The news that Serena Williams won the Australian Open final while eight weeks pregnant has sent the world into a frenzy. Some evidently still think that women are the fairer sex, the weaker and the less capable of the two genders.
Believe me when I say we are far from fragile.
Williams is not the first elite athlete to compete during a pregnancy, but she is definitely the most prominent, given her recent win, defeating her big sister Venus. Triumphing 6-4, 6-4 in the final, she didn’t drop a single set on her way to lifting the trophy. I’ll repeat that: not a single set.
Now rumoured to be about 20 weeks – about halfway through a normal pregnancy – she will regain her place as world No 1 next week. That place at the top of women’s tennis will be held for her if she returns to competition within 12 months of giving birth, as per the Women’s Tennis Association special ranking rule.
As much as I could pontificate about Williams’s achievements as a supreme athlete, role model and beautiful woman of colour all day, I just want to thank her for reminding us how amazing women’s bodies can be – particularly in an era when we are constantly peppered with examples of how they aren’t good enough, how we should alter them or how they should look.
While in the first trimester, the 35-year-old played tennis at the highest level in sweltering conditions. And as if her physical exertions weren’t enough, she also had to deal with the emotional stress of playing against her big sister.
But as GP Dr Matt Piccaver told me: “In general, physical activity during any stage of life, including pregnancy, is a good idea. Serena Williams is an elite athlete, and has overcome a number of significant health challenges in her career. The human body is an amazing thing, and Serena proves that we are more robust than we think.”
Should she return to the tour and go on to win a grand slam, she will follow in the footsteps of Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open 18 months after giving birth to her daughter.
Jessica Ennis-Hill, Paula Radcliffe, Katie Chapman and Victoria Azarenka have all returned to compete at the top level in their respective sports after having children. And who can forget the picture of Alysia Montaño running the 800m while 34 weeks pregnant with her daughter?
Obviously every pregnancy is different, as is every woman’s relationship with fertility; but don’t the revelations of the last 24 hours remind you to consider what your body can do?
Like Serena Williams said: “You just have to prove to yourself that you can go out there and be the best that you can be and not prove anything to anyone.”
Maybe we should listen to her and just embrace our strength, our fabulousness and our beauty a bit more, as well as each other’s.
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