This month last year, Serena Williams earned her 23rd Grand Slam title by winning the Australian Open—while secretly 8-weeks pregnant. Fast-forward to 2018, when she announced she wasn’t going to attempt to defend her title.
Although she seemed to make the decision with reluctance, it’s clear she doesn’t make it with regret: Life with baby daughter Alexia Olympia is worth the professional sacrifices she’s had to make this past year.
“We’re not spending a day apart until she’s 18,” Williams says in the new issue of Vogue. “Now that I’m 36 and I look at my baby, I remember that this was also one of my goals when I was little, before tennis took over, when I was still kind of a normal girl who played with dolls.”
In the broad interview, Williams touches on everything from her post-delivery medical crisis to how she believes motherhood is making her a better athlete. And, as usual, she is so inspiring.
Why she’s keeping her eye on the prize
Although Williams admits there is “something really attractive” about becoming a full-time mom, she isn’t ready for that until she sets the record for the most Grand Slam victories for a woman.
“Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams,” says Serena, who would tie the record with one more win and hold it with two more. “I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25.”
How motherhood is making her a better athlete
As much as Serena wants the record, she says she doesn’t “need” it like before—which is a perspective she sees as an advantage.
“Actually, I think having a baby might help. When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born,” she says. “Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match.”
Her challenging health experience after Olympia’s birth
Even though she had a laid-back approach to delivery, Williams didn’t have the easiest of times: She had an emergency C-section when Olympia’s heart rate plummeted and then Williams’ own recovery took a bad turn when she became short of breath. Because of her history with pulmonary embolisms, Williams immediately knew something was wrong and insisted on a CT scan—which revealed blood clots had settled in her lungs.
It didn’t get much better throughout the next week, when coughing caused Williams’ C-section wound to open, a large hematoma was found in her abdomen and she underwent surgery to prevent more clots from traveling to her lungs. When she was finally discharged, she says she was bedridden for the next six weeks.
Not surprisingly, that’s been difficult for her to deal with.
“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, man, I can’t do this,” she says. “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.”
How she plans to discipline
As challenging as the baby stage has been, Williams is already looking ahead to how she’ll parent Olympia in later years—and she aims to teach her just as much self-discipline as her parents taught her.
“Obedience brings protection; that’s what my mom told me,” Williams says. “That’s straight from the Bible, and she wrote it down on paper and gave it to me. I was always obedient: Whatever my parents told me to do, I did. There was no discussion. Maybe I had a little rebellious phase in my 20s, when I tried liquor for the first time. Maybe having a baby on the tennis tour is the most rebellious thing I could ever do.”
And how she plans to empower
There’s a big difference between respecting limits from parents and knowing there are no limits to your potential, which Williams says she’s excited to teach her daughter.
“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,” she says. “I’m so glad I had a daughter.”
You know what, Serena? We are, too. ?