my journey back from the “nine month injury”

I’VE NEVER LIKED THE ROLLER DERBY TROPE “by day, by night” because it perpetuates the stereotype that women should compartmentalize facets of our identities in order to appeal to society’s standards of womanhood. So when I got pregnant, I thought to myself, “Whatever, nature! I’ll be back to myself in no time and keep doing it all!” Strong enough to bare the children, then get back to business. #Beyoncé

Going into my tenth season at Angel City and currently skating with a top ten WFTDA D1 team, it’s undeniable that becoming a mother hasn’t gotten in the way of my goals; it’s made me hungrier than ever to achieve them. But that’s not to say that it’s been easy. In fact, quitting often seemed like the best option. But my journey through pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond has led me to a new place of self-acceptance and success in ways I never thought could happen. 

Before I got pregnant in 2016 (why yes, it was at Rollercon), I felt like I was at the height of my derby career. I was a solid skater on our B team and a committed volunteer in league leadership as a member of steering, fundraising, training, WFTDA reps, you name it. While pregnant, I was on hiatus from derby while watching from the sidelines. I distinctly remember getting bigger and bigger, toddling on my skates that barely fit my swollen feet after gaining more than 45 pounds, and thinking to myself, “Wow! Derby looks so hard to do! I’ll never be able to do that again.” Many tearfilled hormonal evenings were spent watching live feeds while my husband assured me, “You can do it again. You will do it.” I thought he was full of shit, but appreciated the vote of confidence. 

I was lucky enough to have a healthy pregnancy, and after 27 hours of induced labor, a no-shame epidural, and a minor scare during the birth, my son was born perfectly healthy, alert, and happy. I struggled with postpartum depression over the next few months while embracing the birth of this “new” Shaggy. I felt absolutely insane and experienced an unimaginable level of sleep deprivation. If the experience of being a new mom was captured in a cocktail, it’d be called Sleepless Bliss with a Twist of Doom. When my doctor cleared me to exercise again at 6 weeks post-partum, I immediately took to the backyard to attempt a low-intensity HIIT workout (yes, I now see the irony and absurdity of that attempt). I couldn’t do a sit-up. I, a skater who trained three times a week with a notoriously fit league, who was affectionately referenced by fellow leagues with the phrase “no carbs, no mercy,” could not do one single sit-up. I felt mortified and defeated.

At four months postpartum, I was cleared for contact, and I attended my first practice the very next day. I was starting at the beginning again. I sobbed as I said goodbye to my little one who I’d been so attached to for so long, but I was excited to do something for me for the first time in over a year. I rolled around, warmed up, hockey stopped and legitimately thought my insides were going to fall out. And the pain. Oh, the pain. Hips, pelvis, joints, knees… Not to mention the extreme guilt I felt for leaving my exclusively breastfed infant at home.

In addition to the physical obstacles I was facing, I often found myself held back by the restrictive bureaucracy of league policies and a culture that made it increasingly difficult to juggle being a good mother and being a good teammate. No matter what I wanted to believe, I couldn’t be the skater I was before. I began to grieve the loss of who I was and who I wanted to be at Angel City. The leadership positions, the three-to-five-hour practices, the fundraisers, the team bonding sessions—I just couldn’t do it anymore, and that was a hard pill to swallow.

Growing up with a tough single mom in a culture that undervalues but overworks women, I was taught to never use the word “can’t,” that women should be able to do it all and never complain about it. But as a new mom, I had to learn to look at an obstacle or situation and be realistic with my boundaries and limitations. I sometimes had to admit to myself, “I just can’t today.” I was faced with the reality of my new body and the little human who depended on it.

Over the next year, I worked my way up the ranks at Angel City, on my terms and to the best of my abilities. I was always exhausted, but I had a newfound strength and endurance that was almost inexplicable. I also found myself celebrating the weight I had put on because it helped me block skaters I used to have trouble with.

When my son turned one, I decided to go back and finish cosmetology school, continue to run my casting company, take on another part-time job, and set a goal to make the Travel Team. I depended heavily (I still do) on the support of my partner, and I was (still am) running on very little sleep to get it all done. The communal support of other derby moms is also worth noting as the encouragement that comes from those who’ve been where I am is priceless.

Being a Travel Team skater is a huge commitment in and of itself. The time, energy, physicality, and financial obligations made my life exceptionally more complicated, rewarding, and, oftentimes, ridiculous. As a breastfeeding mom, I was in a committed relationship with my breast pump. Waking up every few hours throughout the night to keep the supply up, pumping while gearing up for games, breasts out in pregame huddles and again at halftime, storing my milk in our ice pack freezer at the warehouse… I don’t miss those days, but at the same time, I do. It was, however, difficult. I found myself in the minority—often working twice as hard to achieve marginally less in a system that’s not conducive to people who have lives that make derby difficult. I was among the privileged (and still am in most ways), often not understanding of skaters who couldn’t travel to tournaments, or were too tired to make it to practice, or had real boundaries to playing to their potential. I think our league, and the derby community as a whole, has work to do to make our sport more accessible to skaters who are forgotten when they in fact have so much to offer in high-level play.

The thing I was most scared of ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me: learning that I wasn’t trying to get back to who I was. I never did get back to the skater I was before I had my son. Being a mom brought out my strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerability—and thus, my courage. I’ve accepted that I’m a new person completely, and that freedom continues to open up new doors that weren’t even there before, and that validation and hope continues to drive me.

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