Shalane Flanagan on Motherhood: “It’s Overwhelming Infatuation”


Olympian. Medalist. Record-holder. Athlete. Coach. Champion. Author. Shalane Flanagan has had a lot of different titles throughout the years. But the one she’s sought the longest is now her favorite: mom.

Flanagan, 38, and her husband, Steven Edwards, 40, welcomed their son, Jack Dean Edwards, on April 28, through adoption. It was a long-time coming, too. They started the process way back in the summer of 2016, around the time Flanagan, a 2008 silver medalist in the 10,000 meters, competed in the marathon at her fourth and final Olympic Games.

Jack is named in honor of Flanagan’s paternal grandfather, Jack Flanagan, who flew B-17 bombers in World War II and built the home in which her father, Steve Flanagan, grew up. And speaking of homes, Flanagan and Edwards also moved in recent weeks to a new house, close to her parents, just outside of Portland, Oregon.

On Wednesday during a phone interview with Women’s Running, Flanagan, the 2017 New York City Marathon champion and now a coach for the Bowerman Track Club, said she was getting about four hours of sleep at a stretch, but the fatigue has felt vaguely familiar—akin to what she experienced during many years of marathon training, she joked. As she approaches her first Mother’s Day on Sunday, she took a little time to talk about Jack’s arrival and how she and Edwards are adjusting to parenting.

Women’s Running: For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always talked about wanting to become a mom someday. The day has finally come. So how does it feel?

Shalane Flanagan: It’s overwhelming infatuation. It’s an obsession, for sure. I’ve found days that pass since we brought him home that I haven’t gotten much done and I just stare at him. He’s just sleeping, but I look at him for hours and it feels very rewarding. I waited so long to become a mom that it’s an even greater sense of appreciation. I’ve wanted to be a mom probably for the last decade. Having waited for this moment, there’s a greater appreciation for him in our life and for where I’m at—all that hard training and delayed gratification of having a family makes me really, really appreciative. It’s been pretty emotional and obviously going through an adoption is emotional, too. The trust and the love and the faith of the birth mom and what it means to have her hand over her biological child with the hope for a better life. It’s a beautiful thing—happy and sad all at the same time. We feel really lucky. Obviously we think Jack is super special and a great kid already. I’m really obsessed with him.

WR: Were you there for the birth?

SF: Not in the room, but within two hours of him being born I was there. He was born at a midwifery clinic, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was just me and Steven couldn’t go in. It could only be one parent, which was hard. So it was just me and I had full garb on, with a mask—not exactly the way we pictured meeting our son. It was an emotional day, but what was wild was that we got to take him home the same day. He was super healthy, the birth mom was super healthy. He was born around 9 a.m. and we were putting him in the car around 3 p.m. and we were home by 3:34 and he was in our house. It was wild. It was so quick.

WR: He came a couple weeks earlier than you anticipated. Did you have all the things you needed at home?

SF: Thankfully we moved a week prior, but we hustled knowing that he could arrive sooner than his due date of May 15. Luckily my parents were here to help us move in and get set up. We had everything but diapers, ironically. I had formula flown in from Germany and all this other stuff, but diapers were the last on my list. I didn’t know how big he was going to be, so I just didn’t know anything about diapers. There were some panicked phone calls to my parents to go pick up diapers as we were driving to get him the day he was born. We don’t have everything, but we’re getting there. We don’t have a stroller yet, but I like carrying him a lot so it’s all good.

WR: So what’s Jack like so far?

SF: He’s super chill. From the moment I met him, his birth mom and I were saying that he’s a very laid-back dude. He goes with the flow. He loves to be held and he’s snuggly. He’s happiest if you’re holding him and he’s a good little eater. He doesn’t complain too much. He doesn’t even cry when he’s hungry—he does this funny little sucking noise that he taught us the first day. There are a few whimpers here and there, but I think it’s baby dreams he’s going through and processing. He seems like he’s going to be a pretty mellow guy.

WR: A pandemic is a crazy time to have a baby, though it’s also a joyful event during a time when a lot of people are going through hard things. How has this played out in the entire experience?

SF: I almost have felt guilty about being so happy, because I’ve had a lot to look forward to since the pandemic started. I’ve had great things to focus on, like moving to a new home that’s a great place for kids. Moving is stressful, but it was for a great reason. And then that Jack’s due date was getting closer and closer—I have been deliriously happy while so many people have been sad and I felt guilty about it. But, you know what? I want to embrace the fact that I’m so happy right now—I’ve waited a long time to be so excited about him and having a baby. It’s very strange. We switched over to the midwife clinic instead of the hospital, which I think was a great decision because it was a relaxed environment. It was a good situation to not be in a big hospital right now. I’m grateful that the birth was smooth and his health is 100 percent. We’re blessed amid a world-wide pandemic. I’ve shared a lot more about him that I probably would because I’ve felt like he make us so happy, which maybe makes other people feel happy and maybe that’s good.

WR: How long ago did you enter the adoption process specifically with Jack’s birth mother?

SF: The adoption process was very lengthy. We started doing our research back in 2016, around Rio and handed it all in, when it was all said and done, with background checks and referrals and everything, the summer of 2019. We were notified in January that our birth mom had selected us to meet. Then you meet the mother and she has the right to decide whether she wants to move forward and we decide whether we want to move forward. We were placed with her, but in the state of Oregon, it’s not official until the mother signs paperwork post-birth. She has 24 hours to change her mind. It’s never official until the papers are signed after the baby is born, so that’s a little nerve-wracking and why people don’t talk about it too much, because she always can change her mind. That’s probably why I didn’t buy everything—you want to fully commit to it, but part of you is protecting your heart. Maybe I thought it was a bad omen if I bought diapers, I don’t know.

WR: As a female pro athlete you have to make that hard decision of whether to have children during your career. You chose to wait. What went into that choice?

SF: I don’t know that it was a clear decision. I always had this mentality of, “the next goal, the next goal.” I was always pushing it off because there was always a reason to not have a baby, even though I craved it and wanted that. I also really loved my career. Not everybody’s like this, but I felt like I had to choose one or the other. I just felt like if I was done running, I could be in a happier place with being a mom and embrace it. I keep thinking about what I’d do if I were still an athlete—I think about it every day. How would I handle this? It gives me such a deeper level of appreciation and respect for women who are moms, who had a natural birth, and continue to compete. I can’t even fathom it. And I have an easy baby, I’m not breastfeeding or dealing with hormones. I have so many advantages. I just knew myself and I would have struggled to do both. That’s just how I am. I also felt like I’d have more fun being a mom without being an athlete.

WR: Is there a jogging stroller in Jack’s future?

SF: [Laughing] Yes. We just ordered one, but there was a big debate between the BOB and the Thule. The fact that right now you can’t go look at the strollers or touch them in the stores, we debated for a solid 10 days about which one we wanted. We have now ordered a Thule. I’m not sure when it’s going to arrive. I wanted it by Mother’s Day so we could take a nice, long walk, but I don’t think it’s going to get here by then. You could spend hours sifting through the best products for your baby. It’s overwhelming. And I’m such a sucker. I think we need everything. I’m grateful that my best friend Elyse [Kopecky, coauthor of the Run Fast, Eat Slow cookbooks] has two kids and sent a lot of hand-me-downs. And my sister has given us a lot from my nephew, Wylder.

WR: Wylder and Jack are going to be best buds growing up together.

SF: I hope so. They met briefly, but we’re trying to be cautious with people around the baby and be respectful of the social distancing, but they had a small interaction so Wylder could grasp that there really is a baby here. They waved to each other a little bit. Wylder was able to say, “Baby Jack,” and he showed Jack his stuffed animals. It was very cute. It’ll be fun.

WR: Any surprises so far or anything you didn’t expect about the parenting experience at this point?

SF: Because I’ve wanted this so long, I think I’ve visualized, watched, and observed so much that everything seems good so far. I’ve mentally prepared. One thing: I knew little boys were prone to peeing everywhere, but Jack is really good at it after the diaper comes off. Steven was shocked the other day—he wasn’t aware of that. I didn’t know it was that intense. Also, he hates being cold—the warmer he is, the happier he is.

WR: Your first Mother’s Day is on Sunday. How are you celebrating?

SF: We haven’t planned too much yet—we didn’t know if he’d be here yet. Getting the stroller would be a dream, but just getting to celebrate with my mom and sister will be special. A year ago I hosted a brunch for them even though I wasn’t a mom at the time. It’s crazy how you can’t see what’s coming. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, there’s no Olympics this summer—a lot can change in a year, for better or worse. So I’m going to take some time to appreciate the silver linings. We all have more time together. I’m not off somewhere at a track meet this weekend. We get to spend quality time together as a family.

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