As the greatest athlete of all time, it's safe to say that Serena Williams is highly attuned to her body. "I know what my body goes through, and I know when I’m sick more than a normal person," she tells Refinery29. "I’m like my body’s own doctor, so to say. It’s really intense."
Williams' superhuman instincts came in handy when, a day after having an emergency C-section last September, she started to feel short of breath. Due to her history of blood clots, she suspected that she was having a pulmonary embolism. She wanted a CT scan ASAP, but nurses said the pain medication was just making her "confused." Eventually, she got the CT scan, which revealed she had small blood clots in her lungs. Doctors were able to treat the embolism, but it left her with coughing spells that ruptured her C-section wound. They had to perform surgery again, and discovered more hemorrhaging near her C-section.
People don’t tell their story, because they think that maybe it’s a one of a kind, or it doesn’t need to be told, or it doesn’t matter. But it does matter; you matter.
Williams' own birth experience inspired her to become an advocate for maternal healthcare. "It means your life," she says. "Without it, you might not live, maybe your baby lives without a mom, or maybe your baby doesn’t live. It's something that needs to be discussed, talked about, changed, and helped."
Williams says she hopes other women feel empowered to be open about their own birth stories, too. "A lot of times, people don’t tell their story, because they think that maybe it’s a one-of-a-kind, or it doesn’t need to be told, or it doesn’t matter," she says. "But it does matter; you matter." Williams spoke with Refinery29 on behalf of Embrace, a scar dressing product that she says helped her recover faster from her two C-section incisions, and allowed her to continue working out. She discussed motherhood, her return to tennis, and her obsession with her daughter, Olympia.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has your self-care routine changed since having a kid?
"I just downloaded this meditation app. I was trying it, because I felt like I needed to clear my mind. The guy talks to you for a second, then you just sit, clear your mind, and think. I start it [and meditate for] like 3-5 minutes depending. I try to meditate more, because it helps me be better for my daughter and my family, and I think that's really important."
I noticed on Twitter you said, "Is it normal to [be] super low every time your baby goes to sleep? I feel like crying. I miss her and I can’t wait for her to wake up." Or, "Every time I put her to sleep I miss her." How would you describe your relationship with Olympia?
"I’m a little obsessed. I can’t be without her too long. I like to believe we have a wonderful relationship; she’s my everything. I love her. I don’t know if there's a too much, but if there was, that would be me. Last night, she finally slept through the night, and I was devastated. I woke up at 2 o'clock waiting for her, 4 o'clock waiting, 6 o'clock waiting for her, and she never came — she slept through the night. That sums me and my relationship up with Olympia."
I have to continue to almost force myself to be confident, because doubt and fear are things that you just don’t want. They don’t help you, so you don’t need them.
Do you have any aspirations for Olympia to play tennis, too?
"I want her to do what she wants to do. It’s interesting, because my dad taught me tennis, and then I made a decision [to pursue tennis] after. I definitely want to do something like that with her — I don’t know what sport or what discipline it will be. I believe sports do help women build confidence, and help them be confident. So, I just have to think about that."
Everyone was so excited to hear about your return to tennis. Does it feel different mentally or physically since having a kid?
"Mentally, I think it's pretty much the same. Sometimes, when I’m on the court, I think about [Olympia], and I’m like, Okay, is she alright? What is she doing? I think it'll get easier as she gets older. Physically, it's been different, because I’m coming back from a C-section, which is not very easy to come back from, as well as just getting my body back from being pregnant for 9.5 months or 40 weeks."
Are there any other athletes who are also mothers who you admire?
"In the tennis world, Victoria Azarenka had a baby right before me, and she’s also former No. 1. I remember visiting her like a month after she had her baby, and I was pregnant at the time. I was like, Dude, I have so many questions. To this day, I text her and we talk all the time, because she’s back playing as well and traveling with her baby, and it's just intense. It’s so good to talk to her about that. Even though she’s younger, I’m going to her for advice, and it’s super, super awesome."
What's the best advice you have for athletes who are going through a big transition period, like having a kid or even just going off to college?
"I think you have to always be confident. Even I struggle from time to time, I’m like, How am I going to do this? I have to continue to almost force myself to be confident, because doubt and fear are things that you just don’t want. They don’t help you, so you don’t need them. That's one thing I feel like can really help people. With going to college to play a sport, or going to college to stop playing, whatever it may be, just continue to believe in it and believe in yourself."
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