First Mother’s Day Is Extra Special For Mallory Weggemann
by Karen Price
Mallory Weggemann competes while pregnant at the 2022 U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships. (Photo: Laura Wolff)
Three-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann feels like she’s in a heightened state of awareness every time she’s in the water.
From her thoughts and emotions to the way her hand feels when it first cuts through the water, everything seems more intense. So it only makes sense that the pool was where she felt the baby she’d waited so very long to have in her belly move for the very first time.
“I was like, ‘I think those are flutters! I think the baby’s moving around!’” Weggemann, of Eagan, Minnesota, said. “She very much did like the water.”
Weggemann and her husband, Jay Snyder, welcomed Charlotte Ann to the world eight weeks ago. Their first child was a long time coming. Snyder has male factor infertility, and the couple conceived through in vitro fertilization. They chronicled the journey on social media and in the mainstream press in order to help reshape views on infertility, reduce the stigma and shame often associated with it, and encourage others to have their own conversations. A low point came one year ago when they had to share the sad news that their first transfer was unsuccessful.
Then, in July, they learned their little one was on the way.
One of the things Weggemann deeply wanted was to be able to compete while pregnant. As dedicated as she is to normalizing discussion about infertility, she is just as passionate about demonstrating all that’s possible not only for women but also women with disabilities. When she timed it out, she realized she’d be able to compete at the U.S. Para swimming nationals in December and bring her little one along for the ride.
Ironically, the meet was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and while Weggemann and Snyder had long ago chosen Charlotte for a little girl’s name, they didn’t know the gender when Weggemann was competing.
Turns out the baby not only liked swimming, but also racing.
“My first race I got on the block, and I hadn’t practiced a single start before nationals,” Weggemann said. “I got on the block, and I got in position and was crouched and she was moving and grooving while I was sitting there. It was so special getting to share those moments with her. She was active every time I was in the water and that was so fun for me.”
Because they were so public about their pregnancy journey, Weggemann also became aware of a whole different set of biases that exist around women with disabilities and female athletes. Not only were there a lot of misconceptions and even negative judgments about her ability to get pregnant and be a mother while in a wheelchair, but there were also a lot of people who assumed that she’d stop competing once she became a mother.
“I made it abundantly clear that my athletic career is far from over, but there’s still this stigma where we look at female athletes who talk about family planning and their athletic career and it’s like, ‘Are you going to come back?’ or ‘When are you going to stop training?’” she said. “No one would say to a man, ‘Maybe you should take this season off because you’re going to be tired,’ or ‘Are you even going to come back because you might be too busy being a dad.’ Male athletes don’t go through that.”
Weggemann, now 34, was named to her 13th national team at 31 weeks pregnant. It was right around the same time that she realized it had been 18 months since she competed at her third Paralympics in Tokyo, winning two golds and one silver medal, and 18 months until the opening of the next Paralympics in Paris. At 38 weeks, she was still swimming. Two days after posting a video to Instagram of her swimming breaststroke, she was in labor.
Weggemann’s plan is to return to competition at nationals in December. For now, Weggemann and Snyder are soaking up every precious moment with Charlotte. They plan to spend Mother’s Day with Weggemann’s mother, who’s now a first-time grandmother.
While 15 months to Paris isn’t exactly a long time, Weggemann also knows it’s enough time to prepare to get up on the starting block to defend her 200 IM title with her husband and daughter in the stands.
“I can be a fierce athlete and have aspirations in the pool and not slow down in my career and chase after my goals that I’m still chasing after and be an amazing mom,” she said. “I can do both. And so can other women, and there’s a path forward for that that female athletes are creating. To be part of that and also be part of changing conversations around infertility and the stigma of what it means to live with a disability in our society and to now be in the early weeks of parenthood, it’s just special.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.