Serena Williams Stopped Breastfeeding For This Reason

Celebrity News

Next to hearing that first cry when your baby enters this world, breastfeeding your child is one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences you may ever have as a mother.

The moment your baby finally latches on is like none other, and that reconnection you and the baby feel is priceless. And while many mothers aren't able to exclusively breastfeed due to a variety of reasons, like lack of milk production to limited maternity leave, it's one of the most natural things any woman can do.

Every woman is different and will have to make different choices for her baby, but for Serena Williams, breastfeeding was one of her priorities. The tennis star recently spoke with TIME to discuss motherhood, her return to tennis, and making time for herself in the midst of it all.

Yet another example of a woman's innate superpowers: we give life and we nourish it simply with our bodies. It's amazing that Williams was able to go through a near-death experience from complications she experienced post-delivery (including five surgeries to address the pulmonary embolism, the ruptured C-section incision, and hematoma in her abdomen), and STILL have the strength to breastfeed her daughter Olympia. As a mom that breastfed both of her kids, the act is, on one hand, incredibly soothing, and on the other, incredibly draining. You become the baby's pacifier, their sole source of food and, at times, their only means of comfort.

But for Williams, she wouldn't have it any other way. She says:

"You have the power to sustain the life that God gave her. You have the power to make her happy, to calm her. At any other time in your life, you don't have this magical superpower."

And while her leave of maternity isn't quite like the leave of the majority of mothers around the world, she still faced some of the same pressures, like deciding whether or not she would continue to breastfeed Olympia. In fact, her coach urged her to stop because it was impacting her game, but Williams resisted. As a man, there is no way her coach could understand the bond that comes with breastfeeding. This decision might have have slowed down her tennis comeback, but this time the 22-time Grand Slam champion finally was able to do something that she wanted to do, rather than please everyone else. She says:

"It's absolutely hard to take from a guy. He's not a woman, he doesn't understand that connection, that the best time of the day for me was when I tried to feed her. I've spent my whole life making everyone happy, just servicing it seems like everyone. And this is something I wanted to do."

Ultimately, she did have to make the decision to wean Olympia off of nursing in order to rededicate herself to her first baby: tennis. The process isn't as simple as replacing the breast with a bottle, and Williams even reveals that she had to have a "talk" with Olympia requesting her body back.

"I looked at Olympia, and I was like, 'Listen, Mommy needs to get her body back, so Mommy's going to stop now.' We had a really good conversation. We talked it out."

Sometimes when you become a mother, self-care falls by the wayside. Williams also recognizes that it's so easy to put yourself last once you become a mother. She says that she is learning how to balance the expectations of motherhood with her return to her career and need for time for herself. She reveals:

"Sometimes she just wants Mommy, she doesn't want anyone else. I still have to learn a balance of being there for her, and being there for me. I'm working on it. I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it's so easy to do. It's so easy to do."

When she returned to Wimbledon this year, there wasn't a black woman that I know who wasn't glued to their televisions that Saturday afternoon. As she played her heart out, you could feel every grunt and moment of despair even more, knowing everything she's been through. When she eventually came up short, Williams took that moment to dedicate the match to all of the other mothers out there who were watching her in awe. She says if she can do it, so can we. She revealed:

"I dedicated that to all the moms out there who've been through a lot. Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months. If I can do it, you guys can do it too."

Her return to tennis wasn't without its own round of controversy. When she beat her own sister at the 2017 Australian Open, all while two months pregnant, she was the number one seeded tennis player in the world. By the time she returned, there was no ranking reserved for arguably the most dominant female tennis player that ever lived. Williams wants to use her experience to help change these unfair tennis rules, and in doing so, she might not only change tennis' minds but the minds of employers all around the world. She told TIME:

"It would be nice to recognize that women shouldn't be treated differently because they take time to bring life into this world."

And while her return to tennis has had its share of ups and downs, Williams knows she has a lot more to prove, not only to the sport but to herself. She wants to make sure her daughter gets to witness with her own eyes, her tennis greatness and vows to keep going, even at the age of 36. She says:

"I'm not done yet, simple. My story doesn't end here."

Serena Williams is the epitome of a strong, Black woman. And while we don't all have the opportunity to win grand slams or any other championship for that matter, we can still be inspired by Williams' tenacity, ability to make decisions that are best suited for her and her family, and her unmatched drive and belief in herself.

Keep pushing towards those dreams: your story doesn't have to end once you have a baby!

To read more of her conversation with TIME, click here.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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