Olympic moms gotta stick together

Olympic moms gotta stick together

To Melissa Bishop-Nriagu: You can come back to perform at a high level

By Meaghan Mikkelson for CBC Sports
July 6, 2018

Dear Melissa,

I don’t know you very well, but as I heard the news that you were expecting your first baby and planning to make a comeback to your sport, and being that we are both part of the same Olympic family, I thought it was important that I reach out to you.

Though each pregnancy is different, I can certainly relate to what you are going through and what you are about to go through. After giving birth to my son Calder in September 2015, I made a comeback to my sport, hockey, and achieved my goal of representing Canada at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, when my son was 2½ years old.


Not unlike your situation: your child will be just over two years old when you hope to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Going into my pregnancy, delivery, and comeback attempt, I was struggling with the uncertainties of what the coming months would bring. How would my delivery go? Would it affect how quickly I could come back? Was I being selfish in continuing to pursue my career while being a first-time mom? Was I going to be a good mom? How was I going to breastfeed while training at such an intense level?


The questions were endless.

Time answers these questions, and you figure it out as you go. What I wish I would have known is not only how challenging it was going to be, but that it would be the most wonderful and rewarding experience of my entire life.

Here is what I learned and want you to know as you embark on this journey.


Unspoken challenges

If you asked my teammates how my comeback went, most of them would probably say that I was incredible, and that I balanced and handled everything really well.

As Meaghan Mikkelson knows, balancing a hockey career with raising a child presents challenges. (Submitted by Meaghan Mikkelson) As Meaghan Mikkelson knows, balancing a hockey career with raising a child presents challenges. (Submitted by Meaghan Mikkelson)

I was back on the ice, playing a high-speed, full contact sport just three months after having my son, and I was back on the world stage at the 2016 IIHF world women’s championships only three months after that. I even had my shit together enough to be named assistant captain of that team.

On the outside, everything looked great. On the inside, I was struggling. As elite athletes, we put high expectations on ourselves. I thought that I could handle it all. I will say that I handled it well enough to make it appear as though all was well. But parts of me broke. From childbirth throughout the six months leading up to worlds, I was in the zone. I pushed hard. That’s what we do as athletes.

After the world championships, I crashed. I came out of the zone and into the reality that I was struggling with post-partum depression and anxiety. Prior to that, I was so focused on being the best mom and making a comeback, and proving myself to the world, that I neglected to take care of myself. Physically, I was diligent.

I trained, practised, played games, went to physio, stayed healthy, ate well, slept when baby slept, and physically I felt stronger than ever. But somewhere along the line, I stopped looking after my mental health and well-being. I rarely took the time to step back and be kind to myself.

In my own defense, no one warned me about the likelihood of experiencing post-partum depression, which affects approximately one in seven women. It isn’t a topic that is openly discussed.


Even though the stigma around mental health is slowly lifting, post-partum depression, anxiety, and OCD are still not talked about often enough. Why this is, I am not sure. But I wish someone had warned me.


Your goals take on new meaning

Another area where we excel as athletes is in setting goals and reaching them. Aside from making a comeback, my goal was to breastfeed my son until he was one year old. Seems simple, right? Wrong! 

While difficult, nursing baby Calder improved with time. (Submitted by Meaghan Mikkelson) While difficult, nursing baby Calder improved with time. (Submitted by Meaghan Mikkelson)

For some, breastfeeding comes easy and naturally. Personally, breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. Again, no one told me it would be so hard. No one. Throw a busy training and travel schedule into the mix alongside the physical demands of high-performance athletics and it becomes that much harder.

I remember sprinting into the dressing room between periods, whipping off my jersey and shoulder pads so I could pump quickly before heading back out onto the ice to finish the game, or timing training sessions around when I needed to nurse or pump. It was hard, really hard, but it was worth it when I hit that one-year mark, breast pump in tow.

Being a mom also means being pulled and tugged and depended on more than ever by this new little human. Training and competing and life will be even more hectic, you will be even more exhausted, but you will become an expert in prioritizing and schedule management. You will be envious of your teammates who got a full night’s sleep when you had only a few hours because you were up nursing or baby was teething.


You still have to complete the same training regime that they do. You go back to baby, and they go to a movie, dinner and drinks, or any sort of social life for that matter. I felt all of that, but in the end, I wouldn’t trade for the world.


Supermom strength

No one told me about the great things that come with having a child and competing either.
I was surprised by the massive increase in blood volume in my system and the surge of hormones that gave me endless aerobic capacity and what I like to call supermom strength.

After having my son, I achieved the highest aerobic, anaerobic, and strength testing results of my entire career. I was fitter, faster, and stronger than ever. Take that boost and literally run with it. In addition to the strength that comes from those awesome hormones, there is also the constant strength that your child gives you, just by being.

I remember having tough and off-days of training, leaving the rink discouraged, having pulled a groin again or lost a game, but then coming home and looking at my little boy, and instantaneously feeling like everything was going to be OK, that I could accomplish anything, and that we were in it together, without even saying a word. My son is a constant source of strength and perspective, and I have no doubt that your child will be the same for you. More supermom strength.


You will bounce back, and you will bounce back quickly; that’s another benefit of having a baby mid-athletic career, and having a fit and healthy pregnancy. I gained 32 pounds over the course of those nine months, and 27 of them were gone within two weeks.


Hearing mommy, mommy!

Nothing in the world compares to looking up in the stands after a game, and seeing my husband and son, my little family, there to support me

Husband, Scott, right, and Calder were big supporters of Mikkelson at the Olympics. (Submitted by Meaghan Mikkelson) Husband, Scott, right, and Calder were big supporters of Mikkelson at the Olympics. (Submitted by Meaghan Mikkelson)

After we lost to the U.S. in a shootout at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, I did what I did after every game, I went to find where my husband and son were sitting, so that I could wave to them. I will never forget that moment, while feeling the utter heartbreak of losing to our rivals in the gold-medal game at the Olympics, there was my son, waving frantically and smiling at me, saying “mommy, mommy!” just as happy as can be.

It was a massive dose of perspective slapping me across the face, and it greatly lessened the blow of losing. It made me appreciate where I was and what I was doing; I had just won a silver medal for my country at my third Olympics with my 2-½ year old son and husband sitting in the stands in South Korea. And in that moment, though I had a silver medal around my neck and not the gold we had set out to achieve, I have never, ever in my life felt more proud.


Indescribable joy

That indescribable joy, pride, and love that you feel when you see your child and husband in the stands will make it all more than worth it. Your journey will have its ups and downs, and while you will face them, be sure to take time to be kind to yourself.

As fellow Olympian and mom, I could not be more excited for you and proud, in a sense, to call you a teammate. I will be following and cheering, and wish you the best of luck on your Olympic “momback.”

As I sit here, now expecting my second child and making plans for a second comeback, please know that you are an inspiration to me and so many others. You’ve got this.

(Large top photo by Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press; Second large photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images; Third large photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

The Meaghan Mikkelson edition

Q: The best book you've ever read? 
A: Open by Andre Agassi.

Q: Must-listen Podcast? 
A: Truthfully, I don't listen to podcasts! I don't have a long commute anywhere I drive and my schedule is so full that I haven't gotten into them. I am behind the times, I know!

Q: Best advice you ever received? 
A: Work to the point where, looking back, succeed or fall short, you have no regrets.

Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called? 
A: Up, down, all around.

Q: What word or phrase do you overuse? 
A: Calder no!

Q: What is a skill you wish you had? 
A: I wish I could sing.

Q: What's something no one would guess about you? 
A: I love to write.

Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite? 
A: Oprah, Pope Francis, Warren Buffet, Tom Brady, Nicole Kidman, Satya Nadella.

Q: What makes you cry, every time? 
A: Commemorative videos from the Olympics.

Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish? 
A: After having our second child in January 2019, make a second comeback to Team Canada.

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