Shaunagh Brown column: Deciding to have a baby would end my rugby career


Place: Waitakere Stadium, Auckland Date: October 30, Sunday Start: 01:30 BST
Coverage: Listen to BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

A couple of seasons ago, Harlequins men won their first Premiership title for nine years. After the match, there were many children on the field celebrating with their fathers.

As I watched the beautiful scene, I thought that if my team – Harlequins Women – won the Premier 15 final a couple of weeks later, nobody’s children would be on the pitch.

Why? Because no one had.

I’m currently with England at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and we have a mum in our team – Marlie Packer.

Marlie didn’t give birth to a son and as a woman in rugby, getting pregnant towards the end of your career is normal.

I recently got engaged and I’ve known for a long time that I want children, but this will be a big decision for me.

It’s a big decision for anyone, but when I decide the time is right for me to have kids, I’ll also decide my rugby career is over.

I am 32 years old now. You must stop playing contact rugby as soon as you become pregnant so that you are out of action for at least nine months.

Then you add that it would take time for me to come back and trying to get back to the top level of rugby at that age doesn’t seem like a realistic goal.

People often forget that elite athletes are also human beings with the same life decisions that other people have to make. That’s why I want to talk about this now.

“Athletes must carefully plan children”

Family is an important part of my life. I live with my mother and my siblings come and go with their children all the time.

I grew up without my father and that always made me feel like I didn’t necessarily need a partner or children.

That changed about eight years ago. I was a hammer thrower and spent two months training with my family in California in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

It was a mother, father and two children and I saw how beautiful that family unit was and decided that I would like to have that at some point in my life.

I am now engaged to my partner Benjii and I want to have children. We have to decide when that happens.

As a women’s rugby player, I feel that if you want to give birth, everything needs to be planned in detail.

There are people who have done it. Les Elder from New Zealand and Worcester’s Deborah Fleming is a recent example.

If I did, I think I would have to plan so carefully that I’m almost turning my baby into a spreadsheet, a project.

You would come back from a big competition like the Six Nations or the World Cup. The child should be born within a specific period of time.

If it didn’t happen, what? Are you waiting for another whole World Cup cycle? It’s not easy. You have to plan exactly and it’s not necessarily how you want to raise a family, but it has to be as an athlete.

The unpredictability of Covid didn’t help matters either. The World Cup we are currently playing was delayed by a year which means it is only three years until the next one, which has a big impact on such decisions.

“We are not just little men, we have different needs”

Although maternity in rugby is not the norm at the moment, I hope that these options will become easier for players in the future.

The conversation about motherhood in sport is growing and our governing body – the Rugby Football Union – is bringing in a new policy that will offer us much more support as England players.

The players have been consulted because there is a lot to think about. For example: breastfeeding.

If you can’t take your baby to exercise, should you stop breastfeeding? It’s about bringing a little more humanity to elite sport.

We are women. We are different. We are not just little men. We have different needs.

Good maternity policies make you feel like you’re a woman in rugby.

Fortunately, with the right help, it doesn’t have to be possible to get pregnant and continue your career.

I hope the policy will initiate changes in the game, domestically and internationally.

“We have to make these choices like everyone else”

Another improvement I would like to see is more research and information on how to return to sport after giving birth.

It’s not something I know much about and that makes me think there should be more ways to acquire that knowledge.

For example, what if women’s sports teams were offered information sessions where, if pregnancy is something a player is considering, the effects it might have on their body and how long it would take them to come back?

I’ve heard from other players who have given birth that they went the way their body felt at the time, and that’s important, but what if that journey is also supported by scientific evidence? I would feel a lot safer with that help.

I am by no means an expert on this, but I wanted to share my personal experience with this decision.

Yes, we are currently in the World Cup and the focus of all England players is on the quarter-final against Australia this Sunday.

But we are people too and we have to make these big life choices just like everyone else.

Shaunagh Brown was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.