Five minutes. Adia Barnes, the University of Arizona basketball coach, rushed to her team’s locker room at the Alamodome in San Antonio for five minutes on April 4th. She wasn’t sure she had anything left.
Five minutes. I only need five minutes.
In an empty bathroom, the former Wildcats All-American, WNBA Champion, and mother of two pondered strategy while hooking the plastic flanges of a breast pump into a hands-free bra. It was halfway through the NCAA women’s national championship game – the biggest game of Barnes’ coaching career – and her team was 31-24 ahead of the Stanford Cardinal. To win the national title, Arizona had to make adjustments.
We need to better defend Stanford’s two great guards. We need to start capitalizing on sales. …
Barnes hit the power button as the pump began to pulse rapidly, a sound that briefly interrupted her thoughts but became a mainstay of the Arizona locker room. She didn’t have enough time to hide, but it didn’t matter. Barnes laughed as she looked down. The two plastic funnels on her chest looked like rockets. Nothing the team hadn’t seen before. She went back to the locker room.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” said Barnes. “I never thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it in a national championship game.’ I thought, ‘I don’t want milk on my shirt in a national championship game. I have to do it.’ “
Serena Williams, a 23-time main champion whose daughter Olympia was born in 2017, sees working mothers in all sports as a powerful platform.
“It’s amazing to be in this position where there is an opportunity to say, ‘You can do it,’ to women who are mothers,” said Williams.
Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open title, suffered a difficult labor and delivered the baby via caesarean section. Williams was open about her experience on social media, discussing the pulmonary embolism she had after giving birth, and telling followers about the postpartum depression she suffered from.
“I feel like after having a baby, there are a lot of postpartum issues that you deal with,” Williams said. “A lot of people think it’s taboo to talk about. [But] it is not.”
Barnes’ story, as first reported by ESPN’s Holly Rowe at halftime of the game broadcast, and the problems Williams shared, happen everywhere, inside and outside the sports world, every day. And these working mothers face the same misunderstandings and challenges that mothers around the world face and overcome them with strength, vulnerability, and grace.
“People just don’t have to go through this.”
Barnes’s entire family took part in the Women’s Final Four, including her husband Salvo Coppa, an assistant coach to her staff, their 5-year-old son Matteo, and their 7-month-old daughter, Capri, who Barnes still cares for.
She usually took time to pump before games to avoid situations like the one she faced during the national championship game. But with all of the media duties later in the day, she was out of schedule.
Barnes is laughing now, a month after the Wildcats lost between 54 and 53, at their frantic race to set up their pump and how the device just fell off her chest moments later and landed on the floor in the middle of her halftime speech.
“I remember sitting there and thinking … ‘Oh God’ … but then everyone started laughing and I said, ‘Oh, I’m glad I made you laugh,'” said Barnes. “Because it was a stressful moment, this is a national championship game, the greatest moments of our lives. I think to myself, gosh, boys don’t have to go through this.”
“I had a lot of those moments during the Final Four. Moments when I questioned my abilities as a mother and as a good coach.”
Barnes is as open as she doesn’t apologize. The obstacles she faces, under the facade of the “woman who can have anything”, especially in recent months, are generally relevant to women who have started a family without changing their professional goals. If anything, she questions the stigma surrounding a mother’s need to breastfeed her child.
“It’s so off-limits,” she said. “When you say ‘pump’ people pretend they don’t hear you. I don’t know why that is.”
‘I was literally advised not to get pregnant. Wait till you finish. ‘
In Hermosa Beach, California, Kerri Walsh Jennings has just finished her third workout of the day.
The three-time gold medalist in Olympic beach volleyball had her first workout at 8 a.m., strength training after lunch and then again before dinner on the sand.
The intense exercise program will be worth it, she believes. Walsh Jennings is now 42 years old and could become the oldest female Olympic beach volleyball player in history if she qualifies for the Tokyo Summer Games this year. It won’t come without a sacrifice as she is currently away from her husband Casey and their three children – Joey, 11, Sundance, 10, and Scout, 8 – who live in North Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Walsh Jennings views motherhood as an extension that allows her to express more of herself on and off the court. But 20 years ago, after graduating from Stanford and starting her professional career, this was not how she was introduced to the working mom concept.
“When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, the athlete inside of me said, ‘Oh my god, what did I just do?’ Because I was literally advised not to get pregnant. Wait until you finish, “said Walsh Jennings.
“I thought it didn’t feel right. I’d waited all my life to be a mother.”
As the 2020 Summer Olympics approached and postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, her pain only got worse after receiving another gold medal. The decision for a fifth Olympic appearance fell on the family.
“I sat down with each of them and said, ‘Are you all right if I do everything I have to to make this dream come true?'” She said. It had to be as transparent as possible. It means going for days, exercising, and being away.
With the blessings of her family, Walsh Jennings continues to train.
“I am very grateful for my children. I would have retired at 30 because I was just miserable at my job,” she said. “Being a working mom means when I wake up every day, my family is my number one priority.”
“It’s like we’re machines and we don’t feel. That’s not the case.’
Candace Parker must be tired.
After working in her analyst role for the NBA at TNT in Atlanta, she flew back to Chicago and landed at 1am, a few hours before a 6am practice session with the Chicago Sky. After 13 years with the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker joined Sky as a free agent in one of the biggest moves of the WNBA off-season. On May 4th, her last day in the studio for TNT, she shifted her focus more to Heaven, which she will debut on May 15th.
“As of now, I only have one real job, as opposed to two,” she said.
When she’s exhausted, she doesn’t show it. She lights up when she talks about her 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa, who she hasn’t seen in three weeks. When Parker considered moving to Chicago, the first person she spoke to was her daughter. They also decided that Lailaa would finish school in Los Angeles.
On the surface, Parker remains polished and balanced, leveling out all of the roles she has filled in the past few weeks. But underneath there is a constant longing to be at home. It is another burden that mothers must put under pressure: the image of the career-oriented woman who can conquer anything without the appearance of vulnerability.
“The biggest misconception about working mothers is that we don’t feel,” said Parker. “That we’re a bit like machines, and that’s not the case. The challenge is also the fault.”
That severity of guilt Parker has experienced in the past has eased as her relationship with Lailaa continues to grow.
“I know my daughter benefits a lot when her mother balances things, works toward things, and tries new things,” she said. “All of these things take less of the guilt and some of the guilt away. I think [as] Mothers, we’ve been forced to balance a lot and sacrifice a lot, and that’s a superpower. “
As soon as Lailaa finishes school, she will be reunited with her mother. But the challenge of being away from her daughter for so long takes Parker back eleven years ago to the questions that first led her as a young mother to how working mothers were often seen in their industry.
“The biggest thing I noticed as I set out on the motherhood journey was the amount of questions that were different from my male counterparts,” she said. “It was like, ‘Well who’s watching your kids when I’m out?’
“Don’t ask LeBron that.”