Kate Lutkins is a serving member of the Australian Defence Force, an inaugural AFLW player with a Grand Final best-on-ground medal under her belt, and most recently, a mother to daughter Riley.

Having represented Brisbane since 2017, the fan favourite and three-time All Australian key defender made the decision to have a child with wife Kate, sitting out the Lions' premiership-winning 2023 season while pregnant.

Despite being closer to the end of her career than the start, the choice was a no-brainer for the 35-year-old, triggered by a deeply emotional moment of clarity a few years prior, but the process was anything but smooth.

"When the competition did start, I was 26 or 27 and had no desire whatsoever to have children at that point in my life. As the years went on, I got older and footy got bigger and my partner and I started talking about kids, and we decided we were going to try," Lutkins told AFL.com.au.

"After the Grand Final in 2021, my grandma passed away. I was just sitting there, by her bed in her last moments, and I thought, 'I really want children. I want my mum to have this, and I want to start a family'."

The initial decision was for Lutkins to undergo intrauterine insemination (IUI, or artificial insemination) during what turned out to be the first season of 2022. If medically cleared, she would then play during the early part of her first trimester, as Jess Duffin later did with Hawthorn.

"I was that stubborn, and I didn't want to miss a season of footy, while understanding anything could happen and I may change my mind and not want to play, or not be able to play," Lutkins said.

"Turns out, two minutes into season A of 2022, I tore my ACL in Adelaide. The next morning, I got an MRI and went to the club (to receive the results), found out I tore my ACL and tested positive to COVID (on a RAT) just before my meeting with the [strength and conditioning coach].


"I was going to go in for IUI that week, but couldn't, because I got COVID and had to isolate for two weeks."

The two Kates decided Lutkins should tackle her knee reconstruction first to extend her footy career, temporarily putting the family plans on hold. Three months into her rehabilitation, the then-33-year-old underwent a round of IVF, enabling her to freeze embryos at that stage to help maximise their chances of IUI when she was in a position to carry a baby.

She noticed the IVF drugs actually had a temporary effect on her gym work, enabling her to lift heavier weights as her hormones changed, reverting to the norm when she finished the round.

Her partner's work – a major in the Australian Army, operating a combat reconnaissance vehicle – also had an effect on the eventual timeline for the IUI, the couple not wanting to undergo the procedure while she was out in the field, eventually landing on January 2023.

"You can be disappointed, but at the same time, life goes on, so you may as well test and adjust and revaluate and go, where are we going to go now? That's what Kate and I did, had the conversation, worked out where we both sat, what we wanted and where we wanted to go," she said.

"At the end of the day, footy is only a short-term thing. I'm fortunate that I'm really healthy, the only reason we do go through a fertility specialist is because we're same-sex (couple). I definitely don't take it for granted, we're really lucky it happened first time, and that's why we decided to do it when we did.

"I'm really fortunate and blessed to be in a position where I can do footy, and the AFL is so supportive of women having children with their maternity plan.

"Age comes into it, but at the same time, it puts a bit more pressure on you when you're 35 and called 'geriatric' when you're having your kid. It's not like you're hormonal and feeling vulnerable or anything, let's add geriatric in there. But I guess we go with the flow. S*** happens in life, and life goes on."

Lutkins is a remarkably no-fuss character, riding bumps in her own level-headed, matter-of-fact way.

Former teammate Sharni Webb – who had daughter Billie during her AFLW career – has been a source of wisdom, but other than that, given how different each mother's journey is, Lutkins has kept treading her own path.

"Having a child flips life on its head, but [at the same time] it doesn't really, you just kind of get on with it," she said.

"After three months, I started getting back into it, into running and gymming and all the fun things. Loving having a 35-year-old body, post-partum.

"Just getting back into routine, getting back on the track and trying to get a baby on a bottle, that was fun. She goes to daycare four days a week now, just to really help me get training in, otherwise it can be a bit too hard – if she's in a bad mood, gym can take five hours and it's a bit impossible to do a running session with her.

"She absolutely loves daycare, and she gets a lot out of it, like sickness, immunity, lots of friends. We get Friday, Saturday and Sunday together, and obviously nights.

"So that's pretty much been what I've been up to, just trying to keep a baby alive for the last six months, and trying to get fit again."

n March 2023, the Lions announced Lutkins would be sitting out the upcoming AFLW season, with no further information as to a reason why.

"Anyone that asked, I told them anyway, because it's this weird taboo thing as a woman, you're not supposed to tell anyone you're pregnant till 12 weeks and everything's fine and dandy, but realistically, anything can go wrong after that,” she said.

"Before that, if people know, then they can provide support around you if anything does happen. Everyone at the club knew I was pregnant, and anyone who asked me, I just told them straight out.

"I was still running around with the girls, because it was off-season, so still training, running and gymming, nothing different.

"Everyone's different, and people love to tell you what's right and what's wrong, everyone has their two cents. I just let my body be the guide and I was running up until six months, then I went away for work up to Tindal (near Katherine) in the Northern Territory for a month. It was a bit hot to keep running, I had to keep my temperature down and running in 40 degrees doesn't really allow that.

"After that, it was gym, walking, body weight (strength) work, swimming, anything I felt like, really. If it was uncomfortable and it hurt, I just stopped.

"Every single woman in the league who has had a kid has had a different journey, every birth is different, every pregnancy is different, everyone is different ages. That's one thing that's been huge. I can talk to Sharni about anything, but at the end of the day, I just have to listen to my body and do what's right, and Riley's going to do the same."

At the 12-week mark post-partum ( of which she was "counting down the minutes"), Lutkins was cleared by the club and a women's health physiotherapist to start her return to training, first needing to establish her pelvic floor muscles were able to handle a gradual return to exercise, with strength testing also undertaken to establish a new baseline.

"I've only experienced training at 35 with a baby, so I don't really know what 35 is without it. I just push it as hard as it will go. I know its limits, and I know where I can push it, the programming is really pushing the body in a good way. It's pretty amazing what the body can achieve under certain stressors and a lack of sleep," she said.

"You're trying to get a baby onto solids from breast milk – she's not on formula, just breast – balancing that, with balancing training, with balancing sleeping or a lack of sleeping. Age is just another factor in it, I'm not 21 and having a kid, so I'm not going to bounce back as quick, but at the same time, the body is amazing.

"You're starting from scratch, even more so than an ACL injury. I went six months without any running at all, three months without any proper weightlifting. Even an ACL, that's three-four months without running. That muscle memory is still there, it just takes a lot longer to come back.”

"Taking the whole year off allows me to essentially put everything back into footy and really give a red-hot crack at coming back. The comp's just getting bigger and better every year, the girls are fitter, stronger and faster, and it's obviously a premiership-winning side.

"Coming back into that team, it's highly competitive, and you have to earn every single minute back out on that park. It's definitely the goal, and I want to put myself in the best position to really be in a position to be looked at for selection."