sleeping much more, has cut those first teeth, and has accomplished some difficult and major milestones, and may even be walking or saying that first word! In other words, it’s awesome to jump back into Derby after pregnancy, it feels great – but it actually gets harder. It all may take a bit more time than you had hoped, AND after that first year, things will start to come together.

Eat The BabyBeing a Mama and having a family is HARD work. And babies do not keep. To Derby or not – that is the question. And there is no right answer. But you have support in going the direction that works best for you and your family. Personally, I feel forever indebted to the women who supported me and allowed me the freedom to skate. Thank goodness they didn’t try to eat my baby.

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