Roller Derby, Babies, and Risk

Roller Derby Medic!

A few weeks ago I accidentally bashed my head against the wood floor that my roller derby team practices on. As luck would have it (or not), this resulted in a concussion that I am now working hard (or, more accurately, working very little) to recover from.

Amy derby

That’s Amy (aka Wined Up), in the black t-shirt and purple hot pants, in a rare, upright position on the track. She’s skating with two of her awesome teammates, Amazing Graceless and Stargazer. Thanks to the Bangor Daily News for the photo.

Closet Republican?

The concussion made for funny repartee at first  – when Lance asked me who the President of the United States was the night I hit my head, my first guess was George Bush. When it was clear from the look on his face that I was wrong, I guessed Ronald Reagan. Apparently I have a thing for the 80’s… and no, contrary to  what my responses might suggest, I am not longing for a republican president.

Anyway, the effects have now gone on long enough that they are totally cramping my style. After several medical consultations and multiple attempts to return to my normal schedule, I’m now officially on a strict 3-hours-a-day work schedule and a no-roller-derby diet. The potential effect on my future career as a Roller Derby Queen is depressing enough. My actual career, the one that brings in a paycheck, has been affected as well.

Because my doctor has recommended a severe reduction in my work hours until my brain returns to normal, my employer’s HR folks asked that I fill out the paperwork to apply for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage and that I report my reduced hours as FMLA-eligible sick/disability time. Having always been happily childfree, with no plans to ever utilize my employer’s parental leave benefits, I now find myself in the unusual position of using the very benefits that my colleagues with kids use to give birth, adopt, or care for their children.

Danger Zone

Here’s the point where I step up onto my Childfree Soapbox for a moment. The most surprising thing about being on a temporary/partial leave from my job is the response from others who learn of my experience. Well over half of the people who hear my tale ask me, “So are you quitting roller derby?” or decide for me, “I assume this means you’re quitting roller derby.”

SAY WHAT?!?! Did I ask whether you were quitting the business of procreation after you used your FMLA benefits to birth and nurture your newborn? Did I ask if you were planning to return the child you took FMLA leave to adopt after learning that said child had caused you to be out of work for some period of time? Of course not. So why then, pray tell, when I use the same benefit that others use without hesitation is the expectation that I will quit the thing that caused me to use FMLA but others won’t quit theirs?

Last I checked, pregnancy and childbirth come with any number of risks, including a risk of death. This Huffington Post – Fact of the Day gives a breakdown for maternal mortality rates. In the US, depending on who crunched the numbers, death rates range from 12.7 to 24 per 100,000 births. That doesn’t seem insignificant but I have yet to hear anyone ask their pregnant colleagues if they’d considered ending their pregnancy given the risk of death they faced from impending childbirth. I know. Absurd and totally offensive, right? I agree.

It’s true that roller derby is not without its own set of risks. In fact, one study found that roller derby injuries are common. But, according to the same study, the most likely injuries in roller derby are knee injuries (followed by foot/ankle and then shoulder injuries).  While no one seems to be tracking death rates associated with roller derby, it seems safe to at least hypothesize that the likelihood of death from derby probably isn’t any higher than the likelihood of death from giving birth. A search of the web yielded one known death from derby. One.

Why is it, then, that a person’s choice to take on the risks associated with birth is viewed any differently from my choice to take on the risks associated with the sport that I love?

Childfree Feedback

How would you respond to these derby naysayers? Seriously. This is a call for responses. I’m itching for reasonable, snarky, and/or witty retorts. What say you all?

4 Responses to Roller Derby, Babies, and Risk

  1. Emily April 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Yikes, Amy! Hope you’re feeling 100% and back on those skates in no time. Your comments about the FMLA/disability leave options really ring true. As an HR professional, I often find myself counseling employees on benefits related to children or childbirth while thinking, “Hmm…this is interesting.” In addition to leave benefits, there are things like child tuition support (I also work at a university) and dependent care spending accounts. Let’s not forget the big one….the flexible work schedule! On the flip side, though, I understand the need and value for organizations to a diverse talent pool by offering a variety benefits that won’t apply to all employees. And, of course, I do take comfort in the fact that those poor parents are using their vacation time to care for sick kids, while I’m using it to travel, relax and enjoy life!

    • Amy April 23, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Thank you for your response, Emily! I am on the mend and will be back on the track the second I get the thumbs up from my doctor. 🙂
      I totally agree with you about the need and value for organizations to a diverse talent pool. And I think it is GREAT that we’ve got policies like FMLA. I was, however, surprised to discover that some people seemed to think that my choice to take on the risks associated with derby differed from others’ choice to take on the risks associated with pregnancy, birth, and parenting. I view parenting and derby both as choices that come with some level of risk but that also, presumably, come with a great many rewards. I totally support my parent colleagues’ right to use their workplace leave benefits for childbearing/rearing. Of course, I also support my right to use the same benefits to recover from an injury.
      I really appreciate hearing from an HR professional. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. Sylvia D. Lucas April 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    I feel like I might have missed something, because I can’t make the connection between questions about roller derby post-concussion and being childfree. But if I were asked after quitting my job, “I guess this means you can have kids, now,” I would probably have something to say. (Can’t speak to roller derby – I’ve written about it before, but have never done it. It looks like fun!)

    • Amy April 23, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

      Roller derby is definitely a blast! I see two connections. The first is that roller derby and pregnancy are both choices that come with some risk. The other is that both activities can result in one invoking one’s workplace leave rights. In my experience at least, social responses to parents who use FMLA benefits to bear, adopt, or rear children seem generally supportive (as they should be). I was surprised when the responses I received to using FMLA benefits to recover from an injury differed. Just as many parents don’t regret their choice to take on the risks associated with pregnancy, birth, and parenthood, I don’t regret my choice to take on the risks associated with derby. I think in both cases, the person taking on the risk is A) making a choice and B) deciding that the potential benefits (e.g., joy, a fulfilling life, etc.) outweigh the potential risks. Thanks so much for your response, Sylvia!

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