By Katrina Gorry

The hardest part of having a baby at this point in my career has been missing playing for the Matildas.  My teammates are here in Australia for the first time in ages, but because of the border restrictions between Queensland and New South Wales, I can’t be with them in camp. 

Sometimes, I feel like that chapter of my life has come to an end. 

But when I look at my baby girl, Harper, I know that I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m still a contracted Matilda, and being away from the national team for so long has put the fire in my belly to get back to full fitness and hopefully play with them again.

A fortnight ago, I started training at Football Queensland with the QAS girls and Brisbane Roar staff. It’s mostly just running and gym sessions, and at this stage I’m not sure if I’ll be back for Round 1 of the A-League Women. But I feel good considering everything I’ve been through over the past nine months.

Childbirth was not what I expected. While I was pregnant, I did as much research as I could. I listened to a lot of podcasts. I did hypno-birthing classes.  I spoke to my mum and my sister about their experiences. So I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted everything to happen. The plan was to have my baby naturally; I didn’t want any drugs. 

In the end, it went the complete opposite way. 

My waters broke on Friday 13 August – my 29th birthday. I was so excited, but nothing happened. On Saturday, I started having contractions and my back was sore. I painted my belly and tried a belly dance but still nothing.

On Sunday, I went to the Mater Mothers’ Hospital and was induced that afternoon. I didn’t want that to happen because it changes your labour. And then Harper – who had been in a good position for my whole pregnancy – decided to turn and was “OP”, which means her spine was on my spine.

Suddenly, the pain in my back was like nothing I’d experienced before. They gave me a morphine shot, but it didn’t do much. Then came the water shots, which is four needles in your back to take the pain away. They were excruciating at first, but they gave me some relief. 

Two hours later, the drugs had worn off and the pain returned. I asked for another morphine shot. It had been 12 hours, and I was still in pain even after they gave me an epidural. All my expectations for pregnancy were now out of the window – I’d gone from not wanting any drugs to having the lot. 

Another three hours passed. I was actually watching an NWSL game on my phone when I realised Harper was finally ready to come out. The doctors started to get worried, because my temperature was spiking and Harper was still in there, falling asleep during the contractions. 

I was lucky to have such a good obstetrician who knew I didn’t want a C-section. I remember her looking at me andsaying, ‘I believe in you, we’re going to push this baby out.’ Eventually, after another three hours of pushing, I was able to deliver Harper myself. I reached down, pulled her up and held her close.

Harper Ollie Gorry came into the world six days overdue but completely healthy.

Meanwhile, I was a total mess. My eyes were heavy and I had lost one litre of blood. I was even vomiting up blood. I still feel guilty about this, but I was so tired that I started thinking about asking someone to hold Harper for me. But then I looked down and saw her face and decided I couldn’t let her go. I think that’s what pulled me through. 

When I was in the clear, I looked over to my mum, Linda, who had five kids without drugs. I said to her, “you’re my hero.”

Those three days, from the moment my waters broke to my first cuddle with Harper, were some of the most incredible moments of my life. It was a marathon, but I would do it all over again.

I know now that going through childbirth changes you mentally and physically. In the past, I’ve been open about my body image issues and my experience of going through an eating disorder. 

The way I bounced back after pregnancy has given me a new appreciation for what the female body can do. I probably should have realised this while I was playing football, because as athletes we push ourselves to the limit. But it took me being pregnant and having a baby to feel proud of my body.

I am breastfeeding now, and I love the feeling of knowing that I’m responsible for keeping us both healthy and alive. 

Going through pregnancy, labour, childbirth and post-pregnancy has made me feel unstoppable. I can thank Harper for allowing me to return to training so quickly. As difficult as she was coming out, she’s been a dream ever since.

Every morning, I take her and my puppy, Rio, for a long walk along the Brisbane River. Most nights, I have seven or eight hours sleep, with Harper right beside me. There’s nobody else in our bed. I’ve wanted to be a mum since I was 19, and I was determined to have my baby with or without a partner. I was happy to do it alone, and I’m proud to be a single, working mother. 

There are things that have been hard. I went through IVF in Norway and found out I was pregnant alone in hotel quarantine in Australia. I missed the Tokyo Olympics. This season, around three quarters of my wage will be spent hiring a nanny to travel with me and the team. Sometimes, I worry about getting stuck on the wrong side of the Queensland border.

But I’m also excited to see how far I can push myself. Mentally, I feel great. Having some time away from the game made me really miss it. In fact, I haven’t felt this kind of pure love for football in a long time.

Before Harper, I had been in a professional environment for more than a decade, doing the same things over and over again. It’s refreshing that football is no longer my entire life. I have a different passion now – being a mum – which means I’m going to make the most of those hours I get on the training field and on game day.

On Saturday, I’ll watch the Matildas take on Brazil with Harper. I can’t wait for the girls to meet her. I think about reuniting with Meeks (Tameka Yallop) and introducing Harper to her baby, Harley. It’ll be Harley and Harper, the two Queensland kids.

Next week, I’ll start pre-season training with Brisbane Roar. For me, it’s the beginning of my journey to get back in the green and gold. It might seem like a long way off, but my goal is to play at the 2023 World Cup. 

The thought of running out for the Matildas on home soil, with Harper sitting on the sideline, is the only motivation I need.