Paralympic Swimmer Mallory Weggemann Gives Update on IVF Journey: 'We Are Preparing for Transfer'

"As an athlete, your effort and your success aren't always defined by winning a gold medal — it's OK to sometimes allow yourself to fight for two simultaneous dreams," says Mallory Weggemann

Mallory Weggemann
Photo: Mallory Weggemann/Instagram

Paralympic gold medalist Mallory Weggemann and her husband Jay Snyder have invited PEOPLE to follow their IVF journey as they try to start a family.

Mallory Weggemann is done putting herself first — for a while.

"My decisions are no longer led by what I want," the Paralympic gold medalist tells PEOPLE exclusively. "Every day that I decide how I'm going to train and what I'm going do, it's because I'm making a decision on what's best for baby," she says, referring to the child she is hoping to conceive with husband Jay Snyder.

"The decision is a shift for me, but it's also really exciting — and hopefully it's one I get to continue to make for months to come because that means everything's gone well."

Weggemann and Snyder have been on a fertility journey for several years, navigating Weggemann's Paralympic swimming career and Snyder's male-factor infertility. After two IVF stim cycles, they are thrilled to have two healthy embryos and are preparing for their first transfer in late April. But, she says, the past few months have brought unexpected challenges.

Following her November egg retrieval, Weggeman found out she had suspected endometriosis after a particularly painful menstruation cycle. " I had excruciating pain, which was really weird because I don't have normal sensory in my abdomen because of my paralysis," says Weggeman, whose spinal cord injury was caused by an epidural injection when she was 18.

After consulting her doctor about the pain and other symptoms, she received the suspected diagnosis. And that's all it can be, for now. "Doctors can't definitively diagnose endometriosis without surgery, but when you're going through IVF, and are an athlete as well, doing a surgery for exploratory reasons isn't great," she says. "It would've completely knocked me out from being able to do Trials for Worlds, which wasn't an option."

She's referring to Trials for World Championships — the Para Swimming World Series — which are this week in Indianapolis, where she is competing in several races. In fact, she is actually delaying the embryo transfer because one of the required hormones is not approved for competition by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association. "We added like an extra 15 injections to the calendar so we could push transfer a week so I could compete at Trials for World Championship," she says, noting that she has had more than 200 injections to date.

Another reason the couple, who live in Eagan, Minnesota, opted not to do the endometriosis surgery is because they would have had to wait an additional six months after the surgery for the IVF transfer, and they simply don't have that kind of time.

It's one of the biggest issues faced by female athletes who are trying to start a family: coordinating family planning around competitions, trials and even the Paralympics. "One of the big-picture things that we're up against as I continue to compete, is that the Paris Paralympics are already two and a half years away," says Weggeman. "If you factor in nine months for a pregnancy, and then those initial few months postpartum where I won't be able to train the normal way — all in, from transfer to being ready to be back post-pregnancy, we're looking at a year on the calendar."

But even without surgery, the suspected endometriosis complicated the couple's IVF process.

"Endo can make implantation challenging for for women trying to become pregnant," explains Weggemann. "And so in our scenario, we have two embryos — and making embryos isn't necessarily easy for us, considering Jay's condition. So we we decided we needed to give our first transfer the very, very, very best shot we could."

This meant two months of extended transfer preparation, additional injections that essentially put Weggemann's body into a medically induced menopause. It was a hormonal roller coaster. "After filling my body with hormones and estrogen for the January egg retrieval, a week later they gave me an injection and bottomed me out and basically turned off my reproductive system," she explains. "That's supposed to silence things, quiet your reproductive system and minimize the endometriosis for a few months to give your body a break."

The intention is to set her up for a better transfer. But in the meantime, she had to deal with side effects like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and headaches, none of which were easy for her to handle as she was balancing speaking engagements, training for the world championship trials and covering the Paralympic Games in studio for NBC Sports. But it's worth it, she says: "It's bringing us closer to this little baby that we have been trying so hard for."

That doesn't mean it's been easy watching her body change. "Physically, I definitely don't feel like myself. I'm bloated. I'm tired. My body feels different, but it's not because I'm pregnant, it's because I'm on a ton of meds to try to get pregnant — it's a mental game."

Changing her mentality around her workouts has also been a challenge. "As an athlete, your body is your vehicle. It's been tough not allowing myself to grind and push in my training. That's how I've gotten to where I am in my career, but I can't do that right now. I have to be careful how much stress I put on my body as we get closer to transfer. My body is trying to prepare itself to do the biggest thing that's going to do for us."

And while she may not be pushing herself to her absolute physical limits these days, she is still confident that she will be able to perform. Plus, she's developed a new mindset: "As an athlete, your effort and your success aren't always defined by winning a gold medal — it's OK to sometimes allow yourself to fight for two simultaneous dreams."

If everything goes as planned, Weggemann's transfer at the end of April will be successful and Weggemann will be pregnant while competing at the Paralympic World Championships in June.

"Frankly, we don't see enough women with disabilities that are pregnant in our society and we don't celebrate enough women with disabilities as mothers. To be able to utilize the platform of sports and change how society perceives the journey of somebody who happens to live with a disability — that yes, I can still be a world champion and yes, I can still be a mom — is rewarding. We want to change the conversation."

Check back for more updates as PEOPLE follows Mallory and Jay on their path to parenthood.

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