More Female Athletes Are Standing Up Against Pregnancy Discrimination
Personally, I am not a fan of running during pregnancy. Heck, at this point, into my third trimester, I can barely manage a swift waddle. I mean, I'm trying, don't get me wrong: I'm hitting the gym as often as I can, but my efforts are laughable at best, and horrifying to small children at worst.
Regardless of my own personal ability to manage to run during pregnancy, however, I fully support those pregnant women who can–and do–manage to run, sprint, jump, play volleyball, slam tennis balls, and otherwise be generally amazing athletes–during their pregnancies. Which is why I've been closely following all of the stories of the brave pregnant athletes and mothers who have been speaking out against some of the largest athletic brands in the world. The point? These brands' messages of equality for all doesn't seem to apply to female athletes who have babies.
Who would have thought it, huh? Unfortunately, it doesn't come as a surprise to any woman who has ever had a baby.
Despite the message that motherhood is one of the most important things a woman can ever do and blah blah blah, the world still seems rather slow to fully embrace the realities of motherhood–namely that women actually need real time off to, you know, physically heal from growing and birthing an entire human being (or more) into the world. It's like having babies is all well and good as long as women don't impose on anyone else, ever, for their own selfish needs of needing foolish accommodations like surgery or medical treatment or–heaven forbid–a place to pump their own breasts to feed someone else.
And while women at all different levels in the workplace have experienced that reality, it's just now that we are hearing more about what that discrimination is like at the elite athlete level–and the eye-opening revelations from athletes who have had babies are downright sobering to hear.
The revelations boil down pretty simply to this: none of Nike's contracts have anything built-in about accommodating female athletes should they become pregnant. The contract stipulates that athletes undergoing extenuating physical situations may be given 6 months “off.” Which, obviously, is a tad problematic for pregnancy, considering it takes 9 months to grow a baby and a solid few months after that to recover, and then let's not even talk about breastfeeding.
So, basically, Nike athletes who became pregnant faced a situation of 1) competing while pregnant or 2) not disclosing their pregnancy and competing right after giving birth, running the risk of serious injury if they didn't want to lose out on their pay.
That gray area has led us to see many more pregnant athletes competing, or women coming back shortly after giving birth to compete again, and while at first glance, that looks cool and empowering to see, it's not as cool or empowering when you realize that these women may only be competing because they have no other choice because a giant company has decided to pretend that pregnancy doesn't actually happen to athletes. So, more women are speaking out against it, asking, at the very minimum, that Nike explain, outright and fully, in their contract what happens if an athlete gets pregnant. At the very least, an athlete should know what to expect if she's expecting, right?
If, by this point, you're wondering why you should even care what happens to these pregnant athletes, who, admittedly, probably make a lot more than us average Janes, the answer is pretty simple: it matters because motherhood matters. If we want to live in a world that fully embraces motherhood and careers, we have to be realistic about what that looks like on every playing field, from the office to the home to the Olympic track.
Pregnancy can happen and women shouldn't be punished because it happens or because they want to have a baby, and the more women that speak up about that, and the more that companies are forced to create policies and acknowledge the reality of employing women who can–and will–become pregnant, the more we will stop thinking of pregnancy as a problem that needs to be solved, instead of celebrating it as yet another amazing accomplishment that women are capable of.