After winning the Australian Open in January 2017 while in the first trimester of her pregnancy with daughter Alexis Olympia, Serena Williams took a break from tennis that April to go on maternity leave. When she returned to her career 13 months later, her No. 1 ranking (in all of the women’s tennis) that she’d left with had dropped down to No. 451, but not because of any losses — simply because she’d taken time off to start a family. And just because Serena says her nickname “Greatest of All Time” has taken a backseat to “Olympia’s mom” since her birth, doesn’t mean that the mama was ready to roll over when it came to preserving her career and reputation.
Just as she’s a badass on the court, Serena has become even more of a boss off the court, using her unique position to advocate for other women and help change the rules to make it so that other female athletes need not be penalized for choosing to start their own families.
“New rules can be made, which is exciting because the [Women’s Tennis Association] WTA now has a rule that [says] if you go out and get pregnant and have an amazing baby like I did, then you still have an opportunity to come back and keep your ranking, and you get a special seeding, you can get in certain tournaments,” Serena told Zinhle Essamuah in a video for NowThis Her. “So that’s really exciting to know that I was able to be a part of that change, and so [for] other women that want to go out and start a family, it won’t affect their career.”
Although this rule is specific to women in tennis, the feeling of potentially damaging your career or losing advancement opportunities over having a baby is a very real fear for women, no matter their job. Serena said that she feels it’s important that she always speak up when something isn’t just and encourages all women to do the same and advocate for themselves. And she hopes that one day, her daughter will use her voice when something is unjust: “Ultimately, I want her to know that she can be whatever she wants to be, and she can be empowered to speak up. She can be empowered to make the first moves.”