Serena Williams Credits Her Baby Daughter, Near Death Experience to Becoming a Better Woman and Athlete

A great mother possesses hundreds, if not thousands, of positive characteristics and abilities. Good mothers come along ever so often, but great mothers are much more difficult to find. A good mother will pick her child up when they are down. A great mother will pick them up, wipe away their tears and set them on the right path going forward. A good mother will give advice. A great mother is a living example of the advice she gives. A good mother, is simply, well — just good. Not being a great mother was one of Serena Williams‘ biggest fears, but also a goal she was most certainly out to meet.

For those who do not know, Williams has a few insecurities of her own. It is those insecurities that drive her forward. It is what makes her the perfectionist she is. In an interview recently with Vogue, she spoke about this “fiery self belief” in fact being “undercut by self doubt.” Now that she has a daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., she sees things in a different light. Sometimes, she thinks back to what it was like before becoming this professional athlete who strives for perfection.

“We’re not spending a day apart until she’s eighteen,” Serena said in the interview. “Now that I’m 36 and I look at my baby, I remember that this was also one of my goals when I was little, before tennis took over, when I was still kind of a normal girl who played with dolls. Oh, my God, I loved my dolls.”

Like many young girls, Williams just dreamed of being a mom. Now, it has become a reality; and, even though the temptation is there to hang it up and leave her career behind, she isn’t quite ready. She is coming for the history books — Australian legend’s Margaret Court’s magic number 24.

“To be honest, there’s something really attractive about the idea of moving to San Francisco and just being a mom,” she said. Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of Reddit, a news outlet based there. “But not yet. Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams. I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25. And actually, I think having a baby might help. When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born. Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”

There is no more dangerous opponent in the world than one who has nothing to lose — and that’s how Williams intends to play going forward. Losing a match or two is part of the sport, but Williams is speaking from a much more intense point of view — she nearly lost her life.

Her pregnancy went well all the way up to the delivery, but the day after giving birth as she was recovering in the hospital, Williams began to find herself short on breath. She has a history of blood clots, so immediately her mind went to the worst case scenario. Williams told the doctors she needed a CT scan immediately, and soon thereafter a doctor began an ultrasound — not what she had in mind.

The ultrasound revealed absolutely nothing, so they sent her for a CT after all — and, Williams was dead on. There they found several small blood clots in her lungs. This, however, was only the beginning.

Williams’ C-section incision ended up breaking open after she endured a few coughing spells caused by the pulmonary embolism. When she went back into surgery, Williams’ abdomen was flooded with a rather large hematoma. She had to get a filter inserted into a major vein that would prevent further blood clots traveling to her lungs. A week later, Williams was home — except unable to get out of bed for six weeks.

Thankfully, Williams is healthier now and is eyeing a return to the court in the coming months. But, she remains steadfast in her quest to be the best mother she can be.

“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, Man, I can’t do this,” she said. “It’s that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes. I guess that’s just who I am. No one talks about the low moments—the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry. I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby? The emotions are insane.”

Emotions are unexplainable as a new parent — some good, some bad, others confusing. It is all part of the process. For now, she takes it a day at a time and tries her best to allow her daughter to have as normal a life as she possibly can. During part of the interview, Williams’ daughter laid on the floor playing in her baby gym and her rattles shaped like dumbbells.

“Some other seven-week-old is in the gym right now working,” she joked. On a more serious note, though, she reiterated her point. “I’d like her to have a normal life. I didn’t have that.”

Ohanian feels the same way about their daughter.

“She’s obviously going to have a very special life,” he said, “but there are enough cautionary tales about kids who grow up in the spotlight. How do you make your kid live in reality when your own reality is so . . . unreal? This kid is going to have more Instagram followers than me in about three weeks.”

As hilarious as it might sound, Ohanian is right. They live in a society dominated by media. Any average Joe can create a following — imagine how difficult it is for a celebrity to escape that following for even a minute. The quest for a normal life might not be so easy for Williams’ daughter, but the quest for a great mother is looking pretty promising right about now.

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