I went back to school before the birth of my first child. I remember waddling into the registrar’s office during my 7th month of pregnancy to finalize the paper work allowing me to sign up for classes.
I continued my education for the next ten years. During that decade, I had two more children, remained entirely sleep deprived and completed two degrees. I earned my master’s degree and went on to get a PhD. There were many obstacles.
Getting out of the house in time to drive 45 minutes to class several evenings a week was the least of my problems. Lengthy, heavily researched papers were produced most frequently between the hours of 11pm and 2am when the children would hopefully be asleep. Tests were studied for in the middle of the night. Some study sessions took place on a treadmill with a child strapped to my back and my study notes propped in front of the electronic readout. I would know when I had learned five pages of notes, walked three miles and burned 250 calories. It was the ultimate in multitasking.
I passed the required cumulative statistics exam after three graduate level classes which were so challenging they felt like they were being taught in Latin (a language I have zero knowledge of). I was so anxious and sleep deprived that I arrived at the testing center at the last possible moment. I was late, wearing marginal clothing and had sadly forgotten my required statistical calculator at home. Fortunately, a lovely proctor took pity on me and lent me her own calculator. After several minutes regulating my breathing and slowing my panicked heart rate I ultimately aced that test.
I wrote my dissertation during those same late-night sessions and defended my work in front of a tough committee on minimal amounts of sleep.
I did not do any of this for Serena Williams.
Nor do I think she is playing tennis for me.
Even though she says she is playing tennis as a tribute to moms everywhere, I’m pretty sure she is mostly playing tennis for herself.
I understand women athletes face difficult challenges after childbirth. As do all women in a variety of endeavors.
Paula Radcliffe won the New York City marathon ten months after giving birth to her daughter. Dara Torres who eventually won an Olympic medal in swimming at the age of 41, also won the U.S. Nationals 16 months after having her first child. And Kristin Armstrong won an Olympic medal in Rio in 2016 and appeared on the podium with her three-year-old.
Also, let’s not forget my old friend Holly who ran a half-marathon a week after giving birth to her first child. I’m pretty sure she did not do that for me, or as a statement of motherhood. She did it because it was important to her personally.
After childbirth women go back to challenging jobs, physically demanding sports and in my case endless studying and exams.
Because life continues after childbirth.
And I admire and appreciate Serena Williams’ dedication to her sport. But she is not on the tennis court to inspire me and women in general.
She is playing tennis for the same reason as before. Because she is good at it.
It is enough that she is engaging in her sport.
It doesn’t have to be a statement.