Reviews | Serena Williams’ choice shows: Pregnancy humiliates everyone


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The big news in Serena Williams’ cover essay for Vogue’s September issue is that one of the biggest players to face the game is considering quitting tennis. But the piece matters most for its illustration of an enduring and newly salient truth: Carrying and giving birth to a baby means being at the mercy of your body — even for an athlete as historically dominant as Williams.

The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade sparked a renewed conversation about what pregnancy — so often hailed as natural, as what women are built for — does to the person experiencing it.


As Irin Carmon wrote in New York magazine, carrying a baby under the best of circumstances can “take you away from the person you once were” as you are plagued by prolonged symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and heavy fatigue. . At worst, the experience might be more like what Annie Lowrey described in an essay for the Atlantic. Carrying her children activated an autoimmune disease that made her so itchy that her skin became like lichen; due to complications from her pregnancy, she now suffers from permanent liver disease and diabetes.

Simple accounts of pregnancy-related conditions and raw testimonials still can’t quite capture what it’s like to be pregnant for someone who hasn’t experienced it. And going there, there’s no way to predict how an individual pregnancy, labor, and birth will turn out.

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This is true even for women who make a career out of their bodies. Williams and her sister, Venus, aren’t just tennis champions: they’re credited with transforming their sport by bringing new athleticism and power to the women’s game. More than almost any other woman known to the public, Serena Williams has spent her career perfecting not just her body shape, but her function.

And yet, her experiences are irrefutable proof that it is impossible to optimize her exit from the uncertainty associated with childbirth. Williams delivered her daughter by caesarean section after the baby’s heart rate dropped precipitously during labor. Immediately after giving birth, Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism and a major hematoma; she coughed so hard that her C-section incision reopened. Her husband, Alexis Ohanian, told Vogue at the time, “Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet and you’re trapped in it.”

Later, Williams wrote on Instagram about the tension between perfecting her body for her job and wanting to be there for her daughter.

“I work hard, I train, and I try to be the best athlete I can be,” she said in a post about postpartum emotional challenges — which are linked to both changes hormonal changes after birth and physical stresses such as sleep deprivation – can persist for up to three years. “However, that means that even though I’ve been with her every day of her life, I’m not around as much as I would like. Most of you mums are going through the same thing.

In her new essay, Williams is lucid about the long-term impacts of her career dedicating her body to her daughter – including her quest to tie or beat Margaret Court’s record for Grand Slam victories.

“I had my chances after I returned from giving birth,” she recalls. “I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a Grand Slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I performed during postpartum depression. But I didn’t. »

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And while Williams writes that “if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter,” she is blunt about the unfairness of that choice.

“If I was a man, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife did the physical labor to expand our family,” she explains in the one of the most striking passages of the essay. “Maybe I would be more of a Tom Brady if I had this opportunity.”

In recent years, other famous women have acknowledged finding ways to outsource the labor and physical consequences of pregnancy.

Kim Kardashian has hired surrogates to carry her third and fourth children with Kanye West after suffering from preeclampsia and needing multiple surgeries to remove the retained placenta from her previous pregnancies. Her sister Khloé recently had a second child via surrogate after learning she was unlikely to be able to carry a second child to term. And earlier this year, actress Jamie Chung got candid about the fact that she and her husband chose to hire a surrogate so she wouldn’t have to take a career break.

But there is no way around it: for a baby to come into the world, somebody must give his body to the process of creating life. If the vagaries of biology can humiliate a transcendent athlete like Serena Williams, it should inspire awe and caution in all of us.