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.