Becky Sauerbrunn opens up about freezing embryos, ending stigma

As captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team, Becky Sauerbrunn is an expert when it comes to navigating tough conversations. But this fall, the prospect of one particular conversation scared her.

Sauerbrunn had decided to freeze her embryos.

“Broaching the subject with the national team, that was kind of terrifying,” the 36-year-old said on the latest episode of the On Her Turf podcast. “I was basically cramming this month-long process in between two national team camps.”

As part of the process of having her eggs extracted, Sauerbrunn – a two-time World Cup champion and two-time Olympic medalist – was told she would need to stop working out, almost entirely.

“It was the first time I ever had forced inactivity. They were like, ‘You can’t raise your heart rate above 160.’”

Unable to run, bike, or swim, the only activity that was still on the table? Walking.

Despite her initial fear, Sauerbrunn said national team coaches and staff were ultimately understanding of her decision. And while she became “very deconditioned” ahead of the upcoming USWNT January camp, she knows she made the right choice.

“I didn’t want that added pressure when trying to decide the future of my career,” she said. “As someone who is an older athlete… I often have to think, ‘Will I want to start a family?’”

For Sauerbrunn, who got her first USWNT cap in 2008, fighting for gender equality has always been part of the gig.

But it wasn’t until recently that she expanded her vision of equity in soccer to include benefits like egg and embryo freezing, which can help athletes extend their playing careers without sacrificing their family planning goals.

“I think that’s the future of protecting women,” Sauerbrunn said.

The WNBA – as is often the case – pioneered this mentality shift.

When the WNBA and its players association unveiled their new CBA in 2019, it included the option for veteran players to be reimbursed up to $20,000 each year for costs related to adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing or fertility/infertility treatment.

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Last year, Seattle Storm and Team USA teammates Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart revealed that they had frozen their eggs.

“This isn’t weird, this isn’t something that has to be whispered about. This should be normal conversation for all women who have careers, are career oriented or who have goals that way,” Bird said of her decision.

This fall, Racing Louisville announced that it would become the first NWSL team to offer fertility services as a benefit.

For Sauerbrunn, the Racing Louisville announcement – coupled with a health panel hosted by the Portland Thorns – was the spark she needed to look into the embryo freezing process.

“I think women maybe feel ashamed to that they need to use fertility services,” Sauerbrunn explained. “I hope that we can break that stigma because – if we can use that science to fulfill a dream to have a family – why not do that?”

(The full interview with Sauerbrunn is embedded above. You can also listen to the On Her Turf podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.)

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Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

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