Being a Derby Mom

There were several things I always told myself I would never do when I became a parent. I swore we wouldn’t have plastic junk overrun our whole house. I promised myself I’d never be “one of those people” who let a screaming child remain undisciplined in a public place, disrupting everyone around them. But most importantly, I was determined that I wouldn’t lose my own identity as a person just because I was also a mother. Coming from someone whose alter ego wears ripped fishnets and throws body checks at other women on 8 wheels, you can imagine how closely I clung to this particular goal of self-preservation. Becoming a mom while being an active roller derby player has been quite a unique adventure.

After the initial shock of my unexpected pregnancy, my husband and I were both thrilled and terrified, as I’m sure it is for most soon-to-be parents. For me, though, that was also coupled with regret and guilt that I’d be out for the upcoming roller derby season. Sure, I was excited and couldn’t even begin to imagine just how much my life was about to change. But that was way down the road—9 months at least, which can seem like an eternity when you have to give up something you love unexpectedly. So even before the baby arrived, everything had already changed with the knowledge that came with that little plus sign on the stick.

I had just started to hit my stride as a skater: I had recently made it onto my league’s all-star travel team, had been getting playing time against other cities’ teams, and the game and my role in it was becoming more and more clear to me. I was actually effective on the track, and getting recognized for it by teammates and coaches. At a mere 5 foot 2 inches and a diminutive size 4 frame, I knew I had often been overlooked as any kind of threat, but I was proving to be able to more than hold my own. This hit pause on all of that.
I’d heard how important exercising is during pregnancy, and I knew there were a handful of women in my league who had had babies and returned to play, seemingly without skipping a beat. So my aim was comically and naively high: I’d be one of those super-active pregnant women, who others had to do a double take when they saw her flying past with her giant belly, who would bounce back so quickly everyone would marvel that she’d had a child at all. These lofty aspirations were promptly squashed at my first appointment when my doctor told me “absolutely no skating.” Not even in my first trimester, not even for endurance, not even if I sat out during the contact drills & scrimmages.

Wrecks Kitten #73
Wrecks Kitten #73

None. Not at all.

Now, some women have had different advice from their doctors, or have considered it overcautious and continued with whatever they felt comfortable doing anyway, but after this very stern talking-to about the relatively delicate state of the microscopic fertilized egg in my womb, I couldn’t with a clear conscience dismiss the warnings. I sat there trying to listen to all the upcoming appointments and what I could expect in the months ahead, but all I could think of was the long months of pregnancy and following weeks of postpartum recovery. They loomed ahead of me like a prison sentence, and I couldn’t stop the pitiful tears from leaking out of my eyes while my doctor prattled on like the teacher in Peanuts cartoons. I was embarking on the single most incredible, world-changing thing in my life and all I could think of was that I wouldn’t be able to skate.

I realize this sounds petty and selfish, and maybe it was, at least to some degree. I completely understood that having a child would change my life, and although I aspired to not let it take over completely I was still looking forward to it, immensely. But becoming a mother for the first time is different from becoming a father for the first time; while Dad gets nearly a year to prepare for the change that comes in the form of a real, live, crying, pooping little being, Mom has to essentially change everything she knows immediately. It’s a lot to process all at once, and I don’t think it’s terrible to admit to ourselves if we miss the wine, the sushi, the soft cheeses… or the somewhat dangerous full-contact sports.

Sure, there were plenty of other things I could have done to get exercise while pregnant—but nothing had ever appealed to me like roller derby had. There’s a reason I’m so in love with this sport, and a reason I had never really gotten my money’s worth out of any gym membership I convinced myself I would use. So, I spent the majority of my pregnancy with no real physical activity as far as exercising: a couple pregnancy pilates DVD attempts here & there, walking around town, but nothing came close to the intensely satisfying, sweat-dripping, body-busting workouts I had grown used to in derby practices. So my pregnancy turned into a time for me to take a break & relax… you know, while still running the marketing committee of the league and directing our rebranding efforts, volunteering at events, occasionally bench managing, working full time and preparing the baby’s room.

Photo by Chris Kalisiak
Photo by Chris Kalisiak

When she was born, we both basked in the glow of first-time parenthood and the absolutely awe-inspiring gift of this little being that we had brought into the world. I could go on and on, but I’ll sum it up by simply saying nothing could have ever prepared me for just how incredible being a mother is. Once we got past the initial exhaustion and all-encompassing first weeks at home in our 3-person microcosm, we started to think about how to incorporate our new daughter into some part of our pre-parent lives.

Even after the season started again, as a new mom with new responsibilities and shifted priorities I wasn’t able to jump right back in where I left off. It hasn’t been easy, by any stretch, but I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, adjusted, and kept on going—just like any new derby girl learns very quickly on the track. Having an incredibly supportive and understanding team and husband also helped. I had to come late to almost every 8am Sunday practice because I was nursing my daughter and her morning eating schedule happened to coincide very closely with my I’m-supposed-to-be-leaving-right-now schedule (anyone who has tried waking a sleeping baby to nurse knows how pointless this endeavor can be). I had to adjust some of the warmups because my body was still not quite back to its former ability. At one point during a particularly, um, jumpy drill, I had to modify my stance and hold my arms to my chest because the old sports bra just wasn’t doing the job anymore, which resulted in some mid-leap hysteria over the fact that our coach was making me lactate. A few times during a scrimmage one of my nursing pads slipped out onto the floor, which was discreetly brought to my attention by nearby teammates. And at halftime during bouts I was able to nurse her in the locker room, sweaty pads and all, before my husband took her home for the night. Now that she’s a toddler and our breastfeeding days are over, practices still aren’t quite as frequent as they used to be before I had a child. But my husband and I work out a schedule as far as who’s staying home and who’s going out, so we can each continue doing what we love outside of parenting.

She has come to see nearly every home game I’ve been in, even when she was still a baby. Soaking in the crowd, the lights, and the excitement, wearing her onesie with my team’s logo on it, matching socks and giant noise-cancelling earmuffs—she was our unofficial mascot and one of our tiniest fans. When she was just learning to talk, she would point at a photo or video of skaters and say “Mama!” even if I wasn’t in it. At 3 years old she just got her first pair of skates, an upgrade from sliding around the house in her socks on the slick hardwood floors, saying “I skatin’, like Mommy” with my old helmet wobbling on her little head. I think about how my daughter identifies her mom with all of the strong, amazing, independent women of this sport, and wants to be one too… and the swelling of pride in my chest just about cracks my ribs right open. Times like these confirm for me that we’re doing something right.

One of the best compliments I’ve ever received came from a friend who told me that they’d never seen anyone adapt so well to becoming a parent. I couldn’t have been more flattered and genuinely grateful for that little piece of affirmation: I’d managed to maintain my own life while incorporating another, and motherhood has completely enhanced my world instead of just limiting it. I haven’t given up who I was or what I love, I just have to work a little bit harder to juggle it all and keep everything balanced… which, as we all know, is what mothers do best.

~ Wrecks Kitten