It’s the early evening and I’m cramped inside an airplane bathroom trying to pump breast milk into a bottle with one hand while the other attempts to hold my 10 month old daughter standing on the changing table.
She keeps tossing pieces of tissue paper, laughing into the small paper cups, and trying to kiss herself in the mirror. Passengers won’t stop knocking and I can only image the flight attendants reaction if they had to open the door to see me and my daughter in our own little circus. I check my watch and cringe…I’m only 7 hours into a 15 hour flight to Israel for a game against Serbia and I’m already exhausted. I keep reminding myself “I just have to get through this flight”.
This isn’t the first time I’ve flown with my daughter, in fact she’s flown with me to all the games since I’ve returned to playing. But this time she’s already walking and the airline graciously informed me at the gate that someone had paid and extra 250$ to take my bassinet seat, so now, I’m holding her on my lap the entire flight. A once relaxing flight to games has turned into walking up and down the plane aisles saying hi and bye to every row of passengers until my legs go numb. All I can think is How is this tiny human not tired yet?? Once we touch down in Israel I grab the stroller, car seat, car base, luggage, and strap my daughter to my chest. Tel Aviv here we come.
Being a mom and a professional player isn’t always easy, actually it’s mostly not easy, but I knew this going in. I play for Israel, a small country with an even smaller budget for women’s football. I don’t have a private nanny, nor a sponsorship, nor a big salary (or even a little one). I’m with my daughter every minute of every day, from trainings to games to coaching…she’s there. I’m not a famous player domestically or internationally and I won’t be remembered (if even at all) for any big wins in my career, so why do I do this?
When I was growing up playing sports I didn’t have a strong female role model. There wasn’t anyone around me who told me I could play sports, have a family, go to school, and play into my mid-thirties. There were players out there, I just didn’t know who they were until much later in life. This is an important point because while there are hundreds of incredible and inspiring stories in women’s sports we often don’t hear about them because of its lack of exposure. When I had my daughter I felt strongly that I wanted to be her first example of strength, confidence, and possibility. I don’t want her to spend half her life missing out on dreams she didn’t know even existed.
I’m not the first player in the world to have a baby and then continue with their national team and I certainly won’t be the last. But I’m lucky to have a coaching staff that is flexible and creative enough to make it work. My husband and I live in Los Angeles, which means both of our families live elsewhere. We don’t have grandma and grandpa for babysitting and we can’t afford to hire a nanny. This means my daughter travels with me instead. As difficult as it’s been, it’s still a blessing she spent her first year not only growing up on the field but surrounded by an entire team of strong women. When I needed someone last minute to watch her during training, girls who were injured helped. When I got a babysitter for camp and he cancelled an hour before, the physical therapist entertained her on the sideline. I can’t imagine another national coach allowing an infant to sit in on pregame talks so I could feed her at the same time. I’ve always been proud to wear my national jersey but after my daughter it became a different kind of pride. I am proud to play for my teammates who give my daughter so much love, I am proud to play for coaches who help navigate balancing being a mother and a professional player, and proud my daughter is growing up in an environment with such great role models. We are a tiny team with a huge heart.
But a big heart isn’t always present in other football federations. With an increase in girls in sports it’s important to address the issue of family and sports careers. Not all players want kids and not all players want to play after kids but there are players who feel conflicted about when to take a break from their playing to start their families. It’s important to have open discussions with those who feel anxiety around having a family and being a sportswoman. We aren’t all Serena Williams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make realistic adjustments and return to play. When we close the door on athletes being mothers we close the door on future generations of players too.