2012 marks Matildas’ captain Melissa Barbieri’s tenth year in the Australian National Team. A decade at the top of the Australian women’s game. A decade of being a dedicated, hardworking and well-tuned athlete in touch with her body; or so she thought.
“It was pretty interesting. Playing in Japan I had few stomach issues and a bit of lethargy,” Barbieri recalled.
“A couple of the girls, Walshy [Sarah Walsh] in particular, were like ‘Maybe you’re pregnant?’. It was more of a joke than anything so I just brushed it off.”
However that offhand comment stayed with her and upon return to her home city of Melbourne, the 32 year old consulted her physician.
“I pretty much found out then and there in the doctor’s office.”
“I called my husband and he was quite as shocked as I was. I found out that I was already 11 ½ weeks pregnant.”
Those previous three months had seen her lead the national team in a two match international series against New Zealand and a one match test against world champions Japan.
While initially surprised Barbieri and her husband of five years, Geoff Hudson, we also delighted. Motherhood has always been on the agenda for her as she stated to Daily Life‘s Kathryn Wicks earlier this year. Although, she admitted, maybe not this close on the horizon.
“We had made the decision to start having children but when I found out we had a few internationals this year, I was going to put it off until after then,” Barbieri said.
“We are kind of lucky in a sense it happened so quickly. When these things happen you kind of think ‘okay this is fate telling me it’s the right time’.”
The revelation to both her families, her very close Italian family and the Matildas family, was met with great joy.
“They cried,” she recollected of her announcement to her parents. “Even though this will be their sixth grandchild, I am the only daughter in the family so it’s a little bit different for them.”
“It’s a very exciting time for them. I can’t get my Dad off the phone when I speak to him!”
“Now Tommy [Tom Sermanni] is an old hat at this really. He knows what he is doing now so that made it easier for me.”
MOTHERHOOD AND THE MATILDAS
Barbieri’s news comes on the back of midfielder Heather Garriock’s announcement of her pregnancy earlier this year. Garriock, who is due to give birth in the next month or so, and Barbieri have both expressed their desire to return to the national team after their birth.
While some footballers have managed to return, family and women’s football is an area Barbieri admits the Matildas can improve upon.
“I think it has always been something that we have been lacking in the Matildas. That sense of motherhood, that you can come back after having children,” she stated.
“Players have done it in the past but they have been doing it off their own bat but now we have some strategies in place for the future.”
One of those strategies yet to be arranged will be the remuneration aspect. With less than a year left to run on the current Matildas Collective Bargaining Agreement (expires 30 June 2013), it will be a new dimension of the next Agreement.
“It will definitely be in our next of bargaining agreements. We have to make sure that we are well covered as a team and that the FFA covered as well.”
MAKING THE MOST OF DOWN TIME
Since her debut back in 2002, Barbieri has never missed an international and until this year, due to recovery from an ankle reconstruction, had never missed a national training camp.
The enforced down time will take some getting used to but there are certainly plenty of avenues available with Barbieri in the last 12 months starting to spread her wings beyond the playing arena.
Currently half way through the 18 month coaching A Licence, she is looking to use the break to continue to build her coaching credentials. Also on the agenda is continuing with her burgeoning media career.
This year she became the first female sideline commentator for Fox Sports’ A-League coverage. The appearances have been followed up by several seats on ABC’s Offsiders couch alongside the likes of Gerard Whately and Francis Leach.
And with a former Matilda Alicia Ferguson vacating the co-commentator booth alongside Peter Wilkins, there is another tantalising opening for Barbieri on the ABC W-League coverage.
“I would love to work with the ABC there and I would also like with Fox on the A-League.”
“Both of them have expressed interest and if all the pieces fit then hopefully that would come about in the summer.”
“There are so many ways that I want to give back to the game so I am sure I will keep myself busy until I return.”
THE END GOAL
While other plans are up in the air, one thing Melissa Barbieri is emphatic on is that she will be returning to football.
A recent meeting with 3 time gold medal winning US Women’s National Team captain Christie Rampone has made her even more determined.
“I have found some inspiration from her”, said Barbieri.
“She [Rampone] is 37 and she has just captained the US to another Olympic gold and she has done it with two children.”
“Whether I play or not, that is up to the coach at the time.”
That ambition means there will be no resting up during her pregnancy.
“I have a strict eating plan so eating for two will not be a good excuse!” she laughed.
“I have consulted with a few doctors and they say keeping active is actually better for you and the child so I am going to continue training up until I feel discomfort.”
“Right now I will doing a lot of ball work and during the latter stages of the pregnancy I will be doing more yoga to keep my strength up.”
While pregnancy was once considered the death knell to an female athlete’s career, interestingly evidence has arisen in recent years that it may actually be a positive for female athletes.
During pregnancy blood volume rises about 60% resulting in more oxygen carried to the muscles mirroring the effects of blood doping. While blood volume returns to normal within four to eight weeks after giving birth, research is being performed into how training during pregnancy can enhance performance post-birth.
That was some good news that was imparted by Rampone to Barbieri.
“She said that you will probably find that you are actually better than you were pre-pregnancy so I am looking forward to that!”