Pregnancy & Birth

Black Ferns legend Chelsea Semple is excited to meet her baby girl

The rugby star and her hubby James are over the moon about becoming a family of three

When preparing for their long-awaited honeymoon abroad, Black Ferns star Chelsea Semple and her hubby, professional rugby coach James, were optimistic about the contents of their suitcase, packing a stash of pregnancy tests just in case.

A year earlier, the footy-mad couple – who had long dreamed of starting a family – embarked on a series of fertility tests, only to be told by doctors they’d likely struggle to conceive.

“I’ve been in high performance sport for over 12 years, which had put a lot of physical strain on my body and, on top of that, I’d had issues with my ovaries in the past, so James and I were proactive about getting tested, knowing kids were definitely in our future,” says Chelsea, who also plays for the Chiefs Manawa and is a commentator for Sky Sport. “The news wasn’t overly positive. We were told it could take some time to get pregnant naturally, if at all, and that we may need to consider IVF.”

Fast-forward a year, however, and Chelsea’s 30-week baby bump tells otherwise, with the overjoyed parents-to-be set to meet their daughter in just a few short weeks. Speaking to Woman’s Day from her Hamilton home, the 30-year-old says she was in disbelief when a pregnancy test taken in her Portugal hotel room revealed she was expecting.

James and Chelsea can’t wait to meet their daughter.

“James and I were definitely hopeful, of course, but given what we knew, deep down we were certain it wouldn’t come easily. I was shaking when I saw those two lines and immediately bolted up to the rooftop, where James was in the pool. He was equally as shocked – so much so, he just sort of stared at me blankly and didn’t even jump out of the water!”

But the surprise was a welcome one, making the elated couple’s globe-trotting getaway – which took them from Europe to Africa – one for the ages.

While their happy news and Chelsea’s initial morning sickness meant a few tweaks to their itinerary, the pair – who tied the knot in February 2022 – were determined to enjoy every minute of their honeymoon, knowing it would be some time before they would be reunited in New Zealand.

James, who had landed his dream role as head coach of the Rugby New York Ironworkers, planned to reside in the Big Apple for five months before returning to Aotearoa in the off-season.

“It’s definitely been tough being on the other side of the world, but we’ve made sure there’s been lots of moments for me to bond with our baby from afar,” says James, 33, who’s been based in New

York since December.

“Chelsea will hold the phone up to her belly and I’ll talk and sing to it, which is probably traumatising for both girls given my terrible singing voice! It was extra-special, though, when Chels came to stay in April and I got to feel our daughter’s kicks in real life – a truly surreal moment.”

While their unconventional set-up has meant the couple have been separated for the bulk of their pregnancy, the pair are entirely content knowing they are both exactly where they need to be.

“With our baby on the way, and my contractual commitments to the Black Ferns and the Chiefs, it made sense for me to move home while James does his thing in New York – he’s riding an absolute high in his career and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” says Chelsea, who is surrounded by ample love and support in Hamilton, with her brother’s family living on the same block of land.

“I’ve got a really great village around me here, both in my family and also my rugby girls.”

Having continued training throughout her pregnancy with her Waikato-based teammates, the Black Ferns veteran adds,

“I feel very lucky I’ve been able to stay so physically active. Being able to do what I love, and play without the pressure of performance and selection, has been mentally freeing.”

Chelsea’s enduring passion for the game is matched by her commitment to ensuring her fellow female rugby players are well supported if they choose to start a family too.

Training with her fellow Black Ferns at four months pregnant.

As the first full-time Black Ferns player to get pregnant, Chelsea has been working with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to advocate for better maternity leave conditions for women in professional rugby.

“Prior to me getting pregnant, there wasn’t much in terms of our memorandum of understanding to support females who are full-time in rugby to get pregnant,” says Chelsea. “Historically, once you reach the four-month mark, you are no longer compensated, which puts a lot of pressure on mums-to-be to find work and income in order to qualify for government maternity leave payments.

“The NZR has been incredibly supportive and recognised the need to change its policies. Now any woman who is full-time contracted with the Black Ferns is financially supported for their entire pregnancy and assisted to return to the sport after birth, with things such as medical and physio.”

It’s great news for Chelsea, who’s determined to get back on the field as soon as possible after giving birth.

“My footy days aren’t over yet!” she smiles. “I don’t know what level I’ll play at, but I’m motivated to play Super Rugby Aupiki again. If that does happen for me, we know it will be tough as it will mean being apart from my baby, but I just can’t get 10 years down the track and regret not giving it my best shot. As a first-time mum, I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to back myself to do it.”

The Sky Sport commentator can’t wait to get back on the field.

“We have some really big decisions ahead to make as a family,” adds James, who’ll be back in Aotearoa next month, just in time for the birth.

“While neither of us wants to be apart, we are willing to do everything we can to support each other to achieve our goals and that might mean making sacrifices to give our daughter the life that she deserves.

“We want our girl to be courageous and to chase her dreams, and we need to model that first and foremost.”

While the future remains unknown, one thing is certain – the couple couldn’t be more ready to welcome their little girl.

Chelsea says, “We are just so excited to start this next chapter as a family of three and meet the future goalkicker, who has been kicking the daylights out of me all day and night!”

James agrees, “We’ve been talking a lot about whether she’ll follow in her parents’ footsteps on the footy field, but whatever she decides to be, our only hope is that she grows to be happy, content within herself, and a strong and confident young woman.

“If she is even half the incredible woman her mother is, then I’ll be absolutely over the moon!”

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