NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. —Saskatchewan curler Joan McCusker could have never prepared for the guilt she would feel trying to balance the roles of new mother and elite-level curler.
It was 1993 and the Sandra Schmirler rink was about to win its first Scotties championship. McCusker played second for the team, all while trying to be the best mother she could be.
She recalls having to leave the ice on a number of occasions during the fifth-end breaks to breastfeed her three-month old son, Rory.
The team captured its first championship in February 1993. They were all elated. But McCusker was devastated because she felt like she had abandoned her baby.
"I was so traumatized by that," she said. "I was going to quit because I wanted more kids and couldn't imagine leaving them again to curl."
McCusker's husband, as well as her team, pushed her to continue, reassuring her she wasn't the absent mother she thought she was. It got McCusker thinking about how many other competitive female curlers had young children at that time.
"I had to do my own research to know," McCusker said. "There were very few members of female Canadian [rinks] who had children and continued to play."
The Schmirler team captured back-to-back Scotties titles but lost their bid for a three-peat in 1995. It was after that season that the team got together and talked about planning their pregnancies before the first-ever Olympic trials, ahead of the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan where the sport would make its Games debut. They wanted children but they also wanted to curl.
"I feel that my team was groundbreaking in the fact that we wanted to have our cake and eat it too," McCusker said. "And at that point in time if you started your family it was expected you would quit competitive curling and take care of your kids."
Within the span of a few months in 1996 McCusker, second Marcia Gudereit and Jan Betker all had babies.
"Jan and I ended up being pregnant at the same time and had babies in May and July. Marcie had Colin in December," McCusker said.
Schmirler was undergoing procedures to get pregnant at the same time and in 1997 had her first child — the only problem was that it was just two months before the Olympic trials.
"Sandra famously gave birth by C-section in September of 1997 and we were in the Olympic trials eight weeks later," McCusker said.
They'd earn the right to represent Canada and go on to win the first Olympic gold medal in curling.
"I swear our recipe for success for winning the very first Olympic trials was our skip having an eight-week old baby and the rest of us having babies," McCusker said.
The team hoped to also represent Canada at the Olympics four years later in Salt Lake City. They mapped out what the next few years would look like. The first year was all about cashing in on their Olympic fame. The following year was all about having babies again.
"It was the family year and then the plan was to get back to the Olympics," McCusker said.
And they all delivered exactly on time.
Schmirler, McCusker, Betker and Gudereit all had their next round of babies within six months.
"We were training and laughing about our plans," McCusker said. "That's when Sandra started not feeling well. We thought it was pregnancy and it was cancer."
Schmirler would die of cancer in March 2000.
Just a couple of weeks ago one of the highest-profile skips in the game announced she will be having a baby —Rachel Homan's due date is June 14. The timing of it is seemingly perfectly planned around the curling season.
"It's hard to plan those things and obviously family is way more important than curling," Homan said. "When it comes down to it everyone on the team knows family comes first."
Homan's team is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and has won back-to-back Grand Slam events. She says she's feeling really good right now and has not felt any ill-effects from being pregnant.
The last event of the year is May in Beijing — the final stop on the Curling World Cup Tour. Homan's team will be playing by virtue of winning the first leg.
"Thankfully it works out that I won't miss much of the curling season. I'll try and play as long as I can and I'm feeling really good right now. We're excited for the future," Homan said.
"Beijing might be tough but we'll see how it goes. We have a full season in together."
Jennifer Jones had her first baby in 2012 at a time when there was a lot going on in her life. Not only was she becoming a first-time mother in the fall of 2012, but she had also undergone knee surgery. There was a lot to deal with and the Olympic trials in December of 2013 were fast approaching.
Undeterred, Jones was a woman on a mission, playing the role of super mom and super curler. She would guide her team to an Olympic trials win and Olympic gold a year later. Her second daughter, Skyla, was born in August 2016.
One of the winningest skips of all-time admits it can be challenging at times juggling being a full-time curler and mother, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Your kids make every part of your life better," Jones said. "The biggest thing for me is that I want my girls to be proud of me."
Jones said her mother has been the biggest blessing in playing the role of babysitter when she's at an event — her husband Brent Laing curls with Team Epping and is at many of the same events.
"It can be difficult," Jones admitted. "But our moms have been amazing. My mom is a superstar. She just had her 75th birthday."
Jones knows she's sacrificed some valuable time with her daughters while being on the ice, but hopes she can teach her daughters about going after goals
"I want to be a role model for them and to know they should always chase their dreams. Yes, mom is away a lot but she's chasing her dreams and I want them to do the same."