"I had to tell the club about the pregnancy before my mother"

“I had to tell the club about the pregnancy before my mother”

Toni Duggan announced her pregnancy in September – weeks after the start of the Women’s Super League season

It’s not often you tell your boss you’re pregnant before your parents.

But for Everton striker Toni Duggan, 31, it was one of the tough choices she had to make after finding out she was going to be a mum while remaining a professional footballer.

“One of the biggest challenges was hiding it from the team,” says Duggan, who is now more than four months pregnant.

“It’s not that common in our environment for that to happen, so it was quite difficult at first.

“I was probably more shocked and it was harder to deal with. I had to tell the coach before telling my mum. It was different and new.

“It was something I wouldn’t have wanted to do, but as a professional footballer I had to do it.”

Duggan, who has 76 caps for England, publicly announced her pregnancy in September and continues to train with the club – although her morning sickness hasn’t bothered her.

“Now I’m starting to feel the baby kicking a bit more which makes it feel more real,” Duggan told BBC Sport.

“I’m really happy to still be with the team and part of it. I’ve had a lot of days off with illness, so the club have been amazing in that regard.

“I missed one of the girls games that I was really bummed out about. When I watch the games, I miss playing. Hopefully it will come back after the baby.”

“Knowing how to manage it was difficult”

Toni Duggan and Demi Stokes celebrate after winning the 2016 League Cup with Manchester City
Toni Duggan (right) played alongside mum Demi Stokes (left) at Manchester City and with England

Duggan is not the first footballer in England to become a mum but it is not common.

His former England team-mate Katie Chapman had three children – her first when she was 21 – and was among those who called for improved childcare support.

Chelsea midfielder Melanie Leupolz announced her pregnancy in March, a month after players in the top two tiers of women’s football in England were agreed would receive a better maternity allowance.

England defender Demi Stokes also became a mum this year, although she did not carry the baby, while Scotland and Reading defender Emma Mukandi, 30 – formerly Emma Mitchell – recently returned after having her first child.

But Duggan said the decision to become a mum was not a difficult one despite being rare in football. The uncertainty of what to do next, however, was more difficult.

“It wasn’t originally planned, so I never really thought about it. I always knew I wanted kids and wanted to be a mum, but I didn’t know what stage of my life it would come to. “, says Duggan.

“When I took the test and got the positive result, obviously there was a lot of shock. Even if I wasn’t into football, there would be shock and surprise and a mixture of emotions.

“The reality of thinking ‘I have to tell my manager, the team and I’m not going to play football for x time’ – knowing how to deal with that was difficult.

“I had never been on the same team as anyone who went through that initial process. It was just me and my boyfriend and I was like ‘what do we do? “”

Duggan had the backing of the club doctor and he advised her on next steps. She told the manager and the physio and they kept it between them until the 12-week milestone, when she finally shared the news with her teammates.

“It was the biggest relief for so long. I had to hide it from them and say I had a back injury. Sorry to everyone I lied to, but I didn’t know how to go about it. take,” Dugan said.

“Sharing the locker room with the girls and having to hide it, when I was sick and starting to get a little bump – all those things.

“They didn’t realize it. Nobody had anticipated that I might be pregnant. It was a big, big relief. I obviously told my family about it too and they were over the moon.”

“I want to know how others are doing”

Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn
Alex Morgan (left) and Crystal Dunn (right) join Team USA after becoming moms

Duggan wants to help other female footballers on their journey to becoming a mother and she says she is “intrigued” by the support available elsewhere in women’s football.

The United States have had several high profile moms on the team, including World Cup winners Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn.

Duggan says it was “much more common” in other countries for female footballers to become mums and she wants more research into how they are supported.

“Just because it’s not common doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be guidelines and protocols in place. I want to know how other countries and players are doing,” she says.

“The ones I know are such powerful and strong women and they’ve come back from that and are doing so well in football. It obviously gives me the inspiration to do that.”

Her biggest hope is that the guidelines will be improved so that other moms-to-be will feel more comfortable about the steps to follow.

“There are areas that I think can still be improved. I don’t think women’s football is ready for women to be pregnant,” said Duggan, who also played for Manchester City, Barcelona and the United. Atlético Madrid.

“There could be girls who are 25 or others at the end of their career and you should feel comfortable because it is a natural thing for women.

“It should be welcomed and it should feel natural for women’s football.”

However, Duggan is embracing the journey of pregnancy and she hopes to return to the field with a new supporter.

“I love football and I’m only 31. I couldn’t think of a better motivation than having your own child on the sidelines watching you.”

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