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Serena Williams Talks Motherhood, Tennis Career and Women Empowering One Another

Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. may not be a household name like her mother, Serena Williams, but at just a couple of months old she’s already breaking records.


Williams was photographed for Vogue’s February issue, along with her baby girl, who has become the magazine’s youngest cover star ever.

In an interview with the magazine, Williams gushed about being a mother and the feeling of holding her daughter, who she calls Olympia, for the first time.

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“That was an amazing feeling,” Serena remembers. “And then everything went bad.”

Williams, who has a history of blood clots, began feeling short of breath in the hospital the day after Olympia was born. A nurse said her pain medication was likely confusing her, but Williams was persistent, according to Vogue:

“‘I was like, a Doppler I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,’ she remembers telling the team. The ultrasound revealed nothing, so they sent her for the CT, and sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Minutes later she was on the drip. ‘I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!'”

What transpired next resulted in Williams being on bed rest for the first month-and-a-half of motherhood:

“But this was just the first chapter of a six-day drama. Her fresh C-section wound popped open from the intense coughing spells caused by the pulmonary embolism, and when she returned to surgery, they found that a large hematoma had flooded her abdomen, the result of a medical catch-22 in which the potentially lifesaving blood thinner caused hemorrhaging at the site of her C-section. She returned yet again to the OR to have a filter inserted into a major vein, in order to prevent more clots from dislodging and traveling into her lungs.”

Now, several months after giving birth, Williams has recovered medically — but the challenges of motherhood have been a whole new battle.

“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, Man, I can’t do this,” Williams said. “It’s that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes. I guess that’s just who I am. 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.”

But Williams has strong support from the tennis community, both from the men and — despite rumors — the women, including Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, who have told Williams she’s been missed during her time off. This dynamic of women empowering one another is important to Williams.

“I really believe that we have to build each other up and build our tour up,” she said. “The women in Billie Jean King’s day supported each other even though they competed fiercely. We’ve got to do that. That’s kind of the mark I want to leave. Play each other hard, but keep growing the sport.”

So does Williams plan to “keep growing the sport” after she’s spent some time at home with Olympia

“To be honest, there’s something really attractive about the idea of moving to San Francisco and just being a mom,” Williams confessed.

“But not yet,” she said. “Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams. I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25.”

Twenty-five Grand Slam wins would break the record, which currently belongs to Australian player Margaret Court. Williams is currently at 23 Grand Slams.

Williams believes becoming a mother may even help her reach her goal.

“When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born,” she explained. “Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”

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