Serena Williams is one of, or possibly even the most brilliant athlete of our time, yet there is one game she hasn’t completely mastered.
To be fair, motherhood is not a sport; it’s a transformative experience that will test you on a daily basis, even if you think you possess the proper techniques, discipline, or attitude. In an eye-opening essay for Elle, the tennis legend delved into the challenges she faced in her postpartum journey and revealed how she struggled to connect with her daughter Alexis throughout her pregnancy and in the immediate aftermath of her birth.
Today, Serena, her daughter Alexis Olympia, and her husband Alexis Ohanian are considered the absolute picture of togetherness and unconditional love; they’re ostensibly as perfect as a family can be. Yet, each family has its own drama, and as per Serena’s recent account, they went through quite the wringer upon welcoming baby Alexis.
How they overcame those obstacles and came out on the other side a more robust unit speaks volumes about their dynamic. It’s also an indelible testament to Serena’s character and resilience — something we could all stand to emulate as we grapple with our own difficulties.
Why Serena Williams Felt No “Connection” with Her Baby
In the incredibly personal essay, Serena noted that her pregnancy had by and large been “wonderful” and that she cherished the “positive attention” it invited, especially in contrast to the scrutiny she’d endured for most of her career.
Even during the birth itself, she held firm, in control of herself and her body’s movements. “I know that’s not what people are supposed to say, but I was enjoying it, the work of labor,” she wrote.
However, as much as she delighted in her pregnancy, she also felt scared about meeting her young one. “I was nervous about meeting my baby,” she said. She went on to acknowledge that though her pregnancy had been smooth, she hadn’t felt a “connection” with the child in her belly.
“I didn’t have that amazing Oh my God, this is my baby moment, ever,” she wrote. The 40-year-old said it’s not a matter that society likes to discuss at length, what with arbitrary attitudes around parenting and motherhood.
Yes, I was a lioness who would protect her baby at any cost, but I wasn’t gushing over her. I kept waiting to feel like I knew her during pregnancy, but the feeling never came.
Women are conditioned to believe that motherhood is the most extraordinary gift life has to offer, and if you’re lucky enough to be blessed with a child, you’re supposed to love and cherish them unconditionally, from beginning to end. You simply must adore every single moment throughout pregnancy and parenthood. “It’s something people don’t usually talk about, because we’re supposed to be in love from the first second,” wrote Serena.
Of course, she was a “lioness who would protect her baby at any cost,” but at the same time, she wasn’t as enamored with her unborn child as she thought she was supposed to be. In fact, in many ways, Serena didn’t “know” her daughter at all. She kept waiting for the moment when everything would click, but it never came, not during her pregnancy anyways.
What did alleviate her disconnect was hearing about other moms who went through the same ordeal — those who felt alienated from the growing fetus in their body, those who couldn’t understand how their body was carrying a human, those who didn’t feel strongly enough about their baby-to-be.
Serena Williams Isn’t Alone: “Every Pregnancy Is Different
Serena’s journey is not just her own — there are hundreds of thousands, even millions of expecting mothers going through the same situation.
Just because you’re content about your decision to bring a child into the world doesn’t mean you’re going to feel an immediate bond with them. You might not feel anything toward them during the pregnancy. In fact, there are countless others who don’t feel anything after the birth, either, and that’s okay.
According to Dr. Allison Deutch of the NYU Langone Psychiatry Associates, 25% of pregnant women feel little to no attachment to their unborn child. She praised Serena Williams for being forthcoming about something that impacts a large number of women across the globe.
“Many women don’t know how common it is because all they see is women lovingly caressing their bumps on social media.”
Perhaps you’ve had a complicated birthing process, which was the case for Serena, as she detailed in her essay. Or sometimes, the lack of non-bonding could be indicative of a more severe disorder like prenatal or postpartum depression.
The critical aspect to keep in mind is that you don’t have to blame yourself for not being able to connect with your child. You’re not in any more control of your heart than you are of your body — it does what it wants to do. Of course, there are techniques and practices you can adopt to facilitate bonding with your child, but, in most cases, it will happen naturally.
Serena’s moment was seeing her daughter for the first time. “I loved her right away,” she said. Serena admitted that the love wasn’t instantaneous but a seed, something which “grew” and strengthened over time.
That’s why it’s so powerful for women like Serena Williams to come out and say, ‘This happened to me and I need to share it.’ Many women don’t know how common it is because all they see is women lovingly caressing their bumps on social media.
Dr. Allison Deutch to TODAY
At the end of the day, there’s no “normal.” Pregnancy is a physical endeavor to which we have ascribed emotional attributes and milestones. In reality, not everyone will be going through the same mental journey. Everyone will face barriers in their path, but instead of thinking something is wrong with you, you need to understand it’s normal and definitely not as weird as you might think.
Mental health professional Dr. Kryss Shane said of prenatal mother-child bonding: “Much like romantic relationships, some claim they knew from the first moment, others took time to recognize the love,”
Serena Proved Why Every Pregnancy Is Different
Your pregnancy and parenthood journey is unique to you and you only. No one else will be able to speak about your pains, your realizations, your moments of joy, your discoveries, your learnings — these are personal to you, and everything you feel is valid.
Society may have a wide range of codes about how expectant mothers are and aren’t supposed to behave, but, ultimately, they’re not raising your child. You’re the one who’ll be taking part in the good times as well as the bad times associated with your little ones; therefore, take as long as you need to build a bridge with your child, whether it’s a few days or weeks, or months.