Gotta Get a Few Things Off My Chest

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

1. I won’t make you wait for the big news.

I’m pregnant :)

Actually, as a matter of fact, the better way to say that would be: I’ve been pregnant. I’m in what they call the second trimester as I write this to y’all. It’s crazy just to type that out. Whew!! I’ve never felt ANYTHING like this before. It’s like one minute you’re living your life…. and then the next minute you’re living this whole different life. I can’t even really explain it. I’m so happy, though. That much I can tell you. I’m a happy mom-to-be.

But there’s also a flip side of that.... and it’s unfortunate, I won’t lie: I’ve played my last game of this WNBA season. If you know me, then you know how tough that is for me. I’m a damn competitor. I don’t like having any type of unfinished business left on the court — and I feel like we still haven’t put it together as a team this year in Atlanta. So it’s bittersweet to have my season be over.

2. This wasn’t something I planned on.

I’m going to be really real with you here. That’s why I’m writing this article, is to keep things real about these topics. Have I always wanted a family at some point? Absolutely. That’s been a big dream of mine. But the truth is, in my mind that was something that was going to happen after my playing career was over. The idea of getting pregnant while I was in the W?? I mean, I knew players who had done it. But I also knew that was some superwoman type behavior. In my head I was just like, Hmm. Nah, I’ll wait.

But then it happened.

And I’ll tell you what.... there were so many different thoughts traveling through my head, and so many different things that I talked about with my mom and my boyfriend (that’s how tight of a circle we kept it at first, just us three and my doctor). It was an entire MESS of emotions, and it’s like each different emotion can dominate your feelings on a different day. There were some blunt conversations about how this could impact my career, my body, my athleticism, my earnings, and so on. It was even raised, the question of, Cheyenne — should you keep the baby?? Are there options, you know what I’m saying??? And this is no judgment toward anyone else’s choices, I need to be very very clear about that. But for me, just having that thought of options in my head.... it’s like my whole body and soul rejected it. It’s like the feelings were so real to me in that moment. Call it love, call it God’s plan, call it what you will. I realized I’ve been given a blessing.

3. My mom.... that’s my rock.

I want to tell y’all a lot more about this pregnancy journey I’ve been on — but first I think I need to backtrack a little, and explain a few things about myself. I’ll probably start crying as I write this.... hang with me, though. It’s not always easy to share.

Cheyenne Parker | Atlanta Dream | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Cheyenne Parker

One thing about me is: I grew up around domestic violence. I don’t think I knew exactly what “trauma” was at the time, or what it meant. But what I can tell you now is that those memories.... I mean, they’re more than just memories, right?? It's like, the fear, it’s not in the past. The fear is right there with you. It's your shadow. It’s a forever thing.

When I was about 10 years old, my mom got us out. Me and her and my younger brother, we bounced around homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, stayed with family — wherever there was a bed or a couch. But the thing is.... just getting out?? That doesn’t make the pain go away. And I think my mom always understood that.

4. Basketball.... that’s my escape.

Basketball, for my whole life, that’s been the one okay place in the world. 

That’s been where I go to forget, and to be carefree. I might have had all this trauma as a little kid, but you put that ball in my hands and I was FLYING. I might have gotten in some fights at my new school in Georgia (Oh she from New York, she think she better than us?!), but you put me on the basketball team and then suddenly I started making some bonds. I might have gotten busted for weed in college, and taken suspensions for that, but you give me that goal of making the LEAGUE?!? Of being in the 144 of the W??! Well now I have a purpose, and no one on this planet is working harder than me once I have a purpose — especially if it has to do with hooping.

And I’m so proud of it, you know what I mean?

I’m so proud to have gotten myself this far. I’m so proud of what I’ve overcome. I really wasn’t supposed to be here!! So when you start talking about Cheyenne Parker, WNBA player?? That right there — it’s everything to me. Everything.

And if you know what the talent pool is like right now, then you know: Ain’t NO guarantees in this business. Might take you 20 years to make it.... but you can lose it in a blink of an eye.

Cheyenne Parker | Atlanta Dream | The Players' Tribune
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I just don’t think people appreciate that enough about female athletes — and about the situation we’re in, if we want to be making these types of family decisions. I worked hard as hell to get to this level. I’m not where I want to be just yet, which is an All-Star, but I feel like I’m close. I’m 28, coming off my career year. This was my moment, if we’re being real about it. So it’s like imagine you’re climbing Mount Everest, and you’ve made it through the storms and the snow and the ice and the hail and all of it, and you’re so close to the top you can see it.... and then right at that moment you tell your climbing crew, Actually hold up. I’m about to have a baby. Let’s finish this climb in a year, if that’s cool with y’all.

If we still can.

5. Before I keep going, I think I need to address one thing.

Some people reading, they might know this, but it came out around preseason that I was the only player on the Dream who got COVID. And it also came out I wasn't vaccinated — and that brought out some criticism toward me, for sure. And let’s be real: I didn’t help matters, with the way I reacted.... which I can see now probably came off as me being defensive. Almost like I had jokes about it. Or like I wasn’t taking it seriously.

And I guess I have a few things to say about that.

One is, there’s no excuse for my reaction. I’ve always prided myself on rising to the occasion if adversity happens, and on setting a good example. I didn’t do that here.

But I’m also a human being. And I hope that people can understand how, like, what came out as defensive — the truth is, that was more like me being in denial, as a way of coping. I’m not one of these people who’s going around like, “Nah. F*ck science.” I take COVID really seriously, I take my health really seriously, and I take my baby’s health more seriously than anything in the world. I struggled a lot with the decision of if I should get vaccinated while pregnant. I asked my doctor, I did my research, I talked it through with my boyfriend and my mom. I don’t care about any of the politics of it, or any of that b.s. Truly all I care about is my baby’s health.

And I went back and forth about it for a while. It’s almost like I was paralyzed from trying to do the right thing, if that makes sense……… it was torture. But it just seemed like the advice about vaccinations and pregnant women, at that time, it was still up in the air. It was still a situation where no one was telling me, you know, It’s undisputed, Cheyenne, these are the facts, this is what you should do. So I just tried to make the right choice, the best I could.

And honestly.... maybe I didn’t end up making the right choice. And I promise you I’ve had to live with that thought every day. I promise you that it messed me up. But I really just wanted to clear the air, so people know where I was coming from during all of that — and where I’m coming from now. I just want to be a good mom, you know what I mean? I have so much love in my heart for that baby. And I just hope my baby will love me back, flaws and all.

Cheyenne Parker | Atlanta Dream | The Players' Tribune
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

6. Everyone wants to focus on the physical side of female athletes being pregnant — but they have it twisted.

It’s the mental side that is most challenging, by far.

And not even just “female athletes,” to be honest with you — women in general. Anyone who is reading this and had to go through a pregnancy in the pandemic, I’d give you a hug right now if I could. Y’all are my heroes. Y’all are who I’m looking at right now for strength. And y’all might be the only people I can relate to right now. So I just want to say thank you for existing.

But it’s been a lonely time.

And it’s been a dark time, at certain moments, no doubt.

I think the worst moment for me was probably in those weeks dealing with COVID. You have to understand.... it wasn’t just COVID itself, and those symptoms that I had to endure, the chills and fatigue. It also wasn’t just the pregnancy on top of that, and I’m vomiting all day, and that’s a whole other fatigue. And then like I said, it wasn’t even just how terrible I felt about getting COVID when I was supposed to be protecting my baby at all costs. It was all of those things, combined.... and then on top of that, this other thing: Now, not only was I going to have to miss the end of the W season — I also had to miss the start of the new season.

That almost broke me, man.

You know how that’s like? When it’s not just this one L ... but it’s the whole accumulation of Ls? It was like the start of this season was the one thing I had in my life that was going according to plan. I was coming off of a career year in the Wubble. I was in the best shape of my damn life. It was early enough in the pregnancy that my game wouldn’t really be impacted. That was the ONE thing I had wanted. I was like, alright, just give me this. Let me make my mark in the first half of this season, and remind the league what I’m about. Let me just ball out before I take this maternity leave.

But then I couldn’t even have that.

And I won’t lie to you: I got very depressed. I got very depressed for a minute there. And like I said, I really do no not want to sugarcoat anything here. I think this is way too important for any of that. So I’ll tell you what being depressed meant for me.

It meant losing a lot of weight — almost all of my athletic muscle.

It meant not wanting to be awake, ever. So like I’d sleep, I’d wake up, I’d probably vomit some, probably eat some breakfast my boyfriend made, probably vomit some more, and then go right back to sleep. It was like sleep was the only way I could stop feeling what I was feeling.

It also meant having thoughts about how worthless I was, how I didn’t deserve to live. I just felt like I couldn’t do anything right. Couldn't do “basketball player” right. Couldn't do “girlfriend” right. Couldn't do being a mom right. Couldn't do being a person right. I just felt like.... there was no reason for me to be around.

And I really want to include all that in my article, even for as raw as it seems — because I hope that maybe someone out there can be reading this, maybe another mom-to-be out there can be reading this, maybe a mom-to-be who’s had those thoughts, too, who feels like she can’t do anything right. Maybe she’ll be reading this. And maybe she’ll believe me when I say this next part: that there actually IS life after those thoughts. It doesn’t matter how dark they are. If you can just make it to the other side.... there is life waiting for you, I promise.

I’m proof.

Cheyenne Parker | Atlanta Dream | The Players' Tribune
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

7. Shouts to my UNION.

I’ll tell you an embarrassing story about me, because I think it can be a good example.

Alright. So.... I’ve always had respect for unions. And I’ve always had respect for MY union, the WNBPA. I respect what they do generally, and — yeah, of course — I love what they do for me personally.

But I won’t front: I might not have been paying the best attention to every single part of our new CBA from last year. I might have taken a couple of breaks in terms of giving my full undivided focus to all of the tiniest details. And one of those details might have been the maternity leave stuff. Because like I said — maternity, that just wasn’t in my plans. That was for after my playing career. So I wasn’t really trying to memorize every detail of the CBA’s new child-care stipend, if you get what I’m saying.

And......................... then I got pregnant.



Now, my first thoughts — they were some combination of “How’d this happen??!?” and “Praise God.” But eventually I also started to think about more practical things. Like: If I take part of next season off, what’s that going to do to my finances?? Can I afford this, can I afford that, am I about to have to make some changes — that type of thing. And then, y’all....… 

I went into my email and pulled up that PDF with our CBA in it SO DAMN FAST.

And I’m speeding through, speeding through, trying to find the right sections, like, What’s it gonna be, what’s it gonna be, are they taking my money, please no please no....…

Then I get to 'em and it’s like: Enjoy this FULL salary for your WHOLE-ASS maternity leave. GUARANTEED two-bedroom apartment. FIVE-THOUSAND DOLLAR childcare stipend.

And I just sat there, staring at this “boring” collective bargaining agreement.... and literally I’m crying tears of joy.

So the next time you see some news story about the work the WNBPA is doing, and you want to talk your b.s. about how we don’t deserve NBA money, or you can beat us one on one, or we should get back into the kitchen, or whatever it is — man, just remember, THIS is the stuff we are fighting for. REAL PEOPLE things. ANXIETY LIFTING things. That’s my LIFE you’re talking about. 

That’s PEACE OF MIND my union just gave me.

So, shoutout to them.

8. I have a few last messages I want to write down here to a few last people.

To my mom and my boyfriend: Y’all are my everything. Thank you for being you.

To all the moms in the W (and SERENA): Y’all are so powerful. From Candace, to DeWanna, to Skylar, to Dearica, to Bria, and on and on — to every last one of you, I swear. Thank you for the inspiration.

To my Dream fans: Never said it would be easy.... but this team is moving in the right direction, I promise you. Renee is doing her thing up at the top. Courtney is doing her thing as an All-Star. And we’ve got young talent that hasn’t even scratched the surface of their potential. Stay with us. It’s about to get fun.

And to the skeptics: Man.... doubt me at your own damn risk. I’m coming back stronger than ever. I’m coming back faster than ever. I’m coming back better than ever. It’s like my mom said to me the other day, “Cheyenne, I was reading some articles — and they’re saying that athletes can still ‘tear it up’ after being pregnant!” Yeah, Mom. They’re saying that.

Listen to my mother.

9. And then I just have one more thing that I want to say, a special message for a special someone.

To my baby....…

You may not be born yet, but you’re almost here — and in some ways I feel like we already know each other. I feel like I know your energy. I feel like I know your spirit. I know the part of you that only moms can know.

To be honest, you and I have had a pretty crazy adventure so far. We've gotten through hopefully the worst part of a pandemic. I think we've watched almost the entire Netflix library (our go-tos right now are Selena and Lupin). We’ve also watched a wild amount of League Pass (our favorite players are A’ja Wilson and Joel Embiid). We even played like half a WNBA season (and averaged over 10 ppg, not bad).

I can’t wait to see what we get up to next.

Cheyenne Parker | Atlanta Dream | The Players' Tribune
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

You’ll learn about me, too, as we go. I’m not perfect — not even close. You’ll see that I can have bad moods (just call me out on them). I can act really dumb (but I’m usually pretty smart). I can be stubborn as hell. And I’ll even take a low-percentage shot every now and then. 

I’m gonna make all sorts of mistakes. 

I’m gonna say the wrong thing so many times. 

I’m gonna do the wrong thing so many times.

But I’ll tell you what.

I’m always, always, always going to be there. You need me, I’m there — that’s the Mama Cheyenne guarantee. Whether it’s in a few months, when you’re hungry, or it’s a few months after that, when you’re trying to talk or walk, or a few years after that, when you’re trying to read, or do your times tables, or any of it. When it’s time for your first band-aid. Or your first crush. Or your first breakup. Or (let’s be real) your first basketball game. When you’re having success, or failure, or both, or you’re anywhere in between. I’m always going to be there.

And whatever it is, whenever it is, I promise — we’ll get through it.

Because we’ll do it the same way we’ve been doing it since the day I heard you were coming.