Serena Williams Is Quitting Tennis To Put Motherhood First. I Understand.


The idea of “doing it all” is fascinating, primarily because it is relegated to women who are balancing  our personal and professional lives. Fatherhood is not nearly as all-consuming, furthermore, it has not truly been required to be. Mothers, on the other hand, are required, and expected to give  all and be all. Balancing both and taking care of yourself is a frightening plate-spinning trick. Sometimes, you have to lovingly put down one of the sticks.

In a self-written story for Vogue‘s September cover, tennis legend Serena Williams announced her plan to move on from tennis after this summer’s U.S. Open. The moment is bittersweet. We’ve watched her grow from a teen bursting through the chill of her sister’s shadow into a woman who’s a record-breaking, trophy-bearing, crip walking icon. Nothing has stopped her. Not racism, sexism, losses, or constantly being pitted against changing crops of competitors. Williams has been fixed on her professional goal for over 25 years. Now, she has a new goal — expanding her family.

“In the last year, Alexis and I have been trying to have another child, and we recently got some information from my doctor that put my mind at ease and made me feel that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family,” Williams says in Vogue. “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”

Serena Williams Is Quitting Tennis To Put Motherhood First. I Understand.
Hollywood, CA – November 14: Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr., center, strikes a pose, with mom Serena Williams, right and dad Alexis Ohanian, on the red carpet of the 2021 AFI Fest Gala Premiere of, King Richard, at the TCL Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, CA, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. The film tells the story of Richard Williams, portrayed by Will Smith, and his raising of daughters Venus and Serena into the tennis champions they have become. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The process of becoming a mother was not without struggle. Williams gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., in 2017, and underwent an emergency C-section after Olympia’s heart dropped in utero. She then developed a life-threatening pulmonary embolism and a hematoma, spending her first month and a half of motherhood bed-ridden. As a Black woman, Williams experiencing extreme health issues is not uncommon. In 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention documented that 23.8 percent of live births ended with a Black mother dying. When you’re one of us, the truth behind bringing life into the world is known. The physical toll of pregnancy must never be understated. 

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was keenly aware of the hernia brought on by delivering my first child. I also dealt with additional health complications throughout my pregnancy (and after birth) that required me to take pauses from work. My babies and my work share my body. That’s not a fact I can ignore. I stay afloat by leaning on my husband for support and intentionally stepping away from my computer and phone to practice being present. Still, I stumble as I try to figure it all out. 

Adding an involved career to the journey of motherhood can also be an immolation of the heart. I have to make choices (like going to conduct an interview versus sitting down with my family for lunch) and sometimes, they hurt. In 2018, Williams shared a tweet about not being there for her daughter’s first steps, writing, “She took her first steps… I was training and missed it. I cried.” As a working mama, I understand the guilt of missed moments. You want to be there for every instance. When you’re not because you’re keeping another plate in the air, you can’t help but feel it.

“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” she writes for Vogue. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.” Again, we must choose and in the end, hope we’ve chosen well.

I’m happy to see a Black woman declare her limit. There is power in saying “no more,” even when it tears you up. Serena, you’ve given your all to the game. You never owed us anything, but still, you gave. So, enjoy your family. Letting go of a plate has its benefits.

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