Cleopatre Darleux: ‘Pregnancy and top sport still a bit taboo’

You gave birth to your daughter Olympe in November 2019. Was your pregnancy planned?

No, it wasn’t planned. But I came through the ages.

Was it difficult for you to convince yourself that you could get pregnant during your career? Did you have any fears?

Yes, about the ability to return to a high level, that would be an issue with my employer on my contract. It wasn’t common and if you don’t have information, you’re not necessarily confident.

Were you afraid to announce it to your club, the BBH and your teammates?

Yes, it’s a moment I’ve been holding, it was hard to announce. My teammates were super happy, but we have the impression that the team is letting go. I was still super happy, but I was scared. The reaction and how it would happen after that: the organisation, would I stay with the club, find my level, could I continue my career?

I had comments today that would shock me

How did the employees and managers react?

The problem is that four months before me another player got pregnant (Isabelle Gulldén), and it wasn’t taken well at all, in a different context to mine because she had just arrived at BBH, with a high salary. I’ve been with the club for a long time. Suddenly there were the stigmata of Bella. Plus, I announced it on April 1 (laughs). I found that it was experienced quite well. I’ve had comments today that would shock me. For example, “You could have warned us before signing your contract”, by a person who is no longer here today. I had a lot of not great comments and felt after a change on the level of these people. But it wasn’t the whole club. Having children should not be a condition of a contract. And what does it mean when we say it, we’re going to cut wages, make a shorter contract? It’s good for the club to know so they can turn around, but if the player doesn’t manage to get pregnant, then what happens? Are the three of us working? You can’t predict everything. It happens as an injury.

It wasn’t in manners when you gave birth at the end of 2019?

Yes, but today I feel a realization.

Handball is leading the way with the establishment of a collective labor agreement that guarantees a pregnant player the retention of her salary. Is this real progress?

Fully. It’s a start, our sport is already professional, but through this agreement it can go further in professionalization. And that he differs from the men, because it is not the same for a man or a woman in top sport and it is normal that a convention is adapted to women. Having a year’s salary payment is really great. It used to be three months, like a long injury. We also have seven weeks of paid vacation a year, just like men, while it was six before.

At the Arena in Brest, on May 23, 2021, the joy of the BBH players after their title of champion of France 2021. Right Cleopatre Darleux with Olympe in her arms (Photo Nicolas Creach / Le Télégramme)

The club kept my salary, even though they weren’t obliged to. It was a great opportunity

This convention did not exist during your pregnancy. How was the BBH?

The club kept my salary, even though they weren’t obliged to. It was a great opportunity for us. Some clubs have not done this in the past. Some may not have the finances.

How have you been tracked on a sports level during your pregnancy?

I questioned the doctors of the French team, from Brest, a lot. I was really well surrounded, also with the physical trainers. It was important. I came back pretty quickly (three months after her pregnancy). But it was not easy because we had little information, I searched a lot in the experiences of others.

Is there still progress to be made in the field of sports support?

There really is something to do together. The Ministry of Sport has released a manual on elite sport and pregnancy, which is a major step forward. A guide to what to do during pregnancy and beyond during your recovery. What can be done, who to see, nutrition. Personally, I was afraid to find my ideal weight, I wondered if my body would change. But in fact I found more youth. I was also afraid of appetite, would I still be hungry after giving birth? These fears have been dispelled. And I still have time, which I used to spend with my daughter.

As a top athlete you feel that you are missing a part of your life. There we have the impression of living the life of a person of his age

You said you came back stronger. Why ?

Physically I feel better. Psychologically I am more efficient when I go to training. If I go away for a long time, I try to do it for a good cause, not to leave a month for nothing. And that allows me to be more aloof with the practice and more mature in certain situations. We put things into perspective much more when we are a parent.

What does a baby change every day if you are a top athlete?

It’s a great organization. There is more fatigue than before. The nights are disrupted, with more complicated periods and it is an additional load. Conversely, there is also a personal fulfillment that makes the difference. It allows me to have balance in life, get more satisfaction on a personal and sporting level. As a top athlete you feel that you are missing a part of your life. There we have the impression of living the life of a person of his age.

You have spoken out repeatedly about motherhood. Have you been called by other athletes?

Yes, I have had many requests for advice. For many, there remains this fear of finding the right time to conceive.

It feels like women are breaking free from these barriers. Will the taboo be lifted?

It is better than in recent years, but becoming a mother as a top athlete is still a bit taboo. Motherhood is not yet a normal, innocent thing, but the mentality is changing.

Our file on mothers and top athletes