Serena Williams has had a lot of titles over her tennis career, but the birth of her baby daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., gave her a new title of mother. Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, welcomed their first child to the world on September 1, 2017. After giving birth, Williams faced a number of health complications.
“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, Man, I can’t do this,” Williams told Vogue. “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. 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.”
Williams’ tennis comeback since giving birth is nothing short of remarkable. While Williams remains extremely competitive, she still takes time to celebrate the small moments with her new baby, who even has her own Instagram account. Ohanian spoke to Vogue about all that his wife went through.
“I was happy to change diapers, but on top of everything she was going through, the feeling of not being able to help made it even harder,” Ohanian told Vogue. “Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet, and you’re trapped in it.”
Learn more about Williams’ new baby daughter, Olympia.
1. Serena Had Postnatal Complications After Her Daughter’s Birth
Williams delivered Alexis through C-section, and there were no complications with the actual birth. It was the days following that would provide Williams with a major health scare. Vogue detailed Williams health challenges in the weeks following the birth.
The next day, while recovering in the hospital, Serena suddenly felt short of breath. Because of her history of blood clots, and because she was off her daily anticoagulant regimen due to the recent surgery, she immediately assumed she was having another pulmonary embolism. (Serena lives in fear of blood clots.) She walked out of the hospital room so her mother wouldn’t worry and told the nearest nurse, between gasps, that she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin (a blood thinner) right away. The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. But Serena insisted, and soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound of her legs. ‘I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,’ she remembers telling the team. The ultrasound revealed nothing, so they sent her for the CT, and sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Minutes later she was on the drip. ‘I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!’
Williams also dealt with complications from the C-section wound after blood thinner caused there to be hemorrhaging. Vogue went on to describe the scary situation.
But this was just the first chapter of a six-day drama. Her fresh C-section wound popped open from the intense coughing spells caused by the pulmonary embolism, and when she returned to surgery, they found that a large hematoma had flooded her abdomen, the result of a medical catch-22 in which the potentially lifesaving blood thinner caused hemorrhaging at the site of her C-section. She returned yet again to the OR to have a filter inserted into a major vein, in order to prevent more clots from dislodging and traveling into her lungs. Serena came home a week later only to find that the night nurse had fallen through, and she spent the first six weeks of motherhood unable to get out of bed.
2. Olympia Was 10 Months Old Heading Into the 2018 Wimbledon Final
Even if Williams had had a typical pregnancy, her quick return to the court would have been impressive. Given the complications, it is remarkable that Williams is playing for another Wimbledon title less than a year after giving birth. The couple welcomed Alexis to the world on September 1, 2017. While Williams remains driven to win more Grand Slams, she admits that being a mother has changed her perspective.
“I didn’t want to let her go; I don’t want to let her go,” Williams explained to The New York Times. “I like to believe, and I would like other people to understand, that I’m no different than anyone else. I have the same struggles a lot of women have had, and a lot of women are probably determined to carry their baby in the door. And a lot of women are determined to do a lot of the stuff that I do, and there’s literally no difference between me and them with the exception of the side of me that just so happens to play professional tennis.”
3. Serena’s Daughter Was Named After Her Father, But the Couple Calls Her Olympia
There is a lot of meaning behind the name Alexis Olympia. She is named after her father, Alexis Ohanian, which makes her a junior even though her father has a middle name of Kerry. Their daughter will go by Olympia, and Williams revealed her initials, A.O., are the same as the Australian Open. Williams found out she was pregnant two days before the Australian Open.
The couple opted to name her a Jr., despite going about it in a non-traditional sense across gender. Fortune detailed how the decision could break down barriers as Williams has done throughout her tennis career.
Looking at what Williams has said over the years, this should come as no surprise. She has spoken out against gender and racial inequality throughout her career, clearly defining her beliefs that change comes from action. Just last month, she wrote about her identity as a feminist and closing the gender pay gap, in particular about the damaging effects pay inequality has on black women. Therefore, we can see their naming of her daughter not as a political statement, but rather a step toward gender equality and social justice. Why would her daughter begin life restricted by societal norms and rules around who can and cannot be given certain titles?
4. Serena Agreed to Do an HBO Docu-Series Called “Being Serena” Which Detailed Her Pregnancy & New Life as a Mother
Moved by some of the early footage her father took of her and her sister, Venus, Williams set out to do something to document the early days of Olympia. HBO pitched her the idea of doing a documentary series that took the viewer through her pregnancy, and early days as a new mom. Williams, who has traditionally been a private person when it comes to her personal life, explained to The New York Times why she decided to let fans in on this new stage.
“It was super-organic,” Williams told The New York Times. “When I found out I was pregnant, I was saying, ‘I really want to get some footage of me,’ because I remember my dad had all this film when we were younger, all this cool footage, and I wanted to start this journey for Olympia, even though she was the size of a raspberry at the time…HBO got wind of it, and they said, ‘We would love to do it for you.’ My original idea was to do more just Olympia stuff, and then I thought if we’re going to do this, let’s go all out.”
5. Serena Admitted She Does Not Want Olympia to Play Tennis
Despite Williams being one of the greatest tennis players of all-time, she is in no rush for her daughter to follow in her footsteps. During a 2018 Wimbledon press conference, Williams admitted she did not want Olympia to play tennis, even though Venus has volunteered to be her future coach. Tennis World detailed Williams’ comments on her reluctance to be a tennis mom.
No, I would hope she doesn’t play tennis. Venus said she would coach her, she just didn’t want to travel. She said that, like, yesterday or the day before. I’ll coach her, but I don’t want to travel.
I’m like, okay, you’re thinking way far in advance. Olympia is not playing tennis, unless of course she wants to. I think it will be interesting to see what she gravitates to. I really don’t know. Ice skating could be fun.
She’ll probably be really tall, so yeah, I don’t know,’ Serena said. I don’t want her to have pressure from what I did, you guys talking about, are you going to be able to do as good as your mom? I don’t want her to have that.
Here’s a look at the interview with Williams.