Serena Williams on Choosing Family Over Tennis: “I Don’t Think It’s Fair”

Serena Williams shared her feelings on motherhood—and never wanting to “choose between tennis and a family”— in a new essay for Vogue published Tuesday. The 40-year-old tennis star wrote that her feelings on retirement are conflicted—“I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next”—adding that even the word “retirement” makes her uneasy. “I’ve never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me,” Williams wrote.

Williams, who has won 23 grand slam titles during her legendary career, wrote that she’ll miss playing the sport that has given her “some of the happiest times” but that she’s excited by the prospect of growing her family. Still, she wrote, she knows that her tennis career might not be ending right now if not for her gender. “ I don’t think it’s fair,” she wrote. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”

Williams wrote that she and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have been trying to have another child. “We recently got some information from my doctor that put my mind at ease and made me feel that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family.” She acknowledged that she didn’t want to endure pregnancy again as a professional athlete. In an essay for Elle published in April, Williams explained how her childbirth experience led to life-threatening complications and required four surgeries. After having a C-section section, Williams had a pulmonary embolism that a nurse initially did not take seriously, an experience she also spoke about in a 2018 Vogue cover story.

Still, she writes, she “loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia.” “I was one of those annoying women who adored being pregnant and was working until the day I had to report to the hospital—although things got super complicated on the other side,” Williams wrote.

Her words underscore the difficulties that female athletes face when balancing the challenges of pregnancy and the demands of a rigorous training schedule: “A lot of people don’t realize that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give,” she wrote. Not to mention the time constraints, which Williams also touched on, writing that, before having Olympia, she feared she’d have to rely on others to watch her child: “I figured that if I ever did have a baby, I would have people taking care of it 24/7.”

But that hasn’t been the case for Williams: Even while traveling the world and breaking record after record, she has maintained what she described as a “hands-on” approach as a mother. “Olympia has only spent one 24-hour period away from me…The fact is that nothing is a sacrifice for me when it comes to Olympia,” she wrote. “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”