Alex Morgan’s goal in the United States’ 6-0 win over Argentina last week didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. After all, the USWNT already had a 4-0 lead in the SheBelieves Cup final.
For Morgan, however, the strike meant everything.
Her first goal since the 2019 World Cup semi-final was the culmination of her return to the pitch after giving birth to her daughter Charlie in May. It marked the end of one chapter in his career and the start of the next. And it was a symbol of her renewed purpose in her new dual role of professional athlete and mother.
Morgan’s return trip to the field initially seemed rushed and uncomfortable.
The forward appeared to only have about two months to recover from childbirth last year if she wanted to be in shape for the Tokyo Olympics. Even for a world-class athlete, that would have been a heavyweight.
“I really wanted to do my best to be on the pitch in Tokyo in 2020,” said Morgan, “but I knew that, honestly, it wasn’t really up to me. It depended on how my body was going to recover.
The postponement of the Olympics gave Morgan a respite and a chance to get back into shape at a more gradual pace.
“Not having to go through this and being able to prolong my recovery after birth, there’s no other way to say it: it was very helpful,” she admitted.
Yet returning to Morgan’s previous level after pregnancy, childbirth, and while caring for a baby – anytime – was never going to be an easy feat.
Dr. James Pivarnik, professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at Michigan State University who studies pregnancy and sports, says Goal that in general, high performance athletes are uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of returning to the field after childbirth.
“Anyone at the professional level, you have a few things going for you,” Pivarnik said. “You have excellent genetics, you have had excellent training over the years, a lot of experience. You had to spend long hours and overcome a lot to get to where you are at.
“It’s the next thing, right?” It’s not a disease, it’s just the next thing that might derail you, but it doesn’t have to. If you see it this way, when you are experienced at overcoming other challenges, your chances of success are much better. “
When she returned to the field, Morgan encountered a new reality. Many professional athletes have quite a bit of downtime – they train hard most days of course, but some days scheduled team activities only last a few hours.
For any new mother, however, the downtime is fleeting. For a new mom looking to regain her previous status as one of the best strikers in the world, he’s nonexistent.
“My life has definitely done a 180,” Morgan said. “When we have an afternoon, an interval between training or whatever, it’s not like, ‘Oh let me lay down and watch TV and take a nap.
“Hangs out with Charlie all the time – I respect his schedule.” I love it, but it’s very different for sure.
While on duty with the national team, Morgan’s new routine is also to make full use of her teammates as de facto babysitters – a role they are more than happy to fill.
“It’s so much fun having Charlie around and for her to get used to having people around and different people holding her, playing with her and for her to be just around all these amazing women who are so strong.” Morgan said.
“It’s such an intense environment and she just lights up the room and I think that lights up everyone.”
The USWNT has not had a baby among them since 2017, when Sydney Leroux took her baby Cassius on a trip to Scandinavia. Four years later, head coach Vlatko Andonovski is more than happy that Charlie is among his orders.
“It brings the team together,” Andonovski said. “In a certain way, [Charlie] is like a toy, all the players crossed her and enjoyed the experience and it just brought happiness to the group.
Morgan knows she needs more games to get back to her previous world-class level.
A short stint at Tottenham saw him make just five appearances before returning to the United States at the end of December. She is now with the Orlando Pride ahead of the NWSL season, hoping to secure a series of games.
When she does play, however, she has a new purpose. She doesn’t just play for herself now. She represents her family, daughter and others in the hope of following in her footsteps.
“I just want to be an example for other female athletes who are mothers or who want to become mothers – knowing that they still have a place in the game after having children,” Morgan said after scoring against Argentina .
“You can be a mom and still be on top of your game, so I want to keep showing that and tonight was the first step.”