Natasha Hastings has always been bold—as an athlete, a feminist, and an entrepreneur. But when she discovered she was pregnant in late 2018, she was scared, unsure of what it meant for her Olympic aspirations and how her sponsors, who provide critical financial support, would react.
Although Hastings has two gold medals—one from the 2008 Olympics in the 4 x 400-meter relay and another from 2016 in the same event—her fears mirrored those of women in every profession. So she hid her impending parenthood.
“I was deathly afraid of sharing that I was pregnant, for obvious reasons,” Hastings says. “The day came that I finally made the call [to her sponsor Under Armour] and they said, ‘Congratulations! Why didn’t you tell us sooner?’”
Hastings had the fortune of working primarily with women at Under Armour, which she believes made a difference in their reaction to the news. As many female athletes can attest, not all brands greet this kind of life event with enthusiasm, and although the tide is turning, many expectant professional runners in the past have had payments suspended as though they were injured or sick. As other running stars like Alysia Montaño and Allyson Felix started sharing their pregnancy stories, first in opinion pieces published by the New York Times, more sponsors have started revising their contracts to accommodate maternity leave.
“My sponsor called me back to apologize because they said, ‘We knew you were nervous to tell us, but we didn’t realize how nervous,’” Hastings says. “We need more women telling our stories and we need more women making the decisions. They were incredibly supportive and told me they were going to stand by me through and through…but yeah, it was something I worked myself up for, stressed myself out over, then I made the phone call and they were like, ‘Girl, we got you.’”
And since giving birth to her son, Liam, in August, she’s returned to training in preparation to qualify for the Tokyo Games, now scheduled for 2021, without missing a financial beat. That’s allowed her to focus more on returning to top fitness, competition, and how to incorporate motherhood into the fold.
In the first five months, Hastings, who also has a cosmetic and beauty line called 400M Diva and is founder of the Natasha Hastings Foundation (which advocates for girls and women in sport), says the biggest discovery is that she can’t be perfect at all things, all the time—and that’s okay. That unexpected lesson has been critical to her comeback.
“Some days I’ll be a great mom, some days I’ll be a great athlete, some days I’ll be a great businesswoman, some days all three might not happen,” she says. “But that’s okay. And also, it’s okay to actually want to do something for yourself while being a mom.”
In the first few weeks back to training, Hastings had to go against the grain of her West Indian culture, where she says that after birth women primarily rest. As an athlete, Hastings craved getting out for a walk and took her first one three weeks postpartum. She relies on support from her mother—and her girlfriends, with whom she makes sure to have standing dates.
“It is very easy to get wrapped into being a mom. As much as I love going to training, I do find myself where I used to stay after practice and talk with my teammates, now I’m like, ‘Okay, I gotta get home to my kid,’” she says. “Finding that balance that it’s okay to still be Natasha [is hard], because I’m also completely obsessed with my kid, too.”
As Hastings started traveling to track meets (prior to the pandemic) and sees glimpses of her pre-baby self in time trials, she is starting to realize that motherhood might actually turn her into a better athlete in some ways. The key to staying the course and not getting frustrated is forgiveness and practicing something she learned from a sport psychologist who helped her cope after she failed to make the 2012 Olympic team.
“Before, if I didn’t have a great day, I’d be really, really hard on myself. And now I’m about to process it differently—I’m able to take a step back and look at the big picture and understand that it’s a marathon not a sprint,” she says. “Sometimes today isn’t so great, but tomorrow I’ll come back out and kill it.”