Women’s Six Nations: England lock Abbie Ward felt ‘judged’ on return after giving birth

Home » Women’s Six Nations: England lock Abbie Ward felt ‘judged’ on return after giving birth

England lock Abbie Ward says she has felt “judged” for returning to international rugby in the women’s Six Nations less than a year after giving birth to her daughter Hallie.

Ward, 31, started England’s opening win over Italy, her first Test appearance since the 2022 World Cup final.

She became the first contracted England woman to have a baby since the Red Roses went professional in 2019.

“There is so much judgement in whatever you do,” Ward told Rugby Union Weekly.

“I definitely felt judgement about continuing to play and being in a Six Nations camp away from Hallie at home.”

Ward’s decision to return to the Red Roses fold was followed by team-mate Vickii Cornborough’s retirement from the international game, after giving birth to twins last summer.

The 34-year-old prop, who had been on maternity leave from the England set-up, said she did not feel mentally ready to return.

Ward added: “I’m sure Vickii would have felt judgement about not returning in a certain time.

“You just have to put it all to the side and do what is right for you. That is what is great about the two stories, because there is a difference and a choice with players being able to do both.”

England players are entitled to 26 weeks’ fully-paid maternity leave, as well as funds for children to travel to games with them, after the Rugby Football Union updated its maternity policy in February 2023.

Ward says she felt a tinge of “guilt” after becoming the first player to benefit from the improved support.

“I was so excited about it but part of me wished the players I played alongside had that support, because they haven’t until now.

“They either had to find family to help raise their child or they had to stop playing rugby.”

Ward, however, does not believe becoming a mother has changed her approach to play, and has retained her “ruthless” streak.

“I didn’t know how it would change me. People talk about it [becoming a mother] being life-changing and I wasn’t sure if it would change me on the pitch,” said the lock.

“One of my super strengths is having that ruthlessness when I need it. I wasn’t sure if I would still have the ability to have that foot on the throat mentality when you need it in Test match rugby, but I feel like I definitely still have it.

“With the amount of changes hormonally in your brain, I wasn’t sure if it would add to my game or take away from it, but I definitely think it has added to my game – but also as a person – and that is huge.”

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