For slightly below six hours, all Sarah Elliott wanted to consider was the bat in her hand and the ball heading in direction of it.
An Australian enjoying towards England for the Women’s Ashes trophy, Elliott’s central focus had at all times been cricket, however now issues had modified.
It was August 2013 and Elliott had a nine-month-old child to take care of.
Now when she got here off the pitch for a break, she would take herself off to a quiet a part of the dressing room and breastfeed or specific milk for her son, Sam.
At the age of 31, Elliott was the one mom within the squad – and was additionally making historical past as the primary to tour with Australia.
“I sort of forgot – those poor young girls,” she says. “It was an education for them! They had no idea what expressing milk was, or anything to do with babies.
“The breast pump used to make a horrible noise, so I used to cover it underneath a towel however you might nonetheless hear this buzzing noise. I’d attempt to discover a quieter place however generally, with simply 20 minutes for tea, it wasn’t sensible.”
Pregnancy does not mean the end of an athlete’s career. It never should have, but it often did. Now, in the context of calls for women’s sport to become fully professional across the board, many no longer have to give up their sport to raise a family.
For a sport that once infamously described women playing as “absurd, identical to a person attempting to knit” – thank you, Len Hutton – cricket has grasped the concept of maternity support better than others. A number of national boards now have pregnancy policies designed to encourage players to return, and that has helped women to see motherhood in a different light.
Take Megan Schutt. The Australia pace bowler is one of the best in the world: a tall right-armer who can find swing where no-one else can. She was a 20-year-old in the dressing room when Elliott was juggling playing and raising Sam.
“She’d simply come off a century and bang, I flip round and she or he’s expressing,” laughs Schutt, now 28. “I used to be like: Oh crap! I used to be fairly younger, so I simply noticed a boob and began laughing, however I discovered such respect for her in that second.
“I already had respect for her because I could see how tired she was on some days, and I knew Sammy was keeping her up all night. I thought: my God, what a woman.”
Schutt and her spouse Jess mentioned having kids virtually as quickly as they had been married. As a same-sex couple, their choices had been restricted, and Schutt says she feared “not connecting with a child as much as the biological mother”.
Reciprocal IVF, the place one companion donates eggs for fertilisation and the opposite receives the embryo(s), was the “ultimate solution” for them. That is not to say it was a simple course of.
As a world cricketer, Schutt’s life will be dominated by coaching days and tour dates and a calendar that’s solely rising in its relentlessness. She and Jess first chosen the sperm, which was ordered from the United States. Then, in January, on a spur of the second, Schutt stated: “Screw it – let’s get it started.”
On the second day of her subsequent interval, Schutt started injecting a hormone that stimulates egg manufacturing, as soon as an evening. She did this for 4 days, earlier than upping it to twice-daily injections to cease any spontaneous ovulation.
“One needle is pretty easy and the other is not so pleasant, I’ll admit, and I thought I was pretty tough,” Schutt says.
“The second needle is a lot thicker and the liquid a lot more viscous, so you can feel it, basically, under the skin. That was a bit more of a mental barrier to get over.”
There had been every day blood checks as docs monitored how the eggs had been maturing, and a remaining injection 36 hours earlier than Schutt had an operation to take away them.
As any person who likes to do her analysis, she watched movies of how the process is finished. It was, she admits, not splendid preparation. The vaginal wall is pierced to take away every egg individually.
“I had 22 going in that I knew of, so I already knew in my head I was going to get stabbed 22 times,” she says. “I was like great, here we go…”
Schutt was given a normal anaesthetic, and docs informed her they might write the variety of eggs they retrieved on her hand, so she might see as quickly as she awoke. When she got here spherical, there was nothing on her proper hand. On her left, it learn 28.
“I was like: I’ve been stabbed at least 28 times,” she laughs. “Of the 28, there were 27 of quality – 27 is my favourite number, so that’s absolutely freakish – and they then inseminate them.
“After about 5 days, they rang up and informed us they managed to get 9 embryos, which is actually good. Then they had been frozen till the time to implant them into Jess.”
While Schutt expected she would have to rest after the surgery – not one of her strong suits, she says – she was not expecting to find recovery as difficult as she did.
“My ovaries had been fairly massive and I used to be in fairly a little bit of discomfort,” she says.
“I might say it is the identical because the ache of interval cramps, however with out the cramps; a continuing ache. After that, it was the pressure of lifting issues. I really like doing stuff round the home, and we would just lately moved, however even shifting packing containers and stuff was like: My God, I actually cannot do that.”
Her first training session back for South Australia was a high-speed running session.
“With each rep, I assumed I used to be going to vomit on the finish of it,” she says.
“I feel I’d kickstarted that cramp feeling and after each single rep, I used to be on my haunches like: That’s it, that is the one, I’m going to throw up. Then I’d return and slowly repeat the method.”
Bowling was easier, which surprised her, but she did not feel “100% recent” till three weeks after the surgical procedure.
In late May, Schutt announced she and Jess are expecting a baby girl – due in September.
If the pair decide to repeat the process for another child, Schutt plans to be the one who carries the baby, although she jokes: “I might watch Jess undergo being pregnant and simply determine: Nah, that is not for me!”
While she would not want to have a child while playing for Australia, Schutt is open to having one while still playing state cricket, largely thanks to Cricket Australia’s pregnancy policy.
In Australia, players with state, national or Big Bash contracts who give birth or adopt are given up to 12 months of paid parental leave, and are guaranteed a contract extension for the following year.
New Zealand Cricket’s similar policy meant batter Amy Satterthwaite, who gave birth to daughter Grace in January 2020, kept her central contract while pregnant and received her full annual retainer.
Pakistan recently introduced their own guidelines that give players up to 12 months of paid maternity leave and offers a transfer to a non-playing role until their leave begins.
The England and Wales Cricket Board outlined their maternity coverage when responding to a Daily Telegraph study in 2020. Female players are guaranteed their full salary for the first 13 weeks post-childbirth and 20 weeks at 90 per cent pay thereafter.
It is difficult to overstate how important these steps are; providing financial security and support both during pregnancy and after childbirth.
Dr Kirsty Elliott-Sale, associate professor at Nottingham Trent University, describes athletes who are mothers as “superstars” who must “be taught to adapt to important modifications”.
While no experience is universal, Dr Elliott-Sale found that weight retention and overall changes in body shape can be “fairly persistent”, and pelvic floor-related dysfunction can “usually be a long-term concern”.
Elliott was back in the gym two weeks after having Sam. She played her first game when he was six weeks old.
“Any mother or father has that juggle between work and parenting and I feel it is completely different if you’re the first caregiver, within the sense that you are the one feeding,” she says.
“It’s a bodily fatigue, with your physique recovering. That is an actual problem.”
In 2014, after Elliott had her second son, Jake, she did consider retiring. But with the Big Bash about to hold its first women’s tournament – it has since grown into the premier women’s T20 competition – she was offered the position of captain at Melbourne Renegades.
“The first couple of coaching classes of attempting to get again had been arduous, particularly the health ones,” she says.
“Those early runs, I used to be pondering: ‘What on Earth am I doing? Why am I out right here in any respect?’ But when you get across the group setting and the video games, it turns into a bit extra manageable.”
Six months after Jake was born, Elliott was on the pitch as captain.
“For positive, I wasn’t as switched on,” she says.
“I used to be a bit drained and my focus was torn between extra instructions. That part of it was arduous however I used to be rather well supported by my team-mates, teaching employees after which my household and my husband Rob.”
Western Storm spinner Claire Nicholas is currently pregnant with her second child. A full-time teacher, she was well supported by her team when she began the IVF process.
This summer, she was set to play for Welsh Fire in The Hundred’s inaugural season. She has had to give up that contract, but the team have made it clear she is in their future plans.
“I’ve needed to hearken to my physique much more,” she says. “I prefer to push myself however, if you’re rising one other human, you need to know when to cease, and that is taken some getting used to.”
All three women – Elliott, Schutt and Nicholas – have had different experiences, but they all agree that mothers returning to cricket are finally being better supported.
Nicholas points to the growing game across England and Wales. New contracts means more money, which means more financial support.
And Schutt admits that her own openness about IVF comes from wanting to help show younger team-mates that you can be a parent and a professional cricketer; that the support is there.
In a year like no other, the Big Bash took place entirely in Sydney in November 2020, with the players sharing a bio-secure bubble.
Satterthwaite and her wife, fellow New Zealand player Lea Tahuhu, were there, along with their baby daughter Grace. Schutt smiles as she remembers.
“It was stunning to look at,” she says.
“They had a set of fingers in each nook and there have been individuals providing to assist each two seconds. I do know it brightened up numerous the ladies’ days. You would come again and also you might need misplaced, or had a nasty day, and also you see little Gracie and that places issues into perspective.”
Elliott, too, found having Sam on the tour of England offered a different perspective. It stopped cricket consuming her.
Although she was tired – she was up four times in the night with him the day before batting in the Ashes Test – family were able to help and ultimately, Sam was there when his mum achieved one of the great Ashes centuries.
“Sam is eight and a half now and he would not bear in mind any of it,” Elliott says.
“But often he may see an image pop up or somebody will inform him they noticed an image of him as a child with his mum.
“I have a lot of fond memories – and he gets a bit of a buzz out of it too.”