Serena Williams is being penalized for taking maternity leave—just like so many other moms returning to work

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As Serena Williams returns to tournament courts following pregnancy and maternity leave, she is finding herself in much the same position as millions of women who face the "motherhood penalty." The fact that someone who is among the greatest athletes of all time is still subject to this says more about society-wide challenges for working mothers than it does about Williams actual performance—and it's time we address that.


Where Williams, as a new mother returning from leave, stands in the world of professional tennis was made clear by the French Tennis Federation: When ranking for the upcoming French Open, the federation did not give Williams a seed. This puts her at a huge disadvantage for the tournament, which is her formal return to the courts after welcoming daughter Olympia with husband Alexis Ohanian in September.

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In other words, by taking time off for pregnancy, childbirth and the recovery from life-threatening complications she experienced, Williams dropped a full 453 spots in the eyes of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

This isn't just a vanity metric, either: By going into the tournament unseeded, Williams will face higher-ranked opponents much earlier, which makes it that much more challenging to climb back to the top.

Although we don't doubt Williams is ready for the challenge, this is unfortunately representative of the situation that thousands of lower-profile working mothers find themselves in on a yearly basis. According to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Sociology, working mothers are penalized in the form of "lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries."

Specifically, when it comes to promotions, moms who have gone on maternity leave are 8.2 times less likely to be recommended for promotions than other women in their office. Many moms returning to employment also find their workplaces to be much less hospitable—with one report from Great Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission finding 11% of mothers are forced out of their jobs by outright dismissal or such poor treatment they felt they had no choice.

With decades of potential working years ahead of most mothers, these effects snowball. According to the National Women's Law Center, even moms who just take a short maternity leave make $0.71 per every dollar that a dad in the same position earns.

The pay penalty is less likely to impact Williams than most moms, but the effects of her virtual demotion are still significant—and send an unfortunate message: By treating Williams' leave as a 14-month vacation, tennis officials are essentially discouraging women from making their own family plans, taking time to bond with their babies and giving themselves space to properly recover.

The outcry over Williams going unseeded at the French Open has been loud and swift, leading the WTA to reportedly consider rule changes that would protect highly ranked players from losing their seeding due to maternity leave. Her situation is also pushing the conversation about the motherhood penalty into the spotlight—and all we have to say is that it's about time.

Hopefully, this could help change things for those of us who aren't great athletes, but are trying to be great working mamas.

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Things We're Loving

Shannon Bird is a well known mom blogger and influencer with more than 100,000 Instagram followers. For years she's been known for her style and for her family's quirky adventures, but in 2020 the mom of five became internet famous for something else.

This mama called 911 in the middle of the night because she ran out of breastmilk and asked the police to bring her formula.

The criticism was swift, but Bird's story isn't just about when it is appropriate to call emergency services—it's about who has the privilege of being able to call 911, the lack of support for mothers in America, gender roles and the erosion of the village. In short, this isn't just a story about Shannon Bird calling 911. It's a story about a society that is failing mothers.

Here's what you need to know about this viral story:

This week Bird appeared on Fox News Channel's Daily Briefing, but the 911 call happened in January 

It's been weeks since certain corners of the internet blew up after literally watching Bird (via Instagram stories) call 911 because she ran out of breastmilk and had no formula. To Bird's followers, this is old news, but it's been making the news in recent days.

On February 17 Bird appeared on Fox News Channels' Daily Briefing with her youngest child to talk about why she called 911 when she ran out of breastmilk (and had no formula in her home). As the Utah mom previously told Fox 6, "I've never not had food for my newborn. It was really scary for me."

How this mom ended up calling 911 for formula

Those watching Bird's Instagram Stories on January 28 saw this unfold in real-time. Bird was recovering from some postpartum complications at the time and a medication she was taking may have been a factor in her declining milk supply.

She found herself home alone (her husband was out of town) with her infant and her four other young children (one of whom had a cast on a broken leg). She thought she had enough pumped breastmilk in the freezer to get her though the night, but eventually realized she didn't. She also didn't have any baby formula.

In her Instagram Stories she detailed how she called friends and family for help around 2 AM but no one picked up the phone. Eventually, she called 911, telling the operator she was scared and had no way to feed her 6-week-old baby.

"I've been calling neighbors and no one will answer," she said on the call. "I've never been in this predicament ever. My milk just literally dried out. This is my fifth kid and this has never happened."

Soon, the police were at her door.

The police brought this mom milk + formula in the middle of the night

After the 911 call, Bird posted video footage of police arriving at her home to her Instagram Stories (as her doorbell cam had captured the footage). It shows Officer Brett Wagstaff of the Lone Peak police department arrive at Bird's door with a gallon of milk.

Bird explained that what she needed wasn't regular milk, but baby formula. "We'll be right back with some formula for your baby — she's adorable," Wagstaff told Bird.

Soon enough he came back with baby formula from Walmart, telling Bird, "That's the same stuff we gave my daughter when she was first born, so hopefully it doesn't upset her stomach."

Officer Wagstaff and his fellow officer Konner Gabbitas have been hailed as heroes in the recent news coverage of this story (and they are) but many critics pointed out that Bird had the privilege of being a wealthy, white mom when she called 911, and wonder if the response would be the same from mothers of color or lesser means.

The backlash over privilege + a need for postpartum support 

Twenty-four hours after posting the Instagram Stories showing the police delivering baby formula, Bird announced she was taking a break from social media (she's since returned) which isn't surprising when you look at the comments on her accounts.

People were upset with her for using 911 the way she did, and upset with her husband for leaving her alone with five kids while he went out of town. When Fox News picked up the story the criticism continued.

"This is not what 911 is for... In some places, you'd get a ticket for misuse of emergency services. But, here is everyone enabling some more. Saying how heroic and brave this was. I can't even handle it," one Instagram user commented.

"Flip this narrative and you would get a drastically different response. #whiteprivilege," another noted.

That does need to be part of this conversation. There are many mothers in America who would not feel comfortable calling 911 during a parenting emergency due to institutional bias and racism. And that's not fair, because all mothers should be able to get help when they need it.

Many people have pointed out all the things Bird could have done differently in this situation—maybe she could have gotten her kids up and driven to Walmart herself, maybe she could have used Uber Eats or Instacart to order formula for delivery—but at that moment she couldn't. She was in crisis.

Calling 911 is an act of desperation, and it's a sign that the cultural expectations on women are causing a lot of maternal stress.

It takes time to recover from birth (especially if you have postpartum complications).

Breastfeeding can be very difficult (even if you've breastfed before with ease).

And when your baby is crying and you can't help them, that's terrifying.

Many commenters suggest this is a story about a woman abusing the 911 service, but maybe it's a story about a country where mothers in crisis feel they have no one to call. Maybe it's a story about how when the "village" erodes, mothers suffer the most. Maybe it's a sign that we need more postpartum supports, more education and more empathy for mothers.

[Motherly reached out to Shannon Bird for comment and will update this post if we receive a reply.]

News

Gabrielle Union + Dwyane Wade have been blended family goals, an inspiration to those struggling with infertility and now they are an inspiration to parents of trans kids and supporters of trans rights.

Earlier this month Wade appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and spoke about his 12-year-old daughter Zaya coming out as transgender and Union posted a beautiful video + caption to Instagram, inviting fans to "meet Zaya."

This week Wade appeared on Good Morning America, explaining that Zaya has known she was transgender since she was 3 years old.

"Zaya has known it for nine years," the proud dad said on GMA, adding that he credits Zaya (who was assigned as male at birth) with educating him and helping him grow.

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"I knew early on that I had to check myself... I've been a person in the locker room that has been a part of the conversation that has said the wrong phrases and the wrong words myself," he told GMA's Robin Roberts. "My daughter was my first interaction when it comes to having to deal with this conversation...Hopefully I'm dealing with it the right way... Inside our home we see the smile on my daughter's face, we see the confidence that she's able to walk around and be herself and that's when you know you're doing right."

It sure seems like Wade and Union have been doing it right. When Union posted a video to Instagram earlier this month introducing Zaya it was clear the tween's dad and step-mom have her back.

In the video Zaya is riding in a golf cart with her dad and dropping wisdom. She says: "Just be true to yourself, because what's the point of even living on this earth if you're going to try to be someone you're not?...Be true and don't really care what the 'stereotypical' way of being you is."

Union was so impressed by her step-daughter, captioning the video: "She's compassionate, loving, whip smart and we are so proud of her. It's Ok to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people."

Later in the week Union addressed criticism of Zaya's transition on Twitter, writing: "This has been a journey. We're still humbly learning but we decided quickly w/ our family that we wouldn't be led by fear. We refuse to sacrifice the freedom to live authentically becuz we are afraid of what ppl might say. U have the ability to learn & evolve."

Zaya's big brother is also on her side. Newly 18-year-old Zaire posted the cutest throwback pic from when he and Zaya were just little kids, noting how the siblings were and are best friends.

"Man, I remember bugging my mom as a kid telling her I wanted a brother so bad. I was the only child looking for company and someone to look after and take care of," Zaire began his caption. "I have been blessed to have my best friend, Zaya with me for 12 years. We did everything together … we fought, we played, we laughed and we cried. But the one thing we never did was leave each other behind."

Zaire continued: "I've told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are ten toes down and happy on this earth," he told his younger sibling. "I don't care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there's no love lost on this side ✊🏾"

We are so impressed and inspired by the love Zaya's family is showing her (and other kids by sharing this story publicly). You've got this Zaya!

[A version of this story was posted February 12, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Amy Schumer is opening up about the grueling process of in vitro fertilization. The comedian gave birth to a baby boy last year, and has been sharing details about her attempts to get pregnant again.

Back in January she told followers that she'd just begun a round of IVF, and updated her Instagram fans again this week. She said that doctors were initially able to retrieve 35 eggs, and the funny lady naturally cracked a joke about it.

"Not bad for the old gal right?" she said. "Then 26 fertilized! Whoah right? For all of those we got 1 normal embryo from that and 2 low level mosaic (mosaic means there are some abnormal cells but can still lead to a healthy baby) So we feel lucky we got 1! But what a drop off right?"

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There's an important reason Schumer talks openly about her fertility strugglesit's all about giving and receiving support and breaking the stigma.

"I have so appreciated everyone sharing their IVF stories with me. They made me feel empowered and supported. So I wanted to tell you how mine went down," she wrote. "So many women go through many rounds of IVF which is painful and mentally grueling. I heard from hundreds of women about...their miscarriages and struggles and also many hopeful stories about how after rounds and rounds of IVF it worked!! It has been really encouraging," Schumer writes, noting that she's thankful for all the support.

She continues: "Anyway I am so grateful for our son and that we have the resources to get help in this way. I just wanted to share and send love and strength to all of the warrior women who go through this process."

Schumer's even been in contact with some of those women directly—her Instagram bio lists a number where followers can text her to share their IVF stories and advice.

Schumer has always been relatable, and that's been even more true since she became a mom. She's been refreshingly and hilariously candid about everything from her hyperemesis to her postpartum body and her breast pump struggles, so it's no surprise she's doing the same for IVF. Hopefully, she'll be sharing the struggles of going from 1 child to 2 before we know it.

News

Mornings can be so rough making sure everyone has what they need for the day and managing to get out the door on time. A recent survey by Indeed found that 60% of new moms say managing a morning routine is a significant challenge, and another new survey reveals just why that is.

The survey, by snack brand Nutri-Grain, suggests that all the various tasks and child herding parents take on when getting the family out the door in the morning adds up to basically an extra workday every week!

Many parents will tell you that it can take a couple of hours to get out of the house each morning person, and as the survey found, most of us need to remind the kids "at least twice in the morning to get dressed, brush their teeth, or put on their shoes."

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According to Nutri-Grain, by the end of the school year, the average parent will have asked their children to hurry up almost 540 times across the weekday mornings.

We totally get it. It's hard to wait on little ones when we have a very grown-up schedule to get on with, but maybe the world needs to realize that kids just aren't made to be fast.

As Rachel Macy Stafford, the author of Hands Free Mama, Hands Free Life, writes, having a child who wants to enjoy and marvel at the world while mama is trying to rush through it is hard.

"Whenever my child caused me to deviate from my master schedule, I thought to myself, 'We don't have time for this.' Consequently, the two words I most commonly spoke to my little lover of life were: 'Hurry up.'" she explains.

We're always telling our kids to hurry up, but maybe, maybe, we should be telling ourselves—and society—to slow down.

That's what Stafford did. She took "hurry up" out of her vocabulary and in doing so made that extra workday worth of time into quality time with her daughter, instead of crunch time. She worked on her patience, and let her daughter marvel at the world or slow down when she had to.

"To help us both, I began giving her a little more time to prepare if we had to go somewhere. And sometimes, even then, we were still late. Those were the times I assured myself that I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young."

It's great advice, but unless we mamas can get the wider world on board, it's hard to put into practice. When the school bus comes at 7:30 am and you've gotta be at the office at 8 am, when the emails start coming before you're out of bed or your pay gets docked if you punch in five minutes late, it is hard to slow down.

So to those who are making the schedules the rest of us have to live by, to the employers and the school boards and the wider culture, we ask: Can we slow down?

Indeed's survey suggests that the majority of moms would benefit from a more flexible start time at work and the CDC suggests that starting school later would help students.

Mornings are tough for parents, but they don't have to be as hard as they are.

[This post was originally published May 17, 2019.]

News
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