With International Women’s Day ‘over’ and Mother’s Day nearly coming to an end, former world number one Serena Williams proves women can have it all after she won her opening WTA game at the BNP Paribas Open.
It was since her first match back after a 14-month break; a long hiatus due to pregnancy.
The American, 36, reached the second round at Indian Wells with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas.
Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism after her first child was delivered by caesarean section. In the United States, black women are three times more likely to die to the condition than white women. Williams was only fortunate to survive as she had experienced one back in 2011 and was able to inform the doctors in time for it to be treated before it was too late.
The 23-time major’s champion was fortunate enough to have the health care and resources to have a successful birth, however this is not the case for all women, and in this case mostly black women.
There is a discussion to be had in the US on how women of colour are being treated during their pregnancy and in an interview with BBC Sport, Williams said: “Doctors aren’t listening to us, just to be quite frank.”
After such a troubling pregnancy it is amazing Williams is back playing tennis competitively again. While she is blessed with a great support system, how difficult is it for her and other female athletes to get back into their sport competitively?
There are athletes who have come back from pregnancy and still performed at the highest level, such as, British runner Paula Radcliffe, WNBA athlete Candace Parker, US swimmer Dara Torres, British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and US runner Alysia Montaño who ran an 800m race while 34 weeks pregnant.
However, these are top-level athletes, with the best support and care available and even for them it is still difficult to avoid stereotypes from the media and industries, on top of the physical sacrifices women take when falling pregnant.
Truthfal spoke to County player and Loughborough student tennis athlete, Nadia Rawson about how post-pregnancy can affect female athletes: “A comeback after pregnancy I think must be difficult from a mental and physical aspect.
Physically, non-athletes have difficultly maintaining their previous physique and fitness levels after pregnancy and to an extent even athletes will have this problem.”
Rawson also explained that she could never have a family if she wants to commit her life to having a professional tennis career.
Rawson added: “I know that there is only a small amount of time to work on my tennis career, the average age on the world tour being 25 years old.
“I’ve put so much time and effort into my tennis that to sacrifice that to have a family a couple of years before, in my opinion wouldn’t make sense,” she said.
“I have the rest of my life to start a family and so now and for the next 10 years I can solely commit to my tennis.”
It seems that sacrificing your athletic career for a family, is not worth it and is put to the side until they become a top-level athlete.
Professional athletes who do fall pregnant during their careers are normally veterans of their sport, such as Williams or Paula Radcliffe, and when they do come back there is a risk that they could come back with a underwhelming.
“Serena will continue to play at a high level after her pregnancy, but wether that level will be high enough to win grand slams I’m not sure.”
There is definitely a desire for a lot of female athletes to have it all – a great athletic career and a family. However, this is something that has to be thought about a lot harder than it would for male athletes.
Roger Federer, for example, has had four children, easily continuing with his career without judgement from the media. In fact, male athletes are celebrated.
Attitude towards female athletes post-pregnancy definitely needs to be changed. There should be more support for female athletes post-pregnancy, even at the lower levels. Women need to be supported like they deserve and be reassured they really can do it all.