For Olympic Gymnast Carly Patterson Caldwell, the Road to Motherhood Wasn’t Easy

The gold medalist shares her struggles with infertility and identity post-gymnastics

Carly Patterson Caldwell is no stranger to balance. In the early aughts, she danced, leapt and tumbled her way across a 4-inch-wide balance beam to cinch gold at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. She was the first American in 20 years (the second ever) to win the women’s all-around Olympic gymnastics title, cementing her status as an American legend.

At the age of 18, Caldwell was diagnosed with bulging discs and announced her retirement from the sport. In the years since, she’s embraced life after the Olympics, redefining herself and her definition of success. 

The McKinney mom has experimented with singing, writing and motivational speaking, a career she enjoys to this day. Now 31, she’s reinventing herself once again as a wife and a mom of two. (Just before this issue went to press, Caldwell gave birth early to Emmaline Rae.)

“I was able to work hard and achieve amazing goals for myself and for my country, but that’s not what defines my life and my happiness,” says Caldwell. “A lot of athletes struggle with finding happiness after their sport because it’s a completely different life. I’m thankful for what I was able to accomplish but happy to be able to enjoy life after gymnastics.”

In stark contrast to her competitive years, Caldwell’s current day-to-day requires a different kind of balance—and true to form, she’s taking it all in stride. 

Congratulations on baby number two!

Thank you! Exactly four weeks from today we’ll be heading in to have our C-section and meet the baby. It took us two years to get pregnant with Graham, and we went through fertility treatment, so to have him and then to get pregnant so easy on the second go-round was a sweet surprise.

Can you share a little bit about your fertility journey?

We tried normally on our own for about a year, and nothing was happening. Finally, I talked to my doctor and got started on Clomid. It didn’t work, so we talked with a fertility doctor and realized I have polycystic ovary syndrome and some other things that lower my chances of getting pregnant on my own. We started our first round of fertility treatment and got pregnant but had a miscarriage. Ultimately, we did three intrauterine insemination cycles, and on the third one, we got pregnant with Graham.

Do you feel like you’re in the groove with Graham, now that he’s almost 1 1/2?

I do for the most part. There are curve balls, but we’re in that sweet spot where he’s walking but stable, and you don’t have to constantly trail behind him. We know exactly what’s coming in a month, so we’re trying to enjoy every little moment of down time. I can’t imagine what our house is going to look and feel like. It’s going to be chaotic. Parenting is very hard. It’s definitely the hardest thing we’ve ever done. 

Are you nervous about adding a second to the mix?

I am. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. My husband is taking a nice, long eight-week paternity leave, so that will be a huge help.

What’s your support system like?

Luckily, my husband’s parents and my mom live right down the street from us. They’ll come over and help anytime. I rely on them a lot. Honestly, I don’t know how people do it without family nearby. I’m super lucky.

You entered your 30s and became a mom all within a year. How are you feeling in your skin these days?

I feel like I’ve been in the trenches with motherhood—just getting through the first year and trying to adjust to being a new parent. It’s not about you anymore. People make it look really easy—and maybe that’s just social media these days—but it’s not. Until you experience it, you just don’t get how difficult it is. Most of the time, being able to get my hair straightened or my face washed is a challenge. 

Was it difficult to put work on hold?

I’m going through a period of not really knowing what’s next for me. I’ve always had goals, but now I’m busy being a mom 24/7. It’s amazing and something I prayed for, but it was hard for me to realize this is where I need to be. I don’t need to have anything on the side. I just need to enjoy being a mom. Being a full-time stay-at-home mom is the most important thing for me to do right now.

Do you look forward to returning to motivational speaking when the kids are older?

I do. That’s still something I want to do. I enjoy sharing my story and what I’ve been through—getting through things like injuries and dealing with failure. I would love to be able to share our fertility journey too. Reading others’ stories helped me so much.

Was it difficult for you to find your identity after retiring from gymnastics?

Absolutely. What do you do when you accomplish a goal so early? How do you know what’s next for you? It was a lot of trial and error. 

How does your unique upbringing shape the way you approach parenting?

My husband and I have totally different backgrounds, so I think we make a balanced parenting duo. I want my kids to try different things. I want to see what they like and excel at. Gymnastics was always my choice. I wanted to be in the gym seven hours every day. My mom didn’t push me. It was my passion. I hope my kids are able to find that passion. The way I grew up was hard, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

It’s been more than a decade since you won gold. When you look back on that time, what do you feel?

It seems so far away at this point. It’s not a conversation topic in our household very often. The older I get the prouder I am of what I did. I realize how big it was.

For more with Carly Patterson Caldwell, check out her mommy must-haves here