Sunday 28 November 2021, 15:00

Brynjarsdottir: I set myself goals while I was pregnant

  • Dagny Brynjarsdottir is battling for a Women’s World Cup spot with Iceland

  • Her son was born in June 2018

  • Motherhood has had a positive impact on her

Juggling a career with motherhood is far from easy, as many parents can attest. As you wonder whether you can give both your job and your child the care and attention they deserve, doubters on the outside begin asking exactly the same question. As if that were not enough, elite female athletes face additional pressure to get back to full fitness as quickly as possible after giving birth. Iceland international Dagny Brynjarsdottir knows a thing or two about this, having discovered she was pregnant halfway through her national team’s qualifying campaign for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. "It was hard for me," Brynjarsdottir told "My pregnancy wasn’t planned, and I was really upset when I found out. "But along the way I realised that it was a blessing. All I thought about during my pregnancy was how I was going to get back out on the pitch. When I held my son in my arms, I thought, 'I don’t know if I want to go back; I want to spend every minute with him'," "But I had set myself goals while I was pregnant and I wanted to achieve them. It was hard, because your body starts at zero. It doesn’t matter how much you worked out during pregnancy. "Mentally I was the same player, but my body would not cooperate. It was hard for me to be patient, work hard, do everything right and believe that one day I’d be back being the player I was before. "When my son was little I only trained when he was asleep. I never wanted to leave him. I went to Portland when he was eight months old. That’s when I started to be away from him for a bit longer. I still find it tough when I’m away with the national team and I try to bring him to every camp."

Regaining her former strength was a long and difficult road for the 30-year-old, who currently plays for Women’s Super League side West Ham United in England and won the Women’s Bundesliga with Bayern Munich in 2015. Many doubted whether she could get back to her best and told her as much. Brynjarsdottir recalled: "I remember one coach in Iceland saying to me, 'I won’t let you play because your name is Dagny', as if I would be a worse player just because I had a baby. I just smiled at him and said, 'Just wait and see'." "It’s not easy. You know you’re not the same player as before – yet. And you hear all these voices saying that you can’t do it. Sometimes I doubted myself and thought, 'Maybe they’re right.' "But at the same time it motivated me and I told myself, 'I’m going to show them.' I can sign for one of the big clubs even if I’m a mum. It’s also good for other women to see that it’s possible. If you have a support system around you and a club that supports you, it’s possible. But it's also important to have a club that’s ready to bring in mums and families."

Capped 95 times for her country, the midfielder silenced the sceptics by signing a contract in England and resuming her quest to reach the Women’s World Cup with the national team. Iceland are currently second behind the Netherlands in Group C of qualifying, and are aiming to collect more points against Cyprus to ensure they can keep pace with the Dutch. "I feel like every game is kind of a play-off game – every three points is so important," said Brynjarsdottir, who is also working towards a Master’s degree. "It doesn’t really matter if you play the Netherlands or Cyprus; you have to go into every single game like it’s the most important of all. If we had lost against Cyprus before beating the Czech Republic, these three points wouldn’t really matter."

Another three points would bring her one step closer to her childhood dream and reduce the gap to the France 2019 runners-up, who themselves only qualified for the last World Cup via the play-offs. "I didn’t play half of qualifying in 2017 because I was pregnant," she said. "We were top of the group and we thought that was going to be our year, but we didn’t end up qualifying. "It also tells us that it ultimately doesn’t matter if you are first or second in the group. I think we have a good chance. Obviously the Netherlands are a great team but that’s football. We always have a chance. I’m really looking forward to playing against them. "Their head coach is my former boss at Portland Thorns, who coached me for three years. We stayed in touch and probably still speak to each other every month. I really enjoyed playing against them before – it was a lot of fun."

The two sides next meet in what could prove to be a decisive match in the race for top spot in the final round of group games on 6 September 2022, but there are plenty more points up for grabs before then if Brynjarsdottir is to make her lifelong dream a reality. "I’ll be 32 at the next World Cup and I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to play at another one, especially if I have more kids and try to come back again," she said, laughing. "It could be my last chance to play at a World Cup, and it would be cool to be part of the first Icelandic women’s team to qualify – and to be the role model for the other girls so that they can see it’s possible."