A birthday message for turbulent times

A birthday message for turbulent times

I often wondered if some people valued me less because of the colour of my skin. I hope your reality will be different.

By Karina LeBlanc for CBC Sports
July 19, 2020

Paris. City of Lights. City of love.

City where you were conceived.

Paris is the name we have chosen for you, our beloved daughter. A name that invokes great things for you and your future.

Before telling you this story, I want you to know that even though you are still a little girl, you already impress us with your calmness and your ability to adapt, no matter the circumstances. Since you were born 16 weeks ago, you have gone through a pandemic, separation from me, and now you live in the midst of a worldwide revolt against racism that still rages in 2020. You are too young to understand what is happening in this moment, but with this letter, I hope that you will one day see that it is with love and mutual respect that we can change the world, not with hatred or ignorance.

You were born into chaos after a difficult pregnancy and a painful birth. The world we knew a year ago no longer exists. COVID-19 changed our lives.  It even separated me from you for more than two weeks, my worst nightmare. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain what those two weeks were like for me, but it changed my perspective on things. You added to the reason why I want to be alive and do things on this earth. You became my WHY. I remember one thing John Herdman, our coach, said to me after we won bronze at the London 2012 Olympics.

Christine Sinclair, left, and Karina LeBlanc on their way home from  London 2012 Olympics. Image courtesy:  CP/ Darryl Dyck Christine Sinclair, left, and Karina LeBlanc on their way home from London 2012 Olympics. Image courtesy: CP/ Darryl Dyck

"If you think your purpose on this earth is to kick a soccer ball for Canada, then I have failed you.” 

At the time, I had been the goalkeeper for the Canadian team for 14 years. I looked at him, puzzled. "Playing soccer for our country is my life’s goal, my reason for being. What do you mean?"   What he said next challenged me.

"You are here to do more. Your purpose is bigger than this game, and you have to find your purpose and truly live it."


From that moment on, I realized that I wanted to be involved in paving the way for women beyond soccer.
Before you, Paris, I saw myself changing the world. I am a ambassador and speaker for UNICEF.  I have participated in United Nations events.  I am proud to be an honorary captain in our Canadian navy. I love my job as Head of Women’s Football for Concacaf.

I have tried to contribute in my own special way. But now that I have you, my WHY has a deeper and more personal meaning. I want to help make the world a better place, for you.

LeBlanc at opening of Diversity House, a community center for ethnic and sexual minorities among football fans during 2018 FIFA World Cup, in Moscow.  REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva LeBlanc at opening of Diversity House, a community center for ethnic and sexual minorities among football fans during 2018 FIFA World Cup, in Moscow. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

"Jason! Jason! I ... can't ... can't ... brea ....breathe! "

You were only six days old. I woke in the middle of the night, panicked. My gasping woke your dad. I could hardly breathe. Jason said "OK. Sit up. Try to Calm down.”  We tried to figure out what was going on.  Since we returned home after giving birth, I was worried because I did not feel well.  Short of breath.  Out of breath. My hands and legs were swollen.  People said: "Oh, that's normal, you just gave birth. "

But when you are an athlete, you really know your body. I had been a goalkeeper for the Canadian soccer team through two Olympic Games, and five World Cups. I knew my body well enough to know something was wrong. I was worried.

I remembered reading an article about Serena Williams and her delivery. She literally saved her own life by listening to the signals her body was sending. Her story reminded me of my own.  Swelling caused by blood clots.
We called our doctor who said she would have a specialist contact me. I didn’t want to return to the hospital, because since giving birth, things had gotten very bad with cases of COVID 19 hitting the Bahamas. The entire country was on lockdown. You needed an official letter for permission to be on the street.  As soon as I could describe my symptoms to the specialist, he very calmly said, "Karina, I strongly recommend that you get to the hospital as soon as possible. Get in the car, now.”  I froze. I went from a state of "OK, I think something is wrong", to total panic.


I was still in respiratory distress and managing the emotions brought on by hormones after birth. My brain raced: "Is this the end? Has my time come?”

The journey to the hospital took 25 minutes. We drove at full speed through deserted streets. It was like a movie. I was sitting next to you in the back of the car and you were holding my finger very tightly in your little hand. Such a precious gesture. I was crying, tears streaming down my face. The more I cried, the more I ran out of breath. It was terrifying. Dad said comforting things to me while he drove. I couldn't calm down. I wondered if I was going to get to see you grow up, or if I was going to die.

I am a very spiritual person, so I called our pastor. I needed him to pray for us and to calm us down, which worked. When I got to the hospital, COVID -19 measures allowed only the patient to enter. I looked back at you in dad's arms in the parking lot ... suddenly I felt terribly alone.

They gave me a CT scan. Entering that big donut-shaped machine only increased my anxiety. I started to have dark thoughts: "This could be it. This is what my last breath would feel like”. The specialists said "Ma’am we're going to do this exam as fast as possible. But you absolutely must be still and endure it. "

The diagnosis came quickly after the test: I had fluid on my lungs.  Basically, my body hadn't registered that I had already given birth, so my heart continued to pump blood for both of us. My blood pressure was through the roof. They call this "pleural effusion caused by heart failure". It was terrifying.

For four hours, you waited for me in the car. You did not cry once. Your dad said it was thanks to you that he managed to keep his cool.

Then I was told that I had to stay under observation for a few days. With COVID-19, that meant no visitors.


During my three days in the hospital, I pumped your milk. To protect you and dad from exposure to the virus, our neighbors Stacy and Dwight picked up your milk and brought it back to dad so you could be fed. They truly were angels on earth!
The Doctors told me I could go home the next day. I was going to see my family and get you back in my arms. It felt like Christmas eve! I woke up with a happy heart.  Moments later, the doctor called. 

“I have good news and bad news. The good news is I'm going to make sure you get to leave because with your current health issues, you are at high risk if you contract COVID-19. The bad news is, I have to recommend that you quarantine alone for 14 days because there have been COVID cases from the E-R. "  I learned later that one of the people who contracted the disease in that room was a doctor. He died a few days later. My prayers go out to his family.

It all seemed unreal. I felt so sad and confused. It was no longer Christmas in my head. I facetimed Jason. "You can't come get me. I can’t be around you two for 14 days” It was both heartbreaking and touching. He had put you in a pretty dress to come get me. Again, Stacy and Dwight came to the rescue. They arrived immediately, putting their lives in danger once again. I will be forever grateful for what they have done for us. During the trip home, I tried to stay strong, pretending that I was ok.

My emotions got the best of me when I got home. You and daddy were waiting in the yard. He was wearing a mask and gloves, and he had you covered to protect you. I had to walk alone to the back of the house, to the room where I was going to spend the next two weeks alone, without you. At that moment, I heard you cry, and I burst into tears. It was hard because I had to try to keep my blood pressure low or else I would return to the ER. I couldn't even let go, I had to control my emotions. And I had this fear of having caught COVID-19.

I had just given birth and I was afraid of dying. I don't wish that on anyone.

The 14 days were endless.

I cried a lot, even though I shouldn't have. In a moment of distress, I called for help in a video. I asked people to pray for us. I needed to feel surrounded by support,  like when I was on a team. I was used to facing pitfalls alongside my teammates.


Finding courage for her and our family in my faith and with all your prayers and positive words. Thank you to everyone. You are all giving us strength. Please keep helping and being of service to one another during this time of uncertainty. “Walk by faith and not by sight”

Posted by Karina LeBlanc - KK on Monday, April 6, 2020



The next day your dad knocked on my door and said, "Don't go on your social media. It may be bad for your blood pressure. It’s crazy. Your video has been viewed by more than 140,000 people in less than 24 hours. "

Even though I needed to contain my emotions, I decided to look ... The thousands of messages of encouragement helped me. We did a zoom call with my former teammates who remain close friends. We needed to not talk about the situation because it made me too emotional.  Let's say, not everyone got the message.  One of them ,who lives in China, came late to the conversation. The first thing she asked was, "Where's the baby? Why are we talking about anything other than Paris?”  We all laughed so hard. Some things never change. I loved every moment of it. My team will always be my family.

Moments like those got me through the 14 solitary days.


Your dad caught the first moments of our reunion on video. When you see it, Paris, you will understand that at this precise moment, I fell in love with you and your dad again in a completely different way. This love has a power that I never thought possible.


Reunited & it feels so good.... 14 LONG days later & I finally got to hold my 3.5 wk old daughter Paris, and my husband. A Heavenly feeling. To my hubby, you did such a great job doing this on your own! I ❤️ you. Thank you everyone for your



I have told you a lot about myself. But I also need to tell you about your dad, Jason Mathot.

LeBlanc: LeBlanc: " I also need to tell you about your dad, Jason Mathot." Image submitted by Karina LeBlanc.

In everything that has happened to us, I never doubted for a moment that he would be up to the task. In addition to feeding you, rocking you, changing your diapers and sleeping on the couch in your room, so to be near you at all times, your dad prepared all my meals with healthy ingredients to help me recover. He washed and sanitized every plate and utensil to make sure, if I had COVID-19, you wouldn't catch it. 

He was my first boyfriend when I was 16 years old. Our paths separated for a while because of sport and school, but we got back together and finally get married in 2016. It has been over 23 years that we have known each other.  Your dad is my best friend. When he tried to convince me that we should get back together, he said a beautiful thing: "You are afraid of being back with me because you think I will clip your wings. But it is the opposite. I want you to be the woman you are meant to be on this earth. I want to be your wings, to help you fly”

This is what we want to do for you too, Paris.

We did a photo shoot when I was pregnant. We were on the beach on a wonderful sunny day. When I saw the photos, I was mortified. I called the photographer and said, "I don't know what people usually do with these photos, but you have to retouch these right away." I was used to having an athletic body, and there was no way I would post these pictures of myself in this state.

LeBlanc struggled to embrace  photos of her pregnant body. Image courtesy Tristan Barrocks LeBlanc struggled to embrace photos of her pregnant body. Image courtesy Tristan Barrocks

Jason said that was ridiculous. He reminded me of my natural beauty. How beautiful I was! He helped me become aware of the values I want to pass on to you.

Paris, I want you to be confident. I want you to know that you are beautiful, regardless of your physique, that you should never judge your beauty by society’s standards. Beauty starts with who you are on the inside and how you treat others.

LeBlanc: LeBlanc: " I received tons of messages from women who felt inspired by my photos" Image courtesy: Tristan Barrocks

For you, Paris, I chose not to edit the photos. I hesitated for a long time before posting them. But I did it for you, and without knowing it, for others too.  I received tons of messages from women who felt inspired by my photos. Some even shared photos of themselves which they had kept hidden until then.

As you grow up, you will see that the world can be tough. The pandemic, the economy, the environment, racism ... this is a unique time to enter the world.

You already are unique but one thing I want you to be proud of is the colour of your skin. You were born to a white father and a black mother. We don't know yet whether your skin will be light or dark and because of that I must speak about this. I shouldn't even have to address this issue, but I have no choice. Recently in the United States, George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer in front of witnesses and three other police officers who stood by. One person filmed the entire scene. The whole world revolted against the racism that persists, even in 2020. How this will change the world is yet to be known, but I want you to know you are beautiful just the way you are. Never let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel less than.

Unfortunately, Paris, not everyone has equal rights and opportunities. Your father and I have different backgrounds and life experiences. As a black woman, life forced me to ask questions about my identity. I often wondered if some people valued me less because of the color of my skin. I hope your reality will be different when you grow up.

We will talk to you about these issues one day. I am still figuring out my voice in this. It has brought up some hurtful moments of my life. When I hold you now, I ask myself “What am I willing to do in this world to make it better for you”? The answer is: “Everything”. What matters is, we will be there together, your father and I, to help you understand this world and make it better. In these moments of racial pain and tension, we must all stand up and act so that our futures are better.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. If people judge you, never let their judgment define you.

As I told you at the start of this story, you were conceived in Paris, during the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2019. I worked for the American network Fox on both the daily live television program and the digital program I co-hosted on Twitter.

For 45 days, Jason and I lived a dream life in Paris. Our love became more solid and we fell in love with the City of Lights, which was then the scene of a game-changing event for women's sport. This World Cup was one of the most-watched female sporting events in history. Billions tuned in. We saw women become leaders and use their voices to impact events on and off the field. We saw the whole world pay attention.

Paris, being a woman, and of mixed race, does not mean the same thing everywhere. In 2020, we still have to fight for our rights. As parents, we want you to understand that no matter what you do, you can be a catalyst for change, like the women on the pitch last summer. I hope the World Cup was a turning point for women in sport, but also for young girls who will understand that they can become whoever they want.

As a soccer player, I always wanted to inspire the next generation.  That goal remains. Since August 2018, I have been the Head of Women's Football for CONCACAF.  There are 41 countries in this confederation,  and I am trying to help them pave the way for young women in soccer.

We chose the name Paris for you because you were conceived in a city of love by parents who are in love. Your father and I have traveled the world together, and this is our favourite city. Paris is where the world got to see the strength, courage and power women have when they can do what they love doing. Paris kicked off the biggest and best Women’s World Cup so far.  We believe you have that in you. You have greatness in you.

Paris sporting her first Canada jersey. Image submitted by Karina LeBlanc. Paris sporting her first Canada jersey. Image submitted by Karina LeBlanc.

When you were born, Paris, by chance, Bob Marley’s  ‘Three Little Birds’ started playing… The lyrics speak for themselves.

Don't worry about a thing 'cause every little thing gonna be alright…

Don't worry, Paris. Everything will be alright. I love you.


This essay is translated from the French language original, published by Radio-Canada.

photo credits: Top large Image by Tristan Barrocks

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