For Demi Stokes, a new chapter of life has just begun.
Our legendary left-back has recently become a mother, after her fiancée Katie gave birth to a bouncing baby boy – the newest member of the City family: Harlen Harrington-Stokes.
Naturally, the family have been inundated with warmest wishes and congratulations and their wonderful news marks another pivotal moment for women’s sport, as Demi has become our first first-team mother.
While several of our original Ladies team and 2014 squad have gone on to have children, the defender will be the first to juggle parenthood with professional football.
The journey of same-sex parenthood can often be one of difficulty with a lack of support and education around the options available and their logistics. Stokes, a strong advocate for positive social change, wishes to share her story in the hope of helping others to realise their dream and raise awareness of some of the challenges faced during the process.
“It’s so important that I share my story,” Demi declared. “I'm open about it because I want to make it easier for other couples and help other people. Why wouldn’t you, if you’re in a position to do so?
“I want people to know what we went through because although it’s exciting, it’s a quite complicated and quite eye-opening. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to do your research and it’s not always possible to go down the route you want to go down.
“In our head, it was a case of: we’re just going to go down to the clinic and then it will work and we’ll have a baby… but it wasn’t as simple as that, and we had to learn. For us, it was a two-year process. It seems long but it isn’t really when you consider there are people who have tried for five, 10 years and have trouble. It can be really tough.
“At first, it wasn’t working or us and we had to keep grounded because there were others who couldn’t even create eggs or were struggling to find a donor.
“When you sit and think about that, you realise: ‘Wow, it is really a miracle that you can have kids.’ It’s something we didn’t take for granted.
“Even when I was talking to the girls about it, we were saying: ‘Wow, I didn’t know it was like that.’ I always said to them: ‘If you have any questions – even if you think they’re daft – ask, because we’ve probably asked it ourselves.’
“It was actually quite funny when we found out about the pregnancy. I knew the date was coming up to do the test but Katie wouldn’t tell me when it was, so I tried to vibe her out. I told her I was going home the following Tuesday and when she said it was fine, I knew it would be before or after!
“I remember that weekend, she was climbing the walls! She was so hyper, so excited and I thought: ‘This must be it!’ I could tell she was getting a bit nervous… She kept saying that she didn’t think it had worked.
“It was funny because she woke up early. I was knocked out and didn't hear anything but she’d gone into the bathroom and did a test... Then, the bedroom door flung open and she screamed: ‘DEMIIIIIIIIII!’ – and I thought we were being burgled!
“I jumped up and scrambled around and asked: ‘What’s going on?!’ She was shouting: ‘Look, look! Go and look!’ so I went in the bathroom. I was still half-asleep but then I saw it. I was still waking up so it took a few minutes to process but then I was so excited!
“Then, you get the instinct. For me, it was a case of: ‘Right, we need to get to 12 weeks’ because there’s a lot of risk – your body is fragile, there can be complications…
“I almost used it as a little stepping stone. She kept saying to me: ‘You’re so weird! Is this what you do with everything?!’ and yes, I guess that’s just how I process stuff and deal with it. I wasn’t the one physically carrying the baby and I knew that I couldn’t get too high because if anything would have happened, it would have brought us both back down. That was my coping mechanism to get myself through it as well.”
Naturally, the female body undergoes physical, emotional and hormonal changes during pregnancy – the effects of which can also introduce new challenges. For Demi, it proved another journey of discovery and the defender says she has new-found respect for those who have lived the experience...
“Women are superheroes. I don’t think women get enough credit. I say it like I’m not a woman and wouldn’t be able to experience that but I just think it’s so incredible what women put their bodies through.
“I think that’s the bit that made me uneasy because I wasn’t in control of the situation, and I couldn’t do too much. I’d had friends who had had kids and you think: ‘That’s great, congratulations’ but when you see it first-hand, you’re like: ‘Wow.’ Like, when you feel him kicking and you think: ‘Isn’t it mad that this was a little embryo and now he’s a baby, kicking?!’
“We’d had the conversation: ‘Do we use my egg? Do we use yours?’ I kept saying to Katie: ‘I don’t think I could do it.’ And there’s so much pressure. It’s up to each individual. If they think they’re capable of doing it, they probably are. Props to people – mums, dads, single parents… Well done.”
Affectionately dubbed ‘the baby whisperer’ in a conversation regarding her maternal experience in the moments before her interview, Stokes has always shared a great relationship with children. She always knew that one day, she would be a mother and takes inspiration from her own ‘mam’s’ journey, including the ‘tough love’ lessons.
“I love kids,” she smiled. “My mam always said to me: ‘You’ve always wanted kids.’ I just think they’re so innocent but they’re also very inquisitive and very smart.
“My mum was a single parent with five kids and my nan was a big help – almost the other parent. I always say to my mum: ‘I don’t know how you did it!’ because at one point, there were three of us under the age of three!
“We spend a lot of time with our nieces but people say that when it’s your own, it’s very different. I like tough love – I think it worked well on me. Katie is very opposite to me – everything is: ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ She’s shy when you first meet her but she’s very bubbly. I always say that when I come in, I’m greeted like I’m a puppy!
“I think that it will be a good balance. If Harlen were to fall over when taking his first steps, I think I’d be the one that would check he was alright and then say: ‘Come on, get up’ whereas Katie might rush over and fuss over him more. Like I say, I think it will be a good balance but I’ll let you know in a few months!
“I guess to be a parent, to be able to shape someone and bring them up and give them a good start in life is really important. People go through hardships and don’t always get the right support or the right role models but to be able to try to bring someone into the world with good morals is important.
“People say that when you’re thinking about having kids, you reflect on your childhood and think about things you did or didn’t like, and things you would or would not want for your child. You have to be careful about how you bring kids up because it can influence the way they turn out.
“It’s going to be a challenge but we have a good support system – my family, Katie’s family – so we’ll be fine… and if we get stuck, Google is there to help!
“My approach will be quite laid-back. I think you just have to let kids figure out what they want to do and who they want to be. As adults, we try to fit into a box and mould people but actually, the way the world works, anything goes. I’ll just be telling him to be who he wants to be.
“The world is very different now to when I was growing up. He’s going to go to school and someone else will have two mums or two dads. I’ll help him and guide him but ultimately, I’ll let him figure the world out. We’ll see…”
One month after Demi and Katie had announced the news of their new arrival, they shared an update with a gender reveal on social media. The cannon released a sprinkling of pink confetti, indicating the pair would be welcoming a baby girl – a prediction that would prove false a matter of weeks later. Though the situation caused much hilarity among friends and family, Demi admits it took time to come to terms with the change.
“We were so excited,” Demi recalls. “On Christmas Eve, we had a scan. We wanted to get it done early. We decided to have a gender reveal but just the two of us – I don’t like being the centre of attention!
“We’d been talking about whether we’d have a boy or a girl. I was saying that if it was a boy, I couldn’t wait to get his hair cut, and then if it was a girl, I couldn’t wait to get her hair braided… I’d been adamant we were having a boy – obviously it’s 50/50, but I was sure. Then we spun the cannon and pink came out and I thought: ‘Well, it’s science. It can’t be wrong!’
“Then, Katie went to the 20-week scan, which unfortunately I was unable to go to and I had a missed call. Instantly, I panicked that something bad had happened. I called her on FaceTime and I could see she’d been crying.
“I asked if everything was alright and she told me to guess what had happened! I said: ‘Are we having twins?’ and she said: ‘No, we’re having a baby boy!’
“I asked her why she was crying and she said: ‘Do you never take anything seriously?!’ And I said: ‘Well, as long as he’s healthy, that’s the main thing’ but I do get it – from her side, she’s the one carrying and she’s built this connection with a baby she thought was a girl. We’d picked the name and painted the room two days before, and our families had gone mad for Christmas with all kinds of presents…
“It may sound strange but she felt like she’d been robbed, and I just had to say: ‘Look, I understand but we’re having a boy so we need to move on.’ I told her to get her coat and that we could go to the Trafford Centre and do some shopping, picking some boys’ clothes. She felt better after that.
“My family found the whole thing hilarious. We’ve actually got one dress I will not give away because it’s so cute and we said we’ll keep it (just in case!), and my mam said we can just put it on him and take a picture, then give it to him for his 18th birthday! I guess it’s a story to tell him when he’s older, something funny. It’s just part of the journey, a piece of the puzzle. We’ve got a diary so one day, he can read it and figure out how he was born into this world.”
Stokes’ next few months could not be more hectic, as she tries to juggle motherhood and professional football. With the eagerly-awaited Women’s Euros taking place on home soil, things will be slightly easier to manage for the England left-back but the defender admits it will still be a testing period.
“It’s exciting,” she added. “I kept saying I don’t think I know the magnitude of what’s happening! With the Euros as well, I’ll have to try and juggle that focus, trying to get selected… Football has been good in terms of dealing with the waiting – as a player, you count your weeks by games so it’s been good for me to be able to channel it that way, and vice versa: when I’m at home, I can switch off and focus on my family.
“I did do the ‘baby’ celebration when I scored against Reading. It wasn’t pre-planned because I never score! I almost forgot to do it but Lucy reminded me. The ball was shoved up my top and Katie really liked it – I think she watched it back about 10 times!
“As usual, I’m taking the laid-back approach to juggling the next few months… It’s like any job really. It’s something you think about when you decide to become parents – what you’d do if they’re sick and you’re at work, etc.
“I suppose: ‘Is any time the right time?’ If you want to have a baby, you have to sacrifice things and as women, we sacrifice so much already. That’s just part and parcel of becoming a parent – you have to put someone else before you for once, and other people before football. The same applies to any job but again, we’ve got good support and we know it’s doable because it has been done.”
So, once he’s taken his first steps, will little Harlen Harrington-Stokes be following in Demi’s footsteps onto the pitch – a future City and England left-back perhaps…?
“He’d be better than me, hopefully!” she laughs. “Katie is a City supporter so he’ll be supporting a good team.
“He’ll definitely have a Manc accent but he’ll be very confused when he gets to meet the rest of the family: there'll be a bit of Brummie, Geordie, Manc…
“As long as he’s happy and healthy, then nothing else matters.”