LONDON — Serena Williams has known her entire life that becoming one of the greatest athletes in the world requires a great deal of sacrifice.
What she’s learned during the last year is that motherhood comes along with a new and different kind of forbearance, and it’s worth every adjustment necessary.
For starters, despite winning her Open era record 23rd Grand Slam title while pregnant at the 2017 Australian Open, Williams abandoned more than a year of tennis to pregnancy and maternity leave.
Her delivery of daughter, Alexis Olympia, on Sept. 1, 2017, came with consequences. Having had problems with blood clots in the past, she suffered from the condition soon after delivery and had a difficult time recovering.
Motherhood, however, has definitely had its upside and Williams is happy to keep fans clued in on her personal journey via social media, as well as in the HBO documentary series, Being Serena.
“I love having this family and having opportunity in the world of social media. … I like sharing, but I also draw a line as to what I’ll share and what memories we keep for ourselves, and what moments we want to keep for ourselves,” said Williams, who married Olympia’s dad, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, in November.
One recent photo and story she offered via social media was when she introduced little Olympia to Wimbledon’s historic Centre Court, where Williams won seven singles trophies in her career, most recently in 2016.
“I got a little emotional when I was telling her a story about a girl who had a big dream,” Williams said. “I started getting choked up. I never felt that before.
“It was really, really nice. We’ll always have that. We’ll always have that memory. We’ll always have that footage of her.”
While Williams says she does filter through what is private and what is public in her life, she’s been surprisingly open about what many would consider highly personal. Take for instance, the Being Serena scene where her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, tells her in early May that unless she decides to stop breastfeeding she will not return to being the fit, world-class tennis player who has dominated the women’s game.
Mouratoglou didn’t demand Williams change. He just told her what he thought, and left it to her to decide.
On Sunday, at Wimbledon, Williams offered a detailed account of her decision to switch Olympia to bottle-feeding. One fact she discovered is there’s no absolutes as to how breastfeeding affects the mom.
Williams enjoyed the bonding with Olympia that breastfeeding provided, and after her initial plan of doing it for three months she kept going until it was suddenly six months. But unlike what she’d been told regarding breastfeeding folklore — that a side benefit of doing so was it’s an ideal source of weight loss for the mom — she found out it wasn’t true. Even following a calorie-careful, vegan-only diet, which she said was definitely “not French fries-eating vegan,” she was retaining weight.
“It was interesting because all these articles, over pop culture, you hear when you breastfeed you lose weight, you’re so thin,” Williams said. “That wasn’t happening to me.
“What I’ve learned through the experience: Everybody is different, every person is different, every physical body is different,” she added. “For my body it didn’t work. No matter how much I worked out, no matter how much I did, it didn’t work for me.”
Williams accepted that Mouratoglou was right.
“Once I got to six months I felt good about it. Then it was just emotionally letting go,” Williams said. “I literally sat Olympia in my arms, I talked to her, we prayed about it. I told her, ‘Look, I’m going to stop. Mommy has to do this.’ I cried a little bit, not as much as I thought I was. She was fine.
“After that, like I literally lost 10 pounds in a week, I just kept dropping,” she said, then adding an explanation as to why she spoke so frankly about the experience: “I wanted to say that so women out there know that’s not true (about losing weight). Everyone takes things different. I think it’s important for us to share that message.”
Williams will officially step onto a Wimbledon court — Court 1 and not Centre Court, specifically — for the first time since 2016 on Monday. She will take on Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands in her opening match.