Alex Morgan’s goal in the United States’ 6-0 win against Argentina last week didn’t seem important in the grand scheme of things. After all, the USWNT were already 4-0 up in their SheBelieves Cup finale.
For Morgan, though, the strike meant everything.
Her first goal since the 2019 World Cup semifinal was the culmination of her return to the field after giving birth to her daughter Charlie in May. It marked the end of one chapter of her career and the beginning of the next. And it was a symbol of her renewed purpose in her new dual role as pro athlete and mother.
Morgan’s journey back to the field at first appeared like it would be hurried and uncomfortable.
The striker looked like she would have around just two months to recover from childbirth last year if she wanted to be fit for the Tokyo Olympics. Even for a world-class athlete, it would have been a heavy lift.
“I definitely wanted to do my best to be on the field at Tokyo in 2020,” Morgan said, “but I knew that, honestly, some of it really wasn’t up to me. It was up to just how my body was going to recover.”
The postponement of the Olympics gave Morgan a reprieve, and a chance to work herself back into playing shape at a more gradual pace.
“Not having to go through that and being able to elongate my recovery from the birth, there’s no other way to put it: it was very helpful,” she admitted.
Still, getting back to Morgan’s previous level after pregnancy, childbirth and while caring for an infant – in any timeframe – was never going to be an easy feat.
Dr. James Pivarnik, a kinesiology and epidemiology professor at Michigan State University who studies pregnancy and sports, tells Goal that in general, top-class athletes are uniquely qualified to handle the challenges of returning to the field after giving birth.
“Anybody at the pro level, you’ve got a couple things going for you,” Pivarnik said. “You have some great genetics, you’ve got some great training over the years, a lot of experience. You’ve had to put in long hours and overcome a lot of things to get where you are.
“It’s the next thing, right? It’s not an illness, it’s just the next thing that could derail you but doesn’t need to. If you look at it that way, when you are experienced overcoming other challenges, then your odds of being successful are much better.”
When she did come back to the field, Morgan encountered a new reality. Many professional athletes have a fair amount of downtime – they train hard most days of course, but some days their scheduled team activities only last a few hours.
For any new mother, though, downtime is fleeting. For a new mother looking to recapture her previous status as one of the world’s best strikers, it is non-existent.
“My life has definitely made a 180,” Morgan said. “When we have an afternoon, a gap between training or whatever it is, it’s not like, ‘Oh let me lay down and watch TV and take a nap.’
“It’s hanging with Charlie the whole time – I’m on her schedule. I absolutely love it, but it’s very different for sure.”
When she’s on national team duty, Morgan’s new routine also includes making full use of her teammates as de facto babysitters – a role they are more than happy to fill.
“It’s just so fun to have 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 incredible women that are so strong,” Morgan said.
“It’s such an intense environment and she just brightens up the room and I think it lightens everyone up.”
The USWNT hasn’t had a baby in their midst since 2017, when Sydney Leroux brought her infant son Cassius on a trip to Scandinavia. Four years later, head coach Vlatko Andonovski is more than happy to have Charlie included among his call-ups.
“It brings the team together,” Andonovski said. “To some degree, [Charlie] is like a toy, all the players passed her around 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 her make just five appearances before she returned to the U.S. at the end of December. She is now with the Orlando Pride ahead of the NWSL season, hoping to get a run of games.
When she does play, though, she has a newfound purpose. She isn’t just playing for herself now. She’s representing her family, her daughter, and others hoping to follow in her footsteps.
“I just want to be an example for other female athletes who are moms or want to become moms – knowing that they still belong in the game after they have kids,” Morgan said after scoring against Argentina.
“You can be a mom and still be at the top of your game, so I want to continue to show that and tonight was the first step.”