Life changed in November 2010 when Storm center Ann Wauters announced she was three months pregnant. In a twist, her wife, Lot Wielfaert, was pregnant, too, and due a month before Wauters.
Ann Wauters shook her head and looked away. For the first time in years of answering questions at media day interviews, the recently signed Storm center was stumped.
“What was my last movie?” she muttered, racking her brain to filter past the diapers, nap times and constant worry that comes from being a new mother.
“There’s not a lot of me time,” she said. “When I go on the road, then it’s like, ‘Oh, I can watch a movie.’ Being a mom changes your life, for sure. Before you had all that time for yourself and now my partner and I are like, ‘What were we doing all the time without the kids?’ We don’t even remember those days because we’re so busy with them. We love it.”
Life changed in November 2010 when Wauters announced she was three months pregnant. In a twist, her wife, Lot Wielfaert, was pregnant, too, and due a month before Wauters.
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Wielfaert had also been a pro basketball player, a feisty guard, but was retired and preparing to raise the children while Wauters, a 6-foot-4 center, would continue playing after giving birth.
Wauters, a three-time Euro League All-Star, had already signed a lucrative deal to play for Spain’s Ros Casares Valencia and was looking at a possible return to the WNBA. She was drafted No. 1 overall in 2000 by the defunct Cleveland Rockers and helped lead San Antonio to the 2008 WNBA Finals.
“In the beginning we were shocked when we found out, trying to figure out what were we going to do,” Wauters said of the dual pregnancies. “After that we were really excited. It was kind of a special period for us to be pregnant at the same time.”
Wauters said the couple would experience back pains simultaneously or kicks from the babies, constantly sharing the feelings from an emotional time. The true teamwork was when Wielfaert, 35, gave birth to daughter Lou on May 12, 2011, and three weeks later Wauters gave birth to son Vince on June 1.
Four months later, Wauters was playing in her first game for Ros Casares. Wauters, 31, teamed with Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson and two Storm signees, forward Jana Vesela and point guard Silvia Dominguez, to win the prestigious EuroLeague Championship. The Belgian star averaged team highs of 14.6 points and 7.5 rebounds.
“I started to kind of jog and to get back into sports after six weeks. It was really hard because my body was not ready and my mind wasn’t ready for it,” Wauters said. “But I already signed a contract in Spain, so I knew I would have to be in shape again.
“It took me a couple of weeks and it got better, but I was still able to be home all the time. When I left for Spain and had to leave for the first time overnight, that was pretty hard. That’s life. It’s part of my job to be away from home sometimes. I don’t like it. I still don’t like it.”
Instead of feedings, baths and bedtime stories, parenting became texts from Wielfaert of the smiling, fair-haired babies, Lou with bright blue eyes and Vince with plump cheeks. Then there were the hours of Skype dates with her wife, Wauters peering into her home life via computer screen while traveling through Europe to play ball.
“Ann is very quick to acknowledge Lot and how grateful she is for Lot being the one that really carries most of the responsibility of raising the kids while Ann continues to pursue her professional basketball career,” Storm president and CEO Karen Bryant said. “The kids probably have more stamps in their passports than kids 10 times their age.”
The family was in Spain when Bryant traveled with Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler to sign Wauters to a two-year deal with Seattle. Wauters also considered returning to San Antonio but evaluated the rosters and believed winning a WNBA championship was more likely with the Storm. And she’s always wanted to play with All-Star guard Sue Bird.
Wauters has won titles in France, Russia and Spain. But the best she’s done in eight years of the WNBA is reach the Finals.
The Storm, which tied a WNBA record with its eighth consecutive postseason berth in 2011, started this season 1-7. Wauters struggled to reacquaint herself with the WNBA’s physical play and find her place on a Storm roster that featured just four players from the 2010 title team.
After a 1-4 road trip, the Storm had time to practice and play a three-game homestand in June. Things began to click, and Seattle became the hottest team in the league with a five-game winning streak. Wauters, a starter, averaged 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds during the run, second to Bird’s team-leading 18.2 points.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Wauters said.
Postgame at KeyArena remains her favorite part. Wielfaert and their nanny maneuver a two-seat stroller toward the Storm’s locker-room doors and wait for Wauters. After a recent game, Wauters rushed to Vince first, comforting him and his ear infection. Then she scooped up Lou and filled her face with kisses.
Coincidentally it was Pride Day, with a raucous celebration happening outside KeyArena at Seattle Center. Many were campaigning for marriage equality in the state of Washington, looking for approval of Referendum 74 in November.
Belgium legalized gay marriage in 2003.
After falling in love in France, where Wauters began her playing career, she and Wielfaert were married in the summer of 2007 in their native country.
Wauters came out to her parents at age 21 but she understands the struggle for American players.
WNBA star Seimone Augustus of Minnesota came out this season, saying she will get married after the Olympics.
“My mom always told me to ‘be yourself,’ ” Augustus said. “People are either going to accept you or they’re not. For the people that don’t accept you, to hell with them and keep pushing forward. But I actually got a warm embrace from a lot of young women who are dealing with the process and said I helped open their eyes and feel more comfortable about coming out.”
Wauters was startled at the warm response in Seattle. Not that the couple experienced any negativity previously in the WNBA, but returning with children, Wauters was appreciative of the Storm helping the family find a bigger home in Bellevue that’s near a park for the kids. The kids love to swing.
After games, the Storm players embrace the family scene. Lou crawls on the KeyArena floor with forward Tina Thompson’s son Dyllan. Lou bounces on Wauters’ lap while she signs autographs. Guard Katie Smith chats with her brothers and forward Camille Little flirts with her boyfriend.
Wauters is enjoying the balance of babies and basketball.
“I never thought of this when I was really young, that I would have this life,” she said. “I kind of fell into it and never knew I was going to be a professional basketball player, either. Now I’m at this point of my life and I’m proud.
“I’m just really, really happy that I have this little family.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.