Australia

‘It’s been a really wonderful time in our lives’: Rachael Haynes on juggling IVF and professional cricket

2020 was a pretty significant year for cricket’s Rachael Haynes.

In March, the Australian vice-captain was part of the winning team that lifted the T20 World Cup trophy in front of a record-breaking 86,173 fans at the MCG on International Women’s Day.

Then, in November, the Sydney Thunder skipper led her domestic T20 side to their second Women’s Big Bash League trophy, beating the Melbourne Stars by seven wickets at North Sydney Oval.

In between those two memorable career highlights, there was not a whole lot of cricket played.

COVID-19 had hit the country, preventing Australia from heading to South Africa for a bilateral tour, and people had been bunkered down at home while the world and its leaders figured out how to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

Rachael Haynes and Australian teammate Sophie Molineux celebrate winning the Women’s T20 World Cup final with the crowd.(

AAP: Scott Barbour

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It had been a while since Haynes had spent that long at home with no foreseeable international cricket commitments in sight, and it got her and her partner Leah thinking about their future as a couple.

“Everyone gets to that point in their life where they really need to make a decision on whether children are going to be part of it moving forward,” Haynes told the ABC.

“Having a baby was something we’d been speaking about for a while, and all the extra time just gave us time to question, ‘Why aren’t we doing it?’

“It’s been a really wonderful time in our lives to be able to go through something like that together and experience the highs and lows of fertility.

Sydney Thunder batters Rachael Haynes (right) and Heather Knight (facing away from the camera) hug after the WBBL final.
Rachael Haynes went through the IVF egg retrieval process during the WBBL preseason with the Sydney Thunder.(

AAP: Dan Himbrechts

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Haynes is now 34, and her partner Leah Poulton — who also represented Australia and now works as the head of female cricket at Cricket NSW — is 37.

The pair started reciprocal IVF treatments as Australia started to open up again, and that meant Haynes had to go through the egg extraction process right as she was heading into the domestic preseason.

“I was probably a little bit naïve about the process and what exactly it entailed, but we participated in reciprocal IVF which means, Leah carried our embryo, but my eggs,” she said.

“It definitely impacted my body and I think going through the rigours of a tough preseason meant there were days where I just really wasn’t feeling it.

“By the back end, sort of the week leading into the extraction and doing some hard running sessions, it was really tough.

“But we were able to get some eggs and turn them into embryos, which was really cool when you think about where modern science is these days and what is able to be achieved, allowing both of us to contribute.”

Haynes says professionalisation of sport made IVF more affordable

Things were very different financially when Haynes and Poulton first started playing for the Australian women’s team in the late 2000s.

Two women wear black dresses on red carpet.
Leah Poulton and Rachael Haynes attend the Australian Cricket Awards in 2018.(

AAP: David Crosling

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They trained just as hard as professional athletes and committed just as much time to the sport, but had to do it while juggling jobs to be able to afford to play.

The growth of women’s cricket over the past decade has seen wages and standards for female players rise dramatically.

Poulton retired before this wave of changes came into play and took up coaching.

But for Haynes, as a full-time state and national cricketer, there are now a lot more life choices she can afford to make.

“It does cost a lot of money to do IVF and I don’t think it’s something I would have been able to afford to do earlier on,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that the professionalisation of the sport has made this possible.

“Obviously we earn more money and that has opened up a completely different world in terms of how we live.

Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes, Nicole Bolton and Ellyse Perry with Ashes trophy
Women’s cricket has come a long way over the past decade, with better wages and playing standards among the changes.(

AAP: David Moir

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Although Haynes wishes someone had perhaps planted the seed about fertility in her mind a little earlier in her career, she says these types of conversations are now being had with each cricketer on an annual basis, no matter how old or how long they’ve been around.

“There’s been a really big emphasis to have more pointed conversations on female health.

“In the past there’s been really general conversations and medical consults, whereas now, our sport is far better equipped to talk about things specific to your gender.

“I’m really thankful our sport is doing that, and hopefully other sports and society embrace that a little more.”

IVF experience creates closer bond with teammate Megan Schutt

Haynes has not been the only female cricketer in the national team going through IVF during the past year.

Rachael Haynes (L) and teammate Megan Schutt (R) have always been close.
Rachael Haynes (left) and teammate Megan Schutt (right) have always been close.(

AAP: Dan Himbrechts 

)

Her long-time friend and Australian fast-bowler Megan Schutt has also been through a very similar experience with her wife Jess, who gave birth to baby Rylee Louise in August.

The pair have been confiding in each other every step of the way and now have an even stronger bond than they had before.

“Last year in the WBBL hub, we had a catch-up and that was during a time where the embryo hadn’t taken and we’d just found out that one of our cycles hadn’t worked,” Haynes said.

“It was quite challenging, Leah wasn’t in the hub and it wasn’t the most enjoyable time, so to have a friend there going through the same thing really helped.”

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Standing up for same-sex couples and being a loud and proud member of the LGBTIQA+ community is something that has come naturally to Schutt.

That hasn’t changed through the IVF process — no matter how many horrible and ignorant comments she has copped online — and Haynes says she has been really inspired by that.

“Megan has done a tremendous job for gay and lesbian individuals by just being a real champion in the community and being prepared to step forward and have those conversations at times where people may feel uncomfortable talking about it,” Haynes said.

“I’ve got an enormous amount of respect for what she’s done, so [when it comes to] Leah and I, we’re not ashamed of who we are or our relationship and we’re certainly not ashamed that we’re bringing a child into the world.

“We’re both really happy and really excited about our future, so even though we are a little quieter and like to keep some things private, wherever we can, we will talk about our experience.”

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Haynes missed out on playing in last week’s Test match against India after injuring her hamstring.

She flew home to be with Leah in the final stages of her pregnancy, which was a lucky coincidence, with Hugo Poulton-Haynes coming into the world a little earlier than expected on October 1.

Both the mothers and the baby are reportedly doing well.


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