The other day, I was prepping for my webinar about supporting pregnant and postpartum skaters in their return to play. As part of my prep, I had emailed all the registrants asking what burning questions they had about pregnancy, postpartum, and returning to derby. There were questions about what type of training to do, questions about the likelihood of peeing your pants when someone hits you, and — of course — questions about exactly how long it takes to return to skates.
All the questions were great. But it was one particular email that caught my eye:
When I told my league I was pregnant, attitudes changed immediately. Some were super congratulatory but, overall, the way everyone treated me changed. Like, if I couldn’t play in games, I wasn’t really worth keeping around. I poured so much of myself into that team that it really hurt. I guess I thought they would be more supportive…
Ripped my fucking chest open.
I remember feeling that way exactly when I announced my pregnancy to my league. I was the first active skater to get pregnant with plans to return but as soon as I couldn’t make contact or play in games anymore, I felt a bit written off.
I’m sure my teammates didn’t mean to do it. But it happened anyway.
The people in your league, whether they are skaters or announcers or officials or volunteers, put SO MUCH time and energy into your league. The least your league can do is create an environment where those same folks feel supported during a major life change.
Yes, it increases retention of “personnel” but it also makes you a decent and empathetic league. So be that.
1) Get educated.
Guess what? Pregnancy is not a disease! We joke in roller derby (a lot) that it’s the 9-month injury but its waaaaay more than that. I’m not trying to convince you that you have to be in awe of the process of creating life or change your views about what you want growing in your own uterus. But I do want to convince you to learn a bit about what happens during pregnancy as a way to support your teammates and leaguemates.
First of all, referring to it as the “9-month injury” implies you’ll only be off-skates for 9 months. That’s just not true. And using that terminology, even as a joke, can create some unrealistic expectations or pressure on the pregnant person about when to return. It’s kind of a small thing but simply referring to it as a pregnancy in the same way you would talk about an MCL tear is pretty important.
Second of all, 85% of all uterus-having people* will get pregnant at some point. Those people probably make up a large portion of your league roster which statistically means that your league will need to support at least one pregnant skater in its lifetime.
Lastly (for now), different bodies go through pregnancy in different ways. The pregnant person gets to decide — within your insurance structure probably — what they want to do with their body while they are pregnant. Find a way to be supportive even if you’re unsure of or disagree with a pregnant person’s decisions.
Bodily autonomy is a real thing!
BONUS: Learning new thing is fun. And there is a surprisingly large blind spot in our culture about pregnancy.
2) Create jobs that don’t require skating or contact but still require presence.
Sure, coaching is definitely one. But not every pregnant or postpartum skater WANTS to coach and not every team has open coaching position to be filled for a temporary amount of time. You may be saying to yourself, “But Prime, we have board position and they’re welcome to come NSO our games.”
Okay. Sure. I guess.
But step back and really take a moment to think about how much of a skater’s life is devoted to skating at practice. When I found out I was pregnant, I was skating at practice anywhere from 10-12 hours a week. That’s 10-12 hours that I was around my teammates, feeling empowered and productive, and living inside my identity of being an athlete. Then, suddenly, none of those things were an option for me anymore.
That’s a huge sense of loss while pregnant skaters are already grappling with all the things in their life that are going to change. So think about how you’re helping to alleviate that (or inadvertently making it worse).
Not every person is going to want to remain heavily involved once they discover they are pregnant. However, your league needs to be ready to support the ones that do. That means finding ways to help them continue to feel like part of the team and league even if they can’t practice at 100% right this second.
BONUS: These positions you create also apply to skaters that are suffering from injuries and are more likely to allow retention than just writing them off or only texting them when you think of it.
3) Review policies with an eye toward supporting those that have outside priorities.
When I first started roller derby, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly. I was at EVERY. SINGLE. PRACTICE. I missed my partners birthday for 10 years straight #becauserollerderby. I felt superior to those that couldn’t do the same. And I built a league that wasn’t supportive or welcoming to people with families or lots of outside priorities pulling on them.
It happened because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The entire leadership committee of my league were folks in the same position: no children, day jobs, attending every practice, obsessive about competition. The works. We didn’t have the perspective it took to realize that the policies we created were too rigid for a lot of parents. And our league had never experienced a pregnancy.
Turns out that when I came back from my delivery, I found it a lot harder to attend as many practices, meet the volunteer requirements, and spend time bonding with the team.
How might this look?
- Can your league provide childcare? Even one practice a week can make a huge difference.
- Are you ensuring that team events are family-friendly? Not all of them, but I can tell you for sure that all the bar-hangout, karaoke nights were closed to me unless I left Autotot at home.
- Can a skater earn volunteer hours by doing jobs from home? This was the only way I could earn hours for a looooong time. And, honestly, still my preferred way.
- Are their waivers allowed for missing league meetings or practices or other required events? How these waivers can look will depend a lot on your league. Maybe you get a free missed league meeting each year. Maybe each skater gets 12 sick days a year to use however they want for practice credit. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity.
- What are the parents of your league struggling with the most? Create a policy to alleviate that stress. You can do it!
BONUS: These policies also help skaters that have off-shift jobs, travel for work, caretaking for family members, or anything else. It, again, increases and improves retention for all skaters.
4) Make a resource list for your pregnant and postpartum skaters to use.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m a nerd. But I’m super into things like orientation handbooks and filling out forms. My old league had a welcome handbook for new skaters, one for transfer skaters, every single board position had a best practices handbook. All lovingly created and with the primary purpose of making times of transition easier.
Maybe make one for your pregnant skaters? This can be a way to ensure pregnant and postpartum skaters that your league has actually thought about them and cares about them. It can be a place to list out what other positions the team/league has created for those that can’t practice 100% (or a simple invite to still come to practice and futz around). You can list out any policies that might be relevant to a person entering pregnancy or trying to skate again after delivery. I would even recommend creating a list of providers that your league recommends: pelvic floor physical therapists, OB/gyns, personal trainers, pediatricians, daycares, etc.
BONUS: Once you have a template, you can also whip up resource lists for skaters with injuries, skaters traveling for work, etc. So many handbooks!
Be there for your pregnant and postpartum skaters. They are going to feel like they are losing their identity as an athlete and the more support our sport can give them, the less distressing that will be.
It takes a village, right?
* Bureau USC. FFF: Women’s History Month: March 2017 [Internet]. [cited 2019 September 4]. Available from: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features2017/cb17-ff03.html
Join the DERBY, BABY! Facebook Group
It’s a FREE roller derby community created and sustained specifically for pregnant and post-partum roller derby athletes.
The goal is to provide a space for skaters to get evidence-based exercise and training advice to return to skating as quickly and safely as possible. Everyone’s journey is different but I promise that we can all get there.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS!