"We in our society do not have a great representation of showcasing individuals with disabilities as parents," Mallory Weggemann said.
Mallory Weggemann, a paralympic gold medallist and renowned swimmer, and her husband Jay Snyder are preparing to become parents as their due date approaches. "We hit 31 weeks, which is so surreal," the Paralympic gold medalist tells PEOPLE exclusively. "We're feeling good."
The pair struggled to get where they are now. Weggemann, 33, and her husband Jay Snyder, 46, underwent a lengthy IVF process while managing Snyder's male-factor infertility and Weggemann's Paralympic swimming career. They opened up about their problems and their journey on Instagram.
"Jay was adamant that we have the conversation around male infertility," Weggemann says, adding, "Society needed to see a couple who said, 'Actually, it's the non-disabled spouse that has the fertility struggles.'"
Weggemann and Snyder revealed the wonderful news to PEOPLE in August that their second egg transfer had succeeded and that they were expecting a baby in March. This came after undergoing numerous surgeries, more than 440 injections, two stim cycles, and one unsuccessful transfer.
Since then, Weggemann has been openly sharing details of her pregnancy in an effort to dispel the myth that female athletes must choose between their careers and parenthood, as well as to de-stigmatizing parents with disabilities. "So often we form our perceptions of what we think is possible based on what we see emulated in the world around us," she says.
That is why Weggemann is so grateful to be able to share her safe pregnancy. Even at 26 weeks pregnant, she competed in a race at the 2022 US Para Swimming Nationals in December. "It was really special getting behind the starting blocks pregnant," she says. "I've loved the sport of swimming since I was a little kid, and to be able to share that in some way with Little One is something that I think I'll remember forever."
The athlete made it to the finals in all three of her events despite the changes to her body, winning silver in the 50-meter butterfly. Weggemann was especially happy because she understands how crucial it is for other female athletes to know that they can be mothers as well. As she puts it, "It was powerful to be able to, in that moment, continue to be a part of this conversation that's happening in sports around this desire for female athletes to have the option to continue their careers through parenthood and motherhood."
She also wants people to understand other persons with disabilities can be parents. "In the disabled community, we are still having conversations and fighting for equality and equity, and then you go and bring parenthood in addition to that," she said. Explaining the importance of representation, she added, "We in our society do not have a great representation of showcasing individuals with disabilities as parents. We don't celebrate that."
Finally, she concludes, saying, "This moment, and hopefully, the images that come from it, can show a path forward to other young women and girls who happen to be wheelchair users to see that motherhood is possible for them; to show other female athletes that there's a path forward to continue your career through that stage of your life if you choose, and to show society a way that can start chipping away at this unconscious bias that we put on individuals with disabilities and that we put on women as they lean into motherhood, of what their lives should be."
Cover Image Source: Instagram | @malloryweggemann