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Opal Kayla George is happy with the arrival of her baby after the Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney

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Veteran Opals center Kayla George is expected to play a major role in the Australian national team during the Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney today.

But the most important role in her life will begin in just a couple of weeks, with the arrival of her daughter Pearl.

And she has her daughter-in-law to thank for a wonderful gift, a special piece of Torres Strait Islander knowledge.

Torres Strait Islander “Buy Amasker” for Georges

George and her Torres Strait Islander husband, Kyle George, had been together for 11 years and decided to go the adoption route.

“Island adoption has been very common in their culture for generations,” George said.

“So if a family member has difficulty conceiving or is unable to conceive, another family member can give the child to that person.”

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The the practice is formally known as Kupay Amasker and allows the child to be adopted by a relative or community member for a variety of reasons, including fertility issues.

It was first legally recognized in Australia two years ago when a bill was passed in Queensland.

And now George’s daughter-in-law is carrying her own biological child, which she will later hand over to her brother and his wife.

“She’s going to be our own, she’s our daughter and we can’t wait, we’re just over the moon,” George said.

“I feel like I’m cheating a little bit because I can keep playing and do the World Cup and go home and pick up my daughter straight from the maternity ward and then take her to Melbourne.

“And I feel like life will go on, except we’re going to have this beautiful, wonderful baby.”

Fertility and the female athlete puzzle

When an athlete wants to have a baby during her career, it’s rarely easy.

There are tiny gaps of time between important events that they can pinpoint to try to conceive.

George began her professional career when she was just 16 and has been part of the Opals squad since 2013.(Getty Images: Matt King)

There are biological considerations of age.

By age 30, fertility begins to decline, and it declines rapidly once a woman reaches 35.

And there are menstrual disorders or conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome that are all too common but rarely talked about or understood.

“It was always difficult to find the time to get pregnant, saying that I had some difficulties,” George said.

The now 33-year-old only experienced a couple of natural periods before starting the pill when she was 16.

She continued to take the pills for nine years, and decided to stop at 25 because she was “just not very comfortable taking the thing anymore.”

After that, she did not have periods for four years.

“At this time I [focusing on] Rio Olympics, World Cup, WNBA, WNBL, overseas seasons in Hungary, France, I’m playing, I’m an elite athlete,” she said.

“And then it gets to a point where I thought it was abnormal for probably about three years.”

Kayla George jumps and kicks the ball.
George is a two-time Olympian and will be competing in her third World Cup.(Getty Images: Mark Metcalfe)

George went to a specialist in Melbourne and discovered that she had not ovulated naturally.

The specialist offered her an IVF-like treatment to help her conceive, which she started after the Opals won silver at the 2018 World Championships.

She did the math – if she could get pregnant in that window, she would have enough time to make it back to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“So that’s what it’s like as an athlete, what do we lack? What do we sacrifice as an athlete,” George said.

“My specialist said two or three rounds [of this treatment]you will achieve the greatest success.

“And I did one round. It knocked me for six because of the hormones and the needles in my stomach.

“And it was quite fraught, I felt nauseous throughout the 2018/19 season. I drank lemon ginger tea at almost every training session, no one knew.

Kayla George holds the basketball in her hands, ready for a shot.
During the 2018/19 WNBL season, George struggled with fertility treatment.(Getty Images: Kelly Defino)

“I was on the phone crying to my husband who was in Cairns trying to put these needles in my stomach himself to try and give us a chance to have our own children.”

George said it took her four months to feel “normal” again and decided not to do another round.

Although the Olympics were eventually postponed a year due to COVID-19, delaying her chance to try again, she has no regrets.

“Thanks to this treatment, I started having regular periods for the first time in my life,” she said.

“So I don’t know if that helped or if it should have happened anyway, but that’s the only thing I did differently.”

She’s hoping the return of her period means she’ll have a better chance of getting pregnant naturally when she’s ready.

“I would like to visit the Olympic Games in Paris again in 2024. And then maybe after that I’ll stop and try to have my own kids,” she said.

“Pearl will be around two at this stage so it would be perfect timing.

“However, I’m just excited for what’s to come in our lives.”

“Women’s sports matter”

The fact that George had a daughter, by the way.

She is passionate about gender equality, especially in sports.

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George is calling for more action to address the gender gap in women’s basketball.

She wants a better future for Pearl, for her 15-year-old sister, and for all girls.

“We still have a lot to do and the pressure has to be faster and harder,” George said.

“We get a couple [media] articles, and then we think we are equal.

“No, it has to be much better and more consistent. And then the difference in pay is just stupid.

“We are talking about superficial things, there are also things underneath that need to be fixed and become better. But we’re not even close to that.

“We’re always trying to get noticed, we’re always trying to remind people that we’re here, we’re always trying to remind people that we’re no joke.

“And that women’s sports matter, and that we can play, and that we’re just as good as men, with high IQs. It’s always a battle.”

Kayla George and Tess Magen hold the WNBL trophy and smile at each other.
George led the Melbourne Boomers to the WNBL Championship earlier this year.(Getty Images: Kelly Defino)

The Opals are looking to continue their legacy at the World Cup

George hopes the World Cup is a chance to help move that dial, and she’s ready to play her part.

“I feel that I am probably in one of the best shapes of my life. And I feel like as you get older, you have a better understanding of where your body should be,” she said.

“We have an amazing, talented group of women, and whatever is required of each of us, we will do whatever it takes to win.”

And George is most distressed when she talks about the bonds she has with her teammates.

“We have really great people on this team and it shows and you can feel it,” she said.

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“And there’s a huge legacy that is the Opals and it goes back decades, they’ve been successful in winning medals for decades.

“I’ve been part of the Opal team since 2008, I’ve been part of the Opals team since 2013, so I feel so blessed every time, I never take it for granted.

“Now I want to work even harder to prove that I still deserve to be here and I want to be here and be the best I can be to help this team succeed.

“So the sisterhood that we have and the legacy is beyond words.”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-09-22/cayla-george-baby-girl-fiba-womens-basketball-world-cup/101454144

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