The happy pile: Megan Schutt (right) with wife Jess and their baby, Rylee
The happy pile: Megan Schutt (right) with wife Jess and their baby, Rylee
Female players who chose to have children effectively had to give up their playing careers. That is changing, but there's still a long way to go
Amy Satterthwaite knew it could be a point of no-return. The New Zealand captain was pushing 33 when she got pregnant in 2019 with her first child.
"There is a chance that you won't be able to come back," Satterthwaite, whose wife is team-mate Lea Tahuhu, remembers. "You don't know how your body's going to react and all those sorts of things." Pregnancy at that point was also likely to rule her out of the T20 World Cup in February-March 2020.
There are as many as eight mothers playing in the 12th Women's ODI World Cup, in New Zealand: Satterthwaite and Tahuhu, Megan Schutt and Rachael Haynes of Australia, Lizelle Lee and Masabata Klaas (South Africa), Bismah Maroof (Pakistan), and Afy Fletcher (West Indies). A men's international starting XI alone often figures more players who are fathers, so on paper, eight cricketers who are mothers featuring in a global event may not seem unusual on the face of it.
But in cricket, motherhood comes at a cost. In a field where the body is one's key tool, scientific research into the female cricketer's physiology is scarce. And several boards do not have processes, policies or infrastructure to cater to mothers. As many of the predecessors of the current list of eight (and scores of current domestic and Associate cricketers) will vouch, sometimes the price is as hefty as one's career.
That there are eight mothers at this World Cup speaks to the growing visibility of women's cricket, but it also shines a light on the conditions such cricketers play under, and the inequities within the women's game and in the sport at large.
New Zealand is an outlier here, and Satterthwaite, now the team's vice-captain, is an exception when it comes to cricketers' pregnancies. "We're probably very fortunate that we are in a country that are very supportive of it and we've been able to go through this journey," she says.
She and Tahuhu announced they were expecting in August 2019. The news was made public through NZC, which coincidentally rolled out its first-ever pregnancy leave provisions then, as part of the newly formulated three-year Women's Master Agreement (WMA) between the board and the New Zealand Cricket Player Association, aimed at making the women's game in the country more professional.
Cricket's mums: in search of a level playing field
Cricket's mums: in search of a level playing field
NZC made clear that Satterthwaite, the carrier of the child, would be among the players contracted for the next year. The WMA's new contract conditions guaranteed her full core salary while she was on maternity leave, without the obligation of playing or training. It meant that Satterthwaite, who was the captain at the time, remained at the top end of the pay scale.
Tahuhu got two weeks' leave after the birth of the child, in January 2020. "Something that can be overlooked at times is the importance of the non-carrier parent being able to have some really important bonding time when the baby is young," she says. Her absence from the early part of the home series against South Africa that month was facilitated by the board's maternity provisions. "And then when I joined up with the team, I was obviously in a better place, as well, to be able to do my job."
She and Satterthwaite, who have had NZC central contracts since 2015-16, had the luxury of deciding when to have their child - though when they considered starting a family, they weren't in a position to know favourable board policies would soon be in place to mitigate against the possibility of Satterthwaite losing her income because of pregnancy. "Whatever the consequences of that were going to be, we were happy to still take that step," says Tahuhu, now 31, who married Satterthwaite, 35, five years ago. "We are older. We were comfortable with knowing that I was a professional cricketer, so that was still going to continue to be my job and it wasn't going to change in the year that Amy was going to be off."
Satterthwaite says she was particularly pleased with the openness of the communication with her employers about support for her comeback. Either side of giving birth to her daughter, Grace, who was conceived by intrauterine insemination (IUI), which involves placing sperm inside a woman's uterus to facilitate fertilisation, Satterthwaite consulted a sports doctor at home in Christchurch. Also on hand was Scott Wrenn, New Zealand Women's strength-and-conditioning (S&C) coach, who is based in the same city. "To just be able to have a conversation with a professional and work through things on a one-on-one level was pretty massive," Satterthwaite says.
Wrenn took on the task of tailoring a return-to-play (RTP) plan for Satterthwaite that suited her body and batting-allrounder playing role. He had never worked with a pregnant cricketer before but some personal experience came in handy. "My wife had had our first baby about a year earlier, so I had some understanding of what Amy was going through," he says. "That experience gave me a bit more insight into things that may have needed to be modified both pre- and post-partum."
For the first five months of pregnancy, Satterthwaite kept running. Biking continued longer, with time in the gym on the side. Tweaks to her routine were made on the fly as she got more heavily pregnant. But at no point before delivery did walking, or other light-to-moderate workouts, come to a halt. The only period of prolonged rest was the eight weeks after Grace's arrival on January 13, 2020.
An RTP is a plan for how an athlete's physical activity after illness or injury can be gradually and safely increased. Satterthwaite and Wrenn put down a flexible date for her return without compromising her well-being and future career. "Through the use of our GPS data, we have developed a reasonably good idea on what the demands of an international tour are," Wrenn says. "This information was used for goal-setting within the RTP process. We could plan the total volume [of activity], volumes at various speed zones and accelerations and decelerations into Amy's training [in a way] that best prepared her for a return."
Wrenn says that injury during the RTP process can be complex at the best of times. Making sure all components of the sport are covered in the RTP plan is critical. More so for lactating mothers like Satterthwaite, in whom relaxin, a sex hormone that facilitates birth, continues to be in circulation as long as they are breastfeeding. Relaxin slows post-partum recovery; joints, ligaments and muscles continue to show laxity, and breastfeeding itself makes the mother susceptible to energy deficiency.
The RTP process dished up challenges that called for modifications to her training while her body re-adapted physically to the load, Wrenn says. "A good example would be altering some of our gymnastics/diving work [for fielding practice] when Amy was breastfeeding, so she wasn't having to dive on her front, or getting Amy to figure out a way that worked for her."
Satterthwaite returned to competitive cricket nine months after childbirth, on the late-2020 tour of Australia. She has since played international fixtures at home and in Australia and England, led Melbourne Renegades in Women's Big Bash League, gone past domestic and international milestones, and is now set to play her fourth ODI World Cup.
"If I look at where my body has been at, going into the summer versus the 2020 tour of Australia, we didn't know if I'd get through a game [back then]. And somehow I did," she says.
Bismah Maroof and Nain Abidi: a tale of two Pakistani player-mothers
In the subcontinent, the trend of marriage and/or motherhood ending careers cuts across teams. The interplay of socio-economic, religious and cultural forces thrusts large numbers of girls into marriage (and soon after, motherhood) in their teens or early twenties. "South Asia carries a shocking 40 per cent of the global burden of child brides," a 2019 UNICEF report said. Given the general precarity of women's positions in what are still largely patriarchal societies, being a professional sportswoman beyond a certain age requires privileges few inherit, resilience few are able to muster, or both.
A look at the numbers of married women cricketers in the latest central-contracts pools of the Asian Full Member teams underlines this. In India, zero out of 19 contracted players are married. (Punam Raut, driven to think of suicide over the emotional turmoil her marriage thrust her into, ended it a few years ago.) Pakistan: one out of 20 (Maroof). Bangladesh: two out of 22 (Shamima Sultana and Fargana Hoque). Sri Lanka: zero out of 20. For women it often comes down to having to pick either family or career, prematurely forcing many to walk away from the field of play.
Nain Abidi (second from right) and her Pakistan team-mates Javeria Khan, Sana Mir and Asmavia Iqbal (from left) talk to kids at an ICC event in 2017. Abidi's Pakistan career ended with the birth of her first child
Matthew Lewis / © ICC/Getty Images
Nain Abidi (second from right) and her Pakistan team-mates Javeria Khan, Sana Mir and Asmavia Iqbal (from left) talk to kids at an ICC event in 2017. Abidi's Pakistan career ended with the birth of her first child Matthew Lewis / © ICC/Getty Images
"Batool [Fatima], Nain [Abidi], Asmavia [Iqbal], Qanita [Jalil], and several others - they were all Pakistan team-mates of mine who either couldn't resume cricket for a long time after marriage or had to leave it altogether for good," says Maroof, Pakistan's leading limited-overs run scorer and captain. "But cricket in Pakistan is no longer where it was back then. Professionalism has gone up and so has what's expected of players. The PCB's policy is a reflection of that."
Under the policy, introduced during Maroof's pregnancy, centrally contracted cricketers are entitled to up to 12 months of paid maternity leave and are guaranteed a contract extension for the following year. They can transfer to a non-playing role before they start on maternity leave. "Adequate medical and physical support" is to be provided in terms of post-childbirth rehabilitation. The board is also to foot half the bill if a mother needs to travel with a carer to help with childcare.
In Pakistan, women playing top-flight cricket after marriage, let alone childbirth, is a rarity. Maroof is aware her experience sets a template. Without her transition from what she calls "the normal state" into motherhood, Pakistan might well have not become the first cricket board in the subcontinent to introduce a player-specific maternity policy. "The policy gives me confidence as a cricketer," says Maroof, who is in New Zealand with her daughter, Fatima, with her mother present as carer. "If I am being seen as a role model in our culture, I appreciate where that's coming from."
Maroof says she is fortunate to be playing the sport in an era where women cricketers get support during maternity - a fundamental security that she thinks any employee, no matter their profession, should get. "When I got married, I didn't know what was in my future. I had no clue if I would be able to play cricket again," she says. "Pretty much all Pakistan [female] cricketers have this mindset because that's how things have been in our part of the world."
Having family on board is important, she says. "Getting that encouragement from your family after marriage or pregnancy is like half the battle won. My family, including my in-laws, are crazy about cricket. They acknowledged I still have a lot of cricket left in me." Her husband, Abrar Ahmad, a software engineer, has unwaveringly supported her return to top-flight cricket. "He has been a rock though this phase," Maroof says. "He appreciates both cricket and my family's place in my life, and also wants me to be a role model for girls in our culture because not everyone is as lucky as I have been."
On a Zoom call lasting a little over half an hour, Maroof makes generous use of "luck", "lucky" and "good fortune" in talking about her family's support and the launch of the PCB's policy. Abidi, a good friend and former team-mate, echoes the sentiment.
Baby on board: Maroof arrives with her daughter Fatima for the game against India in the 2022 World Cup
Phil Walter / © ICC/Getty Images
Baby on board: Maroof arrives with her daughter Fatima for the game against India in the 2022 World Cup Phil Walter / © ICC/Getty Images
"I used to tell Bismah how lucky she is to be able leave her baby under her family's care and go to the gym, because I didn't have that cushion in my family, or a domestic help," says Abidi, who played 144 of her 155 matches for Pakistan alongside Maroof. An international cricketer for 12 years, and Pakistan's first woman century-maker in ODIs, Abidi married in January 2017 but continued to play for Pakistan, and featured in the ODI World Cup that year.
After a six-month visit to the US, where her husband, Asad, is based, she was due to return to Pakistan in late 2018 and resume cricket the following year, but an unplanned conception during her stay in the US made her defer those plans. Though her in-laws visited after the birth of her son, Abbas, in March 2019, and helped with post-childbirth care, once they left after a month, and with Asad's work schedule frequently requiring him to be on the go for two weeks on the trot, Abidi says she found herself mentally shattered.
At the time, cricket seemed impossibly distant. "When it comes to post-partum mental recovery, you need a supportive environment," she says. "I didn't have that because, with the exception of my husband, physically I was distanced from those I had known all my life. Plus, the shape of my body had massively changed. My abs were gone, years of work building muscles disappeared just like that. My heart sank."
Memories of her past drove her to rebuild herself from scratch. "I told myself, 'I don't want to live like the average woman,'" she says. Eight months after the birth of Abbas, she threw herself into training, propelled by a desire to reclaim the self-confidence that playing top-flight sport for over a decade had given her. "Unlike, say, Bismah, who has a World Cup to look forward to, I had no purpose or financial support to push myself and train as hard as I did. Still, I did [after having her child] because apne andar ke cricketer ko aap kitna der rok sakte ho?" [How long can you suppress the cricketer within?]
In mid-2021, Abidi was back on the field, albeit in the US, playing in regional tournaments, and playing out what she says are the last two or three years of quality cricket left in her.
Would her story have been different had the PCB introduced its maternity policy earlier?
"Oh, definitely. I would have availed of it if the PCB had offered me any such policy," she says. "Most of all, it would have been a relief just knowing that Pakistan is offering me the support, that I can return to play, be with my fellow cricketers and represent my country in the sport I have given so much time to."
Sarah Elliott with her baby, Sam, during the 2013 Ashes. Elliott was the first mother to tour with a cricket team at the time, and left her team-mates awestruck at how she juggled feeding her nine-month-old with batting in games
Harry Engels / © Getty Images
Sarah Elliott with her baby, Sam, during the 2013 Ashes. Elliott was the first mother to tour with a cricket team at the time, and left her team-mates awestruck at how she juggled feeding her nine-month-old with batting in games Harry Engels / © Getty Images
Through Maroof, says Abidi, many a player-turned-mother in Pakistan cricket will vicariously fulfill a dream. "I am so glad she is getting to live that life. And what bigger platform to make your comeback than a World Cup?"
Menstrual health matters
Abidi remembers how common it was during her time with Pakistan Women for the players to make clear their preference for female physios and doctors within the support-staff set-up. The rationale, she explains, was simple: to remove the barrier of "sharam", or shame, when it came to talking about "women problems" - a euphemism for menstruation common in the subcontinent. Lee, a current South Africa player, offers a similar view. "We basically have an all-male management, [but] we have one doctor, a female," says Lee. "Our coaches have always been fine with it [talking about periods], but with her we can speak about anything and she helps us if it's too much pain or whatever."
In most parts of the world, cricket remains a long way away from normalising conversations to do with menstruation. Not ideal, when you consider how periods serve to identify potential gynaecological red flags. A regular period is considered a marker of good health, whereas irregular, abnormal or absent menses can affect energy availability and point to problems such as abnormal uterine bleeding, polycystic ovarian syndrome (a disorder that causes enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges), endometriosis (a condition where tissue similar to that which lines the inside of the uterus or womb grows outside of them), or infertility.
Awareness or research about the links between menstrual health, athletic performance and injury risk is far from adequate, and cricket has only just started responding to that lack. Even in Australia, who have set the standard in professionalising and reimagining the women's game over the last decade, menstruation was not something that got attention until recently.
"I guess that's because we've always had mainly a male S&C staff and a male head coach. They were never against it or weird about it; it's just that they don't understand it the same way [as women]," says Australia fast bowler Schutt.
That's where Dr Philippa Inge, who has been the Australia women's cricket team full-time doctor since 2017, is trying to bring things up to speed. "She's always been pushing for us to be open about women's health and has advocated for us in a way that we didn't even know we needed," says Schutt. Dr Inge spearheaded the introduction of optional menstrual cycle tracking a little under two years ago, integrating it into athletes' daily wellness monitoring, which is managed centrally by CA. "There's a number of other sports that are using menstrual tracking in one way or another, but we're probably one of the first to actually put it into a daily monitoring sort of system," says Dr Inge.
Hiruka Fernando, the first female Sri Lanka batter to make 1000 ODI runs, attempted a comeback after having a baby but had to retire when her batting fell off
Mark Nolan / © Getty Images
Hiruka Fernando, the first female Sri Lanka batter to make 1000 ODI runs, attempted a comeback after having a baby but had to retire when her batting fell off Mark Nolan / © Getty Images
Australia's health information-gathering set-up covers players in the national team and all contracted players within CA's state programmes. It requires athletes to record data on sleep and muscle soreness, among other things, using an app. That data is then tracked by the coaching and S&C staff. For menstrual tracking, players only need to say whether they are on their period on any given day. The core of the engagement being strictly medical, athlete-doctor confidentiality is maintained.
New Zealand recently began an optional trial with a small pool of players who are tracking their menstrual cycles along with training load and daily wellness. "This is another step for us to further individualise the players' training programmes and potentially maximise the individuals' on-field performance," says Wrenn. The players are required to complete a weekly performance measure that gives Wrenn insights into any potential performance changes in relation to their menstrual cycles and under different training loads.
The England cricket board, the Telegraph reported last September, set up a women's health group to help narrow the body-literacy gap among players. It was the brainchild of batter Tammy Beaumont and is headed by their team doctor, Thamindu Wedatilake. "I started looking at my own experiences of when I've maybe felt burnt out [because of periods], just really lethargic, and couldn't play well at all," Beaumont said then.
Other Full Member teams, like South Africa and Sri Lanka, also have centralised menstrual tracking systems that use phone apps like Smartabase Athlete, and smartwatches for input. In the Indian team, where several players use the Flo app, and Associate sides like USA and Germany, menstrual-cycle tracking takes place without a structured evaluation of data by the support staff. Bangladesh cricketers simply convey their period dates, and any issues relating to them, to their physio, who, senior allrounder Jahanara Alam says, keeps notes.
Megan Schutt: hormones, soreness, and a baby called Rylee
For Schutt, winning is typically all that is on her mind as soon as she steps onto the field, but since last August, her "world has changed a little". Complications meant her wife, Jess Holyoake, delivered their first child, Rylee, by C-section 11 weeks premature. The newborn weighed just 858 grams at birth.
Fifty-three days went by as Schutt's "little trooper" took more assured steps towards life outside the womb in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Women's and Children's Hospital, a stone's throw from Adelaide Oval. "When you're a super-competitive person, a professional sportsperson, your contract relies on you performing," Schutt says, reflecting on that period. "You know your house is from that contract - winning becomes kind of everything. But super-competitive as I continue to be, for me now it's also a bit like, 'You know what? If we lose it or don't perform, so be it.' And I think that the Rylee picture has kind of changed that."
Schutt, now 29, tied the knot with longtime partner Holyoake in 2019, and it was then they first began planning to start a family. In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) was their best bet, and Holyoake was identified as the carrier early in their motherhood plans; Schutt says she doesn't see herself "stepping into those shoes anytime soon". But for fear of the non-carrier partner potentially not developing a strong genetic and biological bond with the child, the couple opted for reciprocal IVF (RIVF), a more time-consuming, expensive and invasive procedure that allows both female parents to participate in the pregnancy. An egg from one partner is fertilised in a lab with donor sperm and then transferred to the other partner, who carries it to term. (Former Australia batter Leah Poulton, the carrier partner of Schutt's current Australia team-mate Rachael Haynes, gave birth to a boy, Hugo, last year using RIVF.)
Schutt (far left) has spoken of how motherhood has brought the realisation that winning is not everything: "Super-competitive as I continue to be, for me now it's also a bit like, 'You know what? If we lose it or don't perform, so be it'"
William West / © AFP/Getty Images
Schutt (far left) has spoken of how motherhood has brought the realisation that winning is not everything: "Super-competitive as I continue to be, for me now it's also a bit like, 'You know what? If we lose it or don't perform, so be it'" William West / © AFP/Getty Images
It was decided Schutt would take on the egg donor's role, but the timeline for the procedure was not straightforward. "Because the sperm was from America, the communication took ages," she says. "To actually access it took ages, and when we eventually found something we loved, it took weeks for it to get here [to Adelaide]," says Schutt.
An IVF cycle involves hormonal stimulation of the ovaries during ovulation to produce multiple eggs, which makes the process intricately connected to the menstrual cycle. This made it vital for Schutt to find an appropriate window to start the hormonal stimulation, which, for an elite cricketer like her, was never going to be easy. "I knew it was going to affect my performance and my body and the way I felt," she says. Aware she would probably have to miss cricket at some point, she decided to take the plunge after the sixth WBBL, which ended in November 2020. "I said, 'Screw it. In my next period, I'm going to do it."
Schutt had 12 days of hormonal injections. While going about her job as a bowler during that phase wasn't much of a challenge, batting was. "The injection sites were sore and the thought of getting hit with a cricket ball while sweeping or something like that was actually quite frightening," she says. So she limited herself to taking throwdowns from coaches. The Australian team management let her control the majority of training-related decisions during the hormonal stimulation. "They left that up to me in terms of how I was feeling and they know I'm not going to bulls**t them."
The ability to make her own decisions and the structured medical advice she received helped in gradually building up her workload after egg-extraction. A standard egg-collection procedure involves piercing the vaginal wall to retrieve one egg at a time. In Schutt's case it was many more incisions: she produced 28 eggs as a result of over-stimulation. After six days' rest, as she prepared to get back to training, she remembers feeling "fatigued, bloated, and extra sore". Discomfort from hormonal ebb and flow lingered for three weeks. "Even just driving or doing daily activities I found it really hard to concentrate," she says.
"The blessing of Covid", as Schutt puts it, led to the domestic 50-over Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) 2020-21 competition being postponed to January 2021 from its usual September start. That meant she didn't miss the two WNCL domestic matches she originally estimated she might because of the toll the egg-extraction took.
More good news followed. The eggs yielded nine fertilised embryos. It wasn't long after that that the confirmation they had been waiting for arrived. "[The embryo] stuck the first time, which we didn't expect [as] the chances are low. To get that call, too excited to say [to Holyoake], 'Hey, you're pregnant' - that was…"
The woman who juggled two sports and motherhood
Jess Duffin had no inkling the Australian summer of 2019-20 would be life-changing.
Aimee Watkins (then Mason) in a 2009 game. Watkins quit cricket to start a family when she was 28, and now is a schoolteacher
Brendon Thorne / © Getty Images
Aimee Watkins (then Mason) in a 2009 game. Watkins quit cricket to start a family when she was 28, and now is a schoolteacher Brendon Thorne / © Getty Images
She took charge as Melbourne Renegades' captain in the WBBL after Satterthwaite, her predecessor, announced her pregnancy. A prolific run in the tournament saw her score 544 runs at an average of 68, steering Renegades into the semi-final.
It had been over four years since Duffin, a four-time World Cup winner and Player of the Final in two of those, had last played in Australia colours. After the 2015 Ashes, at 26, she stepped away from international cricket, playing for the Melbourne-based teams in the WBBL and for Collingwood and North Melbourne in the Australian Football League Women's (AFLW) competition.
The timing of her WBBL 2019-20 form couldn't have been more opportune, with the T20 World Cup on the horizon. But Duffin, 30 then, had a tightrope to tread. When Australia's chief selector then, Shawn Flegler, called, she needed to make two choices. The first was about confidentiality.
"My husband and I just wanted to make sure that I got to a safe period in my pregnancy before we announced anything," says Duffin of her decision to hold back the news of her pregnancy from Flegler. "It was really tough. I had to play a little bit dumb in terms of just telling him I was interested and that I would obviously have to juggle cricket and footy and make sure that I was available for the [2020 T20] World Cup."
As far as sharing information about potential pregnancy or planning with employers goes, Schutt says she kept CA and her state association, South Australia, in the loop. South Africa batter Lee, however, believes it shouldn't be incumbent upon players, centrally contracted or otherwise, to do so. "No disrespect to anybody, but this is definitely not something I need to discuss with my employer. This is your body, your life, and you decide when you want to do it."
Only after the start of the 2019-20 WBBL did Duffin learn she was already about four weeks pregnant with daughter Georgie. She went on to play 14 of Renegades' 15 fixtures that season, though, finished as her side's leading run scorer, and was named captain of the WBBL team of the tournament. But in November, when Australia's selectors sounded her out about playing in a series against India A ahead of the T20 World Cup, she turned down the opportunity.
"The thing for me was, I never thought of being selected again [for Australia]," Duffin says of her decision. "So when they [CA] came to me, I was really excited I was going to be having my first child, but obviously really disappointed that I wouldn't be a part of the World Cup, which, in the end, was phenomenal for women's cricket."
Duffin was in the stands at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 8, 2020 when Australia defended their world title in front of a record crowd of 86,174. "Not a very good watcher of cricket" by her own admission, Duffin says she still wouldn't change a thing if she could turn back time. "I knew cricket is always kind of going to be there. I am always going to be around cricket. It was just about getting through [making those decisions]."
What the boards do for player-mothers
Duffin's pregnancy came at a crucial point in the timeline of CA's efforts to provide a more level playing field for its female players in recent years. In October 2019, the board publicly rolled out a parental-leave policy that had come into effect in July that year, following consultations that began in 2017. Back then, no female Australian female international or domestic cricketers were parents. The timing of the launch meant Duffin became the first elite cricketer to avail of the policy.
Funded by the players' payment pool, the parental policy, a joint agreement between CA and the Australian Cricketers' Association, covers all professional players in Australia, from national to state to the BBL and WBBL sides, with the same guidelines for binary and same-sex couples.
Among the ICC's Full Members, CA's maternity policy coverage for cricketers, and those of NZC and the PCB, are by far the widest. The ECB, the Cricket Monthly has gathered, does not have a bespoke policy for female cricketers, but guarantees all female employees a rate of between 100% and 60% of their normal basic salary for the time they are under Statutory Maternity Pay. These provisions are understood to have been in place since March 2018. The board is reportedly in discussions with the England Women's Player Partnership, managed by the Professional Cricketers' Association, to formulate a bespoke policy.
Cricket South Africa and Cricket West Indies are in the process of drafting their maternity policies for players in consultation with the respective players' associations. A CWI representative said that Fletcher, who returned from maternity break in January, was supported "throughout her pregnancy by maintaining her on full pay". The South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) CEO, Andrew Breetzke, says financial challenges facing the sport in South Africa could affect the scope of maternity coverage. "How we manage a career post-maternity leave is going to be a challenge," he says. "Domestically we can achieve the all-paid kind of travel system [covering costs for travel and accommodation for toddlers and their carer] that's there in Australia, but internationally that's going to be a challenge."
The majority of those interviewed for this story viewed Australia's parental provisions as a touchstone. But CA's policy wasn't purely an outcome of the board wanting to give its women cricketers a fair chance to excel in their careers. In fact, it was only after a leak revealed in December 2016 that women cricketers needed "to 'warrant' that they are not, to the best of their knowledge, pregnant when they sign their contract to play for Australia" that discussions on maternity protection for female players picked up pace. The clause was criticised as tone deaf by the players and the ACA - particularly since female cricketers in the country were not eligible back then for maternity leave; this despite women in non-playing roles at CA being entitled to between four and 12 weeks' paid parental leave.
Attitudes towards pay parity, job security and healthcare for women cricketers in Australia have changed since. Leading in to the delayed signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) after a protracted dispute, in August 2017, CA removed the clause that demanded cricketers declare their pregnancy status. (Players are, however, still required to notify a medical officer if they become pregnant, to ensure their own safety and those of their unborn children.)
New Zealand train in Queenstown. Their strength-and-conditioning coach, Scott Wrenn, has developed experience in tailoring training methods to meet the requirements of players who are pregnant or are new mothers
James Allan / © Getty Images
New Zealand train in Queenstown. Their strength-and-conditioning coach, Scott Wrenn, has developed experience in tailoring training methods to meet the requirements of players who are pregnant or are new mothers James Allan / © Getty Images
Under the MoU, women players were included in the revenue-sharing model for the first time; their base-contract salary was pulled up to the same level as those of the men; and the minimum retainer for women with CA contracts rose, making them the highest-paid national women's team in the country. For Schutt, the move towards pay parity made becoming a parent possible.
"I think my first contract ever for Australia was A$5,000, when I was 20 years old. And that now is, tour [allowance] money. So that is the difference," she says. "Reciprocal IVF is expensive, and even if we wanted to go the artificial-insemination route, that isn't cheap either. Financially, doing that [pregnancy] wouldn't have been possible [for us] five years ago, or even four years ago."
For Duffin, alongside AFLW's and CA's parental policies, the ACA's support has been welcome. "I didn't really go to them [the ACA]. They came to me. They've been very proactive in making sure that I was okay, we had a nanny [at WBBL], and Georgie was okay. It just felt so good to see someone had our back when we needed that support."
Of pioneers and lost mothers
The world the likes of Duffin and Schutt inhabit is far from the one in which their former team-mate, Sarah Elliott played. In August 2013 the three played in their only Test together, in Wormsley. Elliott, 31 then, had more than just batting to think of. The only mother in the side, and the first ever to tour for the Australia women's cricket team, Elliott would use session- and innings breaks in that Ashes Test to breastfeed or express milk for her nine-month-old son, Sam.
Few who shared the dressing room with Elliott - many of whom are still Australia regulars - had any idea what pumping milk entailed. The way she performed her role as a mother, as much as the hundred she scored across the first two days of the Test, left an imprint on her juniors. "To come in [to the change room] and see her breastfeeding during a cricket game - I was just amazed, to be honest," Schutt says. "This lass has just gone out. Scored a century. Is coming in and rather than rehydrating, that is her priority. I just loved that. That moment has always stuck in my brain - as weird as that sounds."
Schutt remembers comparing the parental support women netball players in the local South Australian league received to the lack of any in cricket for the likes of Elliott. "To think how hard that would have been [for Elliott] - her husband had to take time off work - is really stressful…
"She really started that conversation subconsciously in my head a long time ago about where we were at."
Sarah Elliott (left) and Alyssa Healy (second from left), at an event to mark the launch of CA's parental leave policy, in 2019
Matt King / © Getty Images
Sarah Elliott (left) and Alyssa Healy (second from left), at an event to mark the launch of CA's parental leave policy, in 2019 Matt King / © Getty Images
If motherhood is a job, the erasure of self that children at times - nearly always inadvertently - cause, is an occupational hazard. In The Lost Daughter, the acclaimed 2021 screen adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novel of the same name, Olivia Colman's character, Leda, awkwardly converses with a pregnant stranger at one point. "Children are a crushing responsibility," she says.
In cricket, as in other walks of life, there have been plenty of lost-mother figures over the years. Take Hiruka Fernando.
Sri Lanka's captain and their best-known female cricketer ever, Chamari Athapaththu, remembers her former national team-mate as the country's best batter at her peak, in the late 2000s. She was the first Sri Lankan woman to score 1000 ODI runs. Fernando never quite got the support she needed - first, after marriage and then after childbirth - to fulfil her potential or extend her career, Athapaththu says. "When she returned to the side after her baby, her batting fell off quite quickly and she had no choice but to retire."
Sri Lanka Cricket doesn't have a player-specific maternity policy and follows an ad-hoc approach in granting paid leave to its centrally contracted parent-cricketers. The men's player Dhananjaya de Silva got leave for the birth of his child on "humanitarian grounds", and not on the basis of a parental-leave policy. Manuja Kariapperuma, who has managed the Sri Lankan men's and women's teams, says the question of maternity leave has never arisen for the board, as no women players have ever requested maternity leave for themselves or their partners.
A little help, some direction, Athapaththu says, could have kept many a Fernando on the field. "The real reason doesn't often surface because it's a private thing, but I know some of my former team-mates have had to retire prematurely so they could plan a family after getting married." Though she is single and not a parent herself, she hopes things will change. "I would love for Sri Lanka to have a formal [parental] policy because we need to encourage our married players, mothers, to stay."
For new mothers, loss of identity is closely linked to how they relate to changes in their bodies. "When you're pregnant, you're obviously going to get bigger," says Duffin. "So taking body image out of it was challenging because sometimes as an athlete, all you see is your body and how it's transforming instead of going deeper [into the birth of a new life]." At AFLW, the North Melbourne defender found an invaluable resource in physios trained in post-partum procedures, including the "absolutely fantastic" Melissa Haberfield, who helped her understand what her body was going through while her mind wasn't totally in sync with it.
Satterthwaite and Tahuhu remember, too, another mother who was lost to cricket: Aimee Watkins, the former New Zealand captain, who in 2011 had to bring the curtain down on her 141-match international career at age 28. Watkins retired mostly so she could start a family with her husband, Jamie. To a lesser extent, it was also due to a chronic knee injury that troubled her towards the close of her career. "I didn't achieve everything I wanted to [with New Zealand], but sometimes that's just life: you need to suck it and get on with the next thing," Watkins says.
Australia captain Meg Lanning with kids on the sidelines of a WBBL game earlier this season. Cricket Australia has set the standard when it comes to framing a comprehensive coverage policy for cricketer-mothers
Sarah Reed / © Getty Images
Australia captain Meg Lanning with kids on the sidelines of a WBBL game earlier this season. Cricket Australia has set the standard when it comes to framing a comprehensive coverage policy for cricketer-mothers Sarah Reed / © Getty Images
She now lives on a farm in New Plymouth, where she is a full-time teacher at a boys' school and a mother of two girls, eight and six. Motherhood did not ever feature in dressing-room conversations during her playing days, she says, and playing cricket after childbirth for New Zealand never crossed her mind.
More recently, cricket nearly lost another mother and player - literally at that.
Nicole Harvey, the Somerset allrounder, was 27 when, in September 2020, pregnancy-related complications forced her to write a will.
A kidney infection, resulting from her unborn child squashing her urethra, had caused sepsis, a life-threatening organ and tissue dysfunction caused by the body's response to infection, when she was 32 weeks pregnant. By the 37th week, she was in intensive care. "It got to a point where everything was out of my control," Harvey remembers.
She gave birth to her son in October 2020. And though she had always envisioned returning to cricket after childbirth, being physically "distraught" due to illness rendered that possibility far-fetched.
She had been offered a contract by Western Storm just before she got pregnant. When she gradually regained health in the wake of the traumatic birth, a call from Lisa Pagett, Storm's regional director of cricket, in March 2021, inspired confidence. "Would you like to come back to training and see how you go?" she said. "There's no pressure, no expectations - do that on your terms."
Harvey returned to county cricket that April, made her Storm debut in the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy the following month, and was their leading wicket-taker in the Charlotte Edwards Cup. On the back of her impressive form, Welsh Fire recruited her just weeks before the start of the inaugural Hundred in July last year.
Asked what a second shot at cricket means to her, Harvey says, "Being able to play the sport is great, but more than anything I'm just grateful to be healthy again."
Your move, administrators
The baby boom among players leading up to the World Cup isn't the tournament's only connection to children and mothers. The local organising committee is offering free pop-up childcare for spectators at all matches, starting March 10, to encourage a family-friendly experience at the event.
If it's clear the sport could do with more families being secure in the knowledge their kids are being looked after while they enjoy their cricket, imagine the benefits if cricket could extend that sort of thinking to those playing the sport.
Apart from the antipodean boards, CSA, CWI, ECB and SLC, Full-Member boards like those of India, Bangladesh and Ireland do not yet have bespoke maternity policies for their female cricketers. (Afghanistan don't have a functional women's team.) The BCB follows the Bangladesh government's regulations, which grant pregnant government employees leave for a period of six months. In Ireland, women's professional contracts, introduced in 2019, have only been part-time and one year in length, meaning the contracted players are theoretically covered for maternity only by statutory obligations under Irish employment laws.
"Cricket needs to understand that it's not a normal workplace, where you go to work nine-to-five, and that women players sometimes need more support at some stages," says Lee. "Maternity policies for cricketers, therefore, have to be different from maternity policies for non-playing employees."
But who proposes changes to the legislation, and looks after players' rights and interests, when some Full Members, India foremost, do not yet have a collective for active players? "Imagine if the ICC could be that body," Schutt says, "if they could say, 'Hey, this is a blanket policy that every country has to introduce. I think that effect would just trickle down to every nation."
The ICC representatives the Cricket Monthly spoke to for this story said no discussions had ever been held at any board meeting with regard to policy-making aimed at fostering participation of female cricketers during pregnancy and after childbirth. Nor have any guidelines been drafted about support that should be made available to pregnant cricketers by their national boards or state associations. Nor are there any plans in the works for the governing body to drive conversations among member nations on the subject. Such matters, the ICC representatives said, are best dealt with by individual member boards, as each country has unique cultural and other socio-economic barriers to decision-making.
"This is actually a human-rights issue," SACA's Breetzke, who is an attorney specialising in employment and labour law, says. "You've created a professional women's game - which the ICC is promoting well - but the consequences of that are that you need to recognise there's a different element to it, which is now the family, the babies. The ICC needs to take the lead relative to other countries and introduce minimum standards."
Cricket returns to the Commonwealth Games later this year, through the women's game. The sport has also bid to be included in the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, for the first time since 1900. If that doesn't come about, inclusion for Brisbane 2032 seems a near certainty, given cricket's place in the Australian sporting and cultural landscape. While the International Olympic Committee has over the past decade taken steps "to better understand pregnancy and childbirth in elite athletes, to ensure that sportswomen can make informed choices for their futures and those of their children", the lack of any such efforts at the ICC raises questions of whether cricket's governing body is doing enough to make the game truly inclusive for women.
"If you made it an Olympic sport, where there's gold medals on the line, you're going to have countries like America that want to invest in the game because they want to win medals - it's just in their interest. And that again, trickles down to everything else below it," says Schutt. "If that means extending a female's career for another five years, isn't that good for everybody?"
With inputs from Madushka Balasuriya, Andrew Fidel Fernando and Valkerie Baynes
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
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