The Ballad of the Pregnant Ice Dancer

Dear Millicent,

My television has a finicky antenna, so the only bits of the Olympics I have been able to watch are recaps on NBC, the Fug Girls constant Tweets about Johnny Weir, and the speedskating coverage on a Korean news channel I got to watch for one blessed hour in the sauna at the local spa.  The Olympics seem fun this year, and I have taken a shine to Vancouver’s Olympic motto “With glowing hearts.”  Compared to the Beijing summer Olympics, we seem to have let our hair down a bit, and are enjoying sport, glitter, and the gleefully foulmouthed athletes who show us what we would be able to do if only we exercised more.

One story I have been following is that of ice dancers Isabelle Delobel (a grace of a name, no?) and Olivier Schoenfelder, who came in 6th place last night.  A year ago, they were considered the business: ice dancers ready for their gold necklaces after years of working their way up the ranks of competition.  Vancouver was going to be their year.  And then Delobel got pregnant.

Pregnancy has a tendency to muck up workplace routines, and as a society, only Scandinavia seems to coolly handle the fact that women work, and women have the babies.    But when athletes get preggered, it fully highlights the physicality of the issue.  In 2004, runner Tasha Danvers-Smith found out she was pregnant as she was preparing for the Athens Olympics.  In the Telegraph coverage, which ran the story under the headline “Pregnancy came as a shock. Now I’m happy to give up the Olympics,” she says:

“The timing could not have been worse. If I had run at Athens it would have meant greater financial security, more recognition. There is nothing negative that can happen when you have a shot at an Olympic medal.

“It is different when you choose the time to start a family. But, when the decision is made for you, it is not an easy thing to deal with at all.

“I cannot lie, I considered an abortion. On the one hand you look at the situation and say, ‘I can have a baby and incur more costs, more problems.’ We don’t even have a house yet, we are staying with Darrell’s parents. And I am the major breadwinner.

“When my body is my business, then if my body is not functioning, there is no business.”

Athletes are physical laborers, their money in their muscle. Just like at the office, a woman’s pregnancy is a financial issue, as well as swerve in her career development.  For both Delobel and Danvers-Smith, the pregnancies were unexpected, and whether they decided to continue the pregnancy or not, they were put in a position that their male counterparts never encounter.

Both women took a great deal of public criticism for their pregnancies.  British hurdler Alan Pascoe publicly called Danvers-Smith stupid for getting pregnant, and her competitors doubted she would return to the sport.  She won bronze in Beijing in 2008.

When Delobel announced her pregnancy and her intention to still compete in the Olympics, people wondered about the safety of the choice, and the realism of competing four months after delivery.  The general tone of message board comments about her announcement focused on Delobel’s arrogance in thinking she would be back in shape, or the danger of risking miscarriage (which is lower than TV melodramas would have you believe). Pregnant women often carry the heavy load of society scrutinizing and opining about every choice they make, and we have an extreme example with Delobel.

The coverage of Danvers-Smith and Delobel has greatly focused on how their pregnancies affect the men in their life. Danvers-Smith, is married to her coach :

“Darrell was in even more shock,” she said. “He had a complete conflict of interests because his wife is pregnant, which is nice. But then his athlete is pregnant, one of the star athletes in his group, which is difficult.”

The Telegraph article ends with her telling her dad to not buy tickets to Athens.  “I have good news and bad news,” she says, “The good news is I’m pregnant. The bad news is I’m pregnant.” His response: “Yeah. That is good and bad news.”

With Delobel, her skating partner’s Olympic chances were also on the line, as they had skated together for years.  Schoenfelder told the NYT: “I congratulated her, of course, but it’s true that afterward, it was a shock and quite difficult for me for a while.” In the same article, another ice dancer mentions that if she was in the same situation, her partner would react badly.  Delobel initially even said her due date was earlier to make the news easier on Schoenfelder.  While everybody in the article seems nice enough, this is an unfriendly little turn, and highlights what women deal with in the office, revealing their pregnancies. The idea seems to be that women’s pregnancies are something being done to the institutions they work in and men they work with, a selfish act instead of a common thing that humans do. If the workplace could adapt to the idea that women, as half the population, are not anomalies to general order, but part of the pattern itself, then the complexity of the situation could exist without the discomfort.

One commenter on an ice dancing message board said that the pregnancy should be considered as an injury, nothing more, nothing less. Among all of the judgment and disappointment on the boards, this seemed like the sanest response. Delobel was recovering from a shoulder injury when she found out she was pregnant, and in both cases, she would need to take time off from practice, and then rebuild her strength.  Yet, we treat an injury as an unfortunate random event that affects several people, whereas a pregnancy is a focus of bad timing, irresponsibility, and a choice without choice.

There are other pregnant athletes, including a curler on Team Canada that is 51/2 months along. Over at Broadsheet, Tracy Clark-Flory calls the pregnant Olympian “an awesome embodiment of both nurturer and competitor, mother and warrior.”  And both Delobel and Danvers-Smith, neither actually pregnant at the Olympics, are this as well.

Us Weekly ran the story alongside before and after photo’s of celebrity post-baby bodies with Delobel’s quote “Losing the 20 pounds of baby weight “was the most work, the hardest work I did all my life.”  Of course, if we look at the original source for the quote, the Washington Post, Delobel isn’t referencing her weight loss, she’s talking about getting ready for the Olympics.

Yours, with a glowing heart,


3 Responses to The Ballad of the Pregnant Ice Dancer

  1. Pingback: The Ballad of the Pregnant Ice Dancer, and other songs « Millicent …

  2. Pingback: What Utah’s Miscarriage=Homicide Laws Could Mean: Some Scenarios « Millicent and Carla Fran

  3. Pingback: Unselfish Female Feminists: True or False? « Millicent and Carla Fran

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