Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

"Running in and out of Motherhood": Elite Distance Runners' Experiences of Returning to Competition after Pregnancy

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

"Running in and out of Motherhood": Elite Distance Runners' Experiences of Returning to Competition after Pregnancy

Article excerpt

Abstract

Although a few studies on the experiences of mothering athletes have been conducted that investigate issues such a training patterns of elite and non-elite athletes, quality of life issues, and track and field athletes' return to competition after pregnancy (see Beilock, Feltz, & Pivarnik, 2001; Balague, Shaw, Vernacchia, & Yambor, 1995: Pederson, 2001), none of these capture this experience from a critical feminist perspective. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to use a critical feminist framework to qualitatively explore the athletic experiences of elite distance runners who returned to competition after having children. The results of this study indicated that elite female distance runners who returned to a high level of competition after pregnancy experienced a transformative process as they negotiated their new roles as mothers and integrated this new lifestyle with both the social discourse surrounding motherhood and their own objectives to continue running at an elite level. Implications and theoretical connections between this research and future research are also provided

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Feminist sport psychologists have called for more in-depth studies focusing on the experiences of women in sport (Bredemeier, et al, 1991; Greenleaf & Collins, 2001; Oglesby, 2001; Whaley, 2001). One unique aspect of the female experience is motherhood. Motherhood can impact training and performance in complex ways. To date, there are few empirical studies in the sport psychology literature that document the experience of returning to competition after giving birth (see Beilock, Feltz, & Pivarnik, 2001; Pederson, 2001; Balague, Shaw, Vernaccia, & Yambor, 1995). In addition, no researchers have used a critical feminist approach to study this experience.

Feminist scholars seek to illuminate the everyday experiences of women, particularly by studying gender as a social construction and endeavoring to eliminate sexist oppression (Campbell & Wasco, 2000; Costa & Guthrie, 1994; Lather, 1991). More specifically, critical feminist scholars attempt to represent "lived experiences" while also attending to the potential change our research may have for women living this experience (Whaley, 2001, p. 420). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to use a critical feminist framework to explore the athletic experiences of elite distance runners who returned to competition after having children.

Interpreting, questioning, uncovering, and challenging issues of reproduction, reproductive rights, and social stereotypes of motherhood are long-standing projects of feminist researchers. Early, first-wave feminists celebrated motherhood as a unique biological distinction between men and women (Chase & Rogers, 2001). As the feminist movement grew, second-wave feminists began to critically look at the social expectations related to motherhood. In some cases, this critical evaluation pinpointed motherhood as a socially oppressive role (Snitow, 1992). However, as McMahon (1995) pointed out, the objective of second-wave feminists was not to attack mothers or the act of motherhood but rather to offer women choices by challenging the repressive reign of patriarchy.

Recent trends in feminist theory have articulated the need to challenge patriarchal mandates of motherhood while at the same time appreciating the context and act of mothering. As McMahon (1995) suggested:

  The challenge facing feminist analysis became one of valuing
  women's social capacity to care and/or their biological capacity to
  give birth, while resisting having these capacities considered
  definitive or "essential" or best in what it is to be a
  woman (pp. 9-10).

Stanworth (1990) called this irony of motherhood an "empirical paradox" (p. 297) to represent that motherhood, and the responsibilities which it encompasses, often repress women while at the same time allows and encourages women to unearth newfound aspects of self-worth through mothering (McMahon, 1995). …

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