Much to Andrea Mrozek’s — and many others’ — dismay, female athletes who are pregnant are considered injured. Photo from Facebook/The Pregnant Athlete

Why there’s no ‘I’ in pregnancy

By  Andrea Mrozek
  • January 23, 2022

Pregnancy. An injury? Run-of-the-mill event? Special circumstance? Choice? A recent report in the National Post highlighted the indignation of Olympic athletes in learning that pregnancy is often categorized by the I-word — “injury” — in their contracts.

“It’s not an injury, it’s a decision that’s made,” Canadian field hockey player Kate Gillis said. 

Fair enough. As a decidedly non-elite sports enthusiast, I’d still hate to see my various sports injuries made equal with gestating a new soul. Yet the article reveals a bigger problem we have with the basics of addressing pregnancy and childbearing in policy. We don’t have a category for it. We struggle with how to make special arrangements around it, and frankly, whether to do so at all. Pregnancy and childbearing are confusing propositions today.

This becomes clear in many different corners. An opposing view to pregnancy-as-injury is pregnancy-as-invisible. Whether it’s a dear friend who sang opera on stage two days after giving birth, or New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was back to work in weeks, not months, these Super Women lead the rest of us to believe pregnancy is easy peasy lemon squeezy. For some women it is, of course. I wasn’t one of them. In the latter stages of pregnancy I found it difficult to shuffle to the bus stop. This alone quickly ruled out the possibility of running my own household, let alone a country.

If I were running a country (which clearly I’m not) I’d aim to tackle maternity benefits delivered via unemployment insurance, as if giving birth were a routine part of losing a job. Ironically, benefits delivered in this way also cement ideas about a return to work in the government’s chosen timeframe, not yours. Why is a year-long maternity leave standard? Because the government made it so. Is there no middle ground? In an earlier era, women who got pregnant were immediately let go. Now we have “golden handcuffs” and we return to routine waged work quickly. Pumping breast milk in a closet is sometimes not possible, sometimes not desirable. There are reasons why some European countries offer three years leave. 

It is harder and harder for adolescents to move into adulthood, including the formation of families of their own. The average age at first marriage is rising, now 31 for men, almost 30 for women. Difficulties getting married delay childbearing too, which means women by default, not necessarily choice, cannot have as many children as they might like. When you have your first child at 43, the likelihood of having more is slim to none. 

This hints at another problem we have with pregnancy and children, treating it as something that inhibits real life rather than contributes to it. So many young people are waiting to start a family until they have solidified other aspects of working life. This makes it little surprise that Canada’s fertility rate fell in 2020 to an all-time low of 1.4. (Replacement fertility for a country is 2.1 births per woman.) Having fewer children normalizes never seeing children and not knowing what to do with pregnancy and childbirth. It’s a vicious cycle. 

I could go on and on about the problems — after all, I haven’t even mentioned feminism, the Pill or abortion yet. Yet for better or worse, it’s into this messy, confusing environment that we hear Pope Francis say having a pet is selfish. Except he didn’t quite say that at all. Rather, he said that all too often we claim to not have room in our homes for orphans, whilst simultaneously having two dogs and two cats. It was a bit more of a lighthearted remark in a homily dedicated to highlighting that no child should grow up parentless. 

The problem I have with the pontiff’s remarks is not that he is incorrect but that there is virtually no audience for his words. The media response, replete with a newly created pet owners guild defensively arguing that having a pet is very meaningful indeed, may only prove this point. For calls to defend orphans to fall on fertile ground, pardon the pun, we need to have a media that actually values marriage, family and children in the context of an ongoing robust discussion of what it means to normalize marriage, family, kids and their care.   

And that, ultimately, is what I view as the real and, unfortunately, far bigger conundrum than how to treat Olympic female athletes who get pregnant. Until we gain a shared vocabulary for understanding mothers, fathers, marriage and families, until children are so ubiquitous that finding workable solutions is unavoidable, we will continue to find tired administrators filing pregnancy under “I” for Injury, much to our dismay.

(Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

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