It didn’t take long for the Serena Williams pregnancy glow to get overshadowed by the typical mess of speculation we reserve for a pregnant woman — namely, what a baby will mean for her career.
As The Guardian put it, “The announcement left the sport’s chattering class wondering to what degree she was looking ahead to life after tennis.”
“Are Serena’s playing days over?” asked Tennis magazine, a question repeated far and wide after the 23 Grand Slam-winning athlete revealed Wednesday on Snapchat that she’s 20 weeks pregnant.
(Interesting that we treat pregnancy like a big enough deal to end a woman’s career, but not a big enough deal to guarantee her paid leave to recover, isn’t it?)
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“The real question relates to motivation,” declared the Sydney Morning Herald. “How much would she want her career back?”
The real question, to my mind, relates to how she won the Australia Open in January when she was close to two months pregnant — a state many of us refer to politely as hell on Earth, what with the nausea and exhaustion and aches where you didn’t know you could ache.
But Williams, 35, isn’t like us mere mortals. She’s the greatest tennis player in the world. Many consider her the greatest athlete in the world. She has strength, stamina, talent, and motivation that most of us have never even attempted to muster.
And we’re questioning her motivation? Come on.
Williams’ spokeswoman told the New York Times she’ll miss the rest of the 2017 season, but she’ll return to the game in 2018.
“Serena said that I should make sure if anyone asks that that is clear,” Kelly Bush Novak told the Times.
That won’t end the speculation. But it should.
Women’s bodies react a million different ways to pregnancy — some sail through, some develop hypertension and preeclampsia. Some deliveries are complication-free, and some are anything but.
The differences don’t stop once the baby is born. Recoveries vary widely, and so do post-pregnancy plans. Many women want to dive back into their careers quickly; others, for a variety of reasons, do not.
But a common motivation in every mother — indeed, every parent — I’ve ever known is a sudden increased desire make the world a better place.
We become acutely aware of the world’s shortcomings and newly determined to solve them. We want to right the wrongs. We want to protect our children from the muck — be it cultural, environmental, social, or global.
For some people, that means forgoing the paid work they did before parenthood. For others, it means diving back into that work with renewed energy.
Williams has forever shaped and changed tennis with her prowess and her sheer domination. She has, in so doing, changed sports. She has defied expectations, broken records, and pushed back against all the stupid stereotypes thrown her way. (Exhibit 1,000: “People call me one of the ‘world’s greatest female athletes,’” she wrote in an open letter last fall. “Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female.”)
Her game makes the world a better place.
And we have no reason to believe she’s finished.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
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