“One thing I’m not going to do is sugarcoat this,” Serena Williams told Vogue’s September issue of her retirement to start a family. “If I were a guy… I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”
Many mamas will relate. While we absolutely can still chase our dreams while we grow our families (Serena was famously two months pregnant with daughter Olympia when she won the Australian Open), there is also a unique sacrifice involved in being the child-bearer in the equation.
The Motherhood Penalty
There are certain things you simply have to put on hold for pregnancy, birth, and whatever comes after. If you choose to breastfeed, juggling the return to work can be difficult. We know that taking time out for parental leave has a huge impact on superannuation, with Australian women on average retiring with 28% less super than men. And, depending on your situation, you may return to work on a part-time basis or even after a lengthy time out of the workforce.
Serena told Vogue “I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression.” No question, where there’s a will, there’s a way. “ But these days,” she adds, “if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”
And that’s why she’s announced her retirement, at 41 years old, and – as she writes so beautifully and honestly about – with a great deal of conflict. “It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it,” she says.
“I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”
So what’s next? Serena’s five year old daughter Olympia wants to be a big sister. Her desire to expand her family has pushed Serena into a decision she doesn’t feel entirely ready to make. But she says “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
While most of us probably aren’t working jobs quite as demanding as Serena’s, there’s something very relatable about that. We’ve all grappled with the push-pull of parenting, the desire to throw ourselves all in at work, and the knowledge that our children will always come first.
“I’m going to miss that version of me,” Serena writes for Vogue. “That girl who played tennis.”
Regardless of your job title, I dare you to find a mama who doesn’t miss some part of who she used to be. And there’s no shame in that.
By Mama Disrupt® Head of Content Gemma Dawkins