Many interviews with high-profile women who have recently given birth can be infuriating, to say the least. They’re often full of glowing descriptions of pregnancy, birth and motherhood, with any reference to pain, struggle or exhaustion firmly omitted. Which is why Serena Williams’ new interview with US Vogue, in which she features as February’s cover star, is so brilliant.
Williams explains that her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr (Williams calls her Olympia), was delivered by emergency C-section on September 1 last year after her heart rate plummeted dangerously low. Everything went to plan, the baby was delivered safely and laid on her mother’s chest. “That was an amazing feeling,” Williams tells Vogue. “And then everything went bad.”
Williams has a history of blood clots and so, when she felt short of breath the day after giving birth, her immediate assumption was that she was suffering another pulmonary embolism (something she previously suffered in 2003, which forced her to take a year out of her career). When she tried to inform the medical staff at the hospital of her fears, she was, like so many other women, not taken seriously. After insisting, doctors performed an ultrasound scan on her legs. “I was like, a Dopper? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,” Williams says. When a CT scan was eventually conducted, several small blood clots could be seen in her lungs. “I was like, listen to Dr Williams!”
As Rob Haskell describes, this was only the first day in a week-long ordeal for Williams, which arose as a result of complications with her C-section wound. She was ultimately left bedridden for the first six weeks after giving birth. As her husband, Alexis, says: “Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet, and you’re trapped in it.”
The feeling of guilt surrounding women and the concept of motherhood is almost overwhelming; judgement begins as soon as pregnancy is announced and women are treated as if they can’t make the right decisions for themselves or their child
Williams’ own description of how she felt during that time is beautifully candid: “Sometimes I get really down and feel like, Man, I can’t do this… No one talks about the low moments – the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry. I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby? The emotions are insane.” And just like that, Serena Williams obliterates the myth of motherhood that we’re all force-fed from a young age: that giving birth is the hard part and that, as a woman, you instinctively take to motherhood like a duck to water. The feeling of guilt surrounding women and the concept of motherhood is almost overwhelming; judgement begins as soon as pregnancy is announced and women are treated as if they can’t make the right decisions for themselves or their child. In her honesty, Serena Williams proves that wealth, status and success matter not one bit – no woman is immune to these feelings.
One of the best things about the interview is the fact that talk of Williams’ new role as a mother does not – as is the case with so many women, famous or otherwise– eclipse her own personal identity or her career. She expresses her frustration that, due to biology, Federer is able to get back to work immediately after his wife gave birth to their second set of twins, and she also speaks of her past and future goals.
“Why would I want to stand side by side when I can stand out on my own?” she says. “I think sometimes women limit themselves. I’m not sure why we think that way, but I know that we’re sometimes taught to not dream as big as men, not to believe we can be a president or a CEO, when in the same household, a male child is told he can be anything he wants. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”