I know that, as a pregnant person, one of the toughest psychological challenges is avoiding getting down on yourself. For some women it’s about their weight or “evolving” shape. For other women, it’s dealing with the way everything seems to “slip” (self-maintenance, home maintenance, marital maintenance). For me? The toughest part so far has been trying to balance my uber-competitive athleticism with the natural (and social?) limits that pregnancy places around your physical capabilities.
I’m actually so frustrated by this I could cry. And I did cry. But I could totally cry again. It’s wall-punchingly tough. And my partner, while my teammate and an impressive ballplayer, just can’t relate. Though he does support me and all of the decisions I’ve made.
What exactly is the big deal, you might ask? Well, for starters I want to keep being ME, even though I’m pregnant. And when I play softball, I’m one of the most aggressive athletes you can imagine. I taunt pitchers. I dip my shoulder and target wayward catchers. Yesterday I had a hot streak and I heard one of the infielders nervously ask another “where’s he hit it to?” The shortstop admitted “he can hit it anywhere — be ready.” Then he giggled and yelled, “Hey batter! Where you gunna hit it this time?” I smiled and yelled back arrogantly, “WHEREVER YOU AREN’T.” I then proceeded to hit it to a beautiful gap in left center, with nary a defender to be found. Was that the end of the exchange? [sigh] The nervous pregnant lady in me wishes. Instead, as I went around the bases, I was all about the chatter. Asking base person after base person if “they’d missed me” since the last time I’d gotten on.
Am I an asshole on the field? Yeah, probably. But this is my alter-ego. This is the fantasy I live out on the diamond and have continued to for nearly 25 years now. If I had to pick a religion, it’d be sports. And if I had to pick a method of worship? It’d be aggressive softball playing. It fills my spiritual cup in a very serious way. It’s no accident I met the love of my life on the softball field. And it’s no accident that I’m still playing in my second trimester, side by side with that same man. If my heart were a puppy, this would be her dog park. It runs wild and free here. Untethered and ecstatic.
I’ve now been playing pregnant for over two months. In that time I’ve dove, slid, dropped a shoulder to a third baseman, charged into second to break up a double play, taunted countless pitchers, infielders and base runners and argued with an umpire. I’ve also hit the ball harder and farther than I have in years, been a rock-solid infielder, and contributed to overall scoring with aggressive and decisive base-running.
I’ve said from day one that I’d stop playing if ever my game suffered because of my pregnancy. But if anything, I’m a better ballplayer this season. Which makes it really, really hard to tell myself I have to stop playing because I’m somehow endangering our fetus. Or because society gets too nervous watching a pregnant lady determinedly round third. I don’t want to feel guilty or slow down one bit. It feels so natural to me to play and to play pregnant. And I love being pregnant.
When it all boils down to it, I feel powerful in a really cool way. And my team is in awe of me. As well those boys should be. I feel like I’m teaching them an important lesson about what pregnant women really are and what we’re really capable of. A lesson I now know I’ll be able to share with my kid when he’s old enough to understand how badass women are and how insanely amazing the human body is. There’s also a satisfying lesson in it for me, too: I am as powerful and beautiful and strong as I’ve always thought I might be. There’s no place I’ve ever felt as powerful and beautiful and strong as I’ve felt while playing pregnant this season.
When Dan and I had our first appointment with our midwife, one of my first questions was, “Can I keep playing softball? And if so, for how long?” My midwife grinned and said I could play on — indefinitely. At the time I sorta laughed because I thought it showed her ignorance of the sport, thinking that I could contribute to our team’s offense OR defense with a 20 pound bowling ball strapped to my midsection. But it’s been a great comfort to me that she endorsed my playing.
At this point, I still feel like I’m doing the right thing. I’m being a healthy mama living an active lifestyle — and I’m being ME. So maybe the hard part isn’t that I find myself constantly having to reevaluate whether or not to continue playing, but that at some point it may not be within my control to make the decision. Honestly? This incredibly painful question tugs at my heart after every game now: Was THAT the last play of my career? And if I’m able to come back after my pregnancy, as I plan to, will I ever go three for four again? Have I played my last game with fire in my belly and bravado in my swing? Or simply played my last game?
The truth is that this pregnancy may mean I only miss 10 games and then I’m right back at it. But it has made me painfully aware of something I’d never considered before. The idea that my “career” will eventually end. My eyes opened. Now, part of me knows it’s coming, as it does for all of us. The last game. The last play. The last time I pack up my bag and hear an opponent walk up and say over my shoulder, “You’re better than most of the men in our league.”
Maybe it’s the not knowing that makes it so damn hard.