Serena Williams will have been a mother for four months in a few days and she’s head over heels for little Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. The world has been watching her family’s journey on her social platforms but she’s finally giving the inside scoop. For Vogue’s February issue, Williams graces the cover with her daughter. She dons a red Versace dress, baby in hand, photographed by Mario Testino.
Williams’ pregnancy was fairly easy. She carried her daughter to term with no complications but when it came time for birthing, there was some adversity. The 36-year-old and her husband, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, reflect together in her informal Vogue interview.
Olympia was born via emergency C-section after her heart rate plummeted. “The surgery went off without a hitch; Alexis cut the cord, and the wailing newborn fell silent the moment she was laid on her mother’s chest,” Vogue reports. The surgery was hardly the problem. Williams’ complications came a day later. “That was an amazing feeling, and then everything went bad,” she tells Vogue.
Having struggled with blood clots in the past, Williams recognized a discomfort in her chest. Doctors learned shortly after that she had several small clots in her lungs but she healed like a champ. Williams made a red-carpet appearance only 10 weeks after the fact. While she healed, Alexis took on every task that she’d been anxiously awaiting.
“I was happy to change diapers,” Alexis said, “but on top of everything she was going through, the feeling of not being able to help made it even harder. Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet, and you’re trapped in it.” But Williams couldn’t be kept down for long.
In the extensive cover, Williams also talks about the ambivalence that comes in a package deal with motherhood. She does battle with some issues of self-efficacy regarding the matter. But it’s not unnatural for her.
“It’s that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes. I guess that’s just who I am. No one talks about the low moments—the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry,” she said. “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.”
But that’s not to be confused with the idea that Serena is worried about reclaiming her spot as number one when she returns. “I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25,” she said. Williams has 23 Grand Slam tournament wins for women’s singles and to beat the record of Margaret Court’s 24 wins, she’ll need two more. Williams has told the world repeatedly that she plays to win and it shows. “I don’t play to be the second best or the third best. If there’s no clear number one, it’s like, yeah, I can get my spot back,” she asserts.
“I think sometimes women limit themselves,” she said. 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. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”
Williams, as usual, was convincing. When she returns, she will go harder than ever. She closed with a promise. “I’ve been playing tennis since before my memories started. I see the finish line. And when you see the finish line, you don’t slow down. You speed up.”