According to the latest stats, one in seven women experience postpartum depression. And the condition doesn’t discriminate, either — it can strike you no matter how prepared for parenthood you are, or how successful a person you were before you became a parent. Thankfully though, more and more women are opening up about their struggles in recent years, which is a great first step in helping other moms feel less ashamed about getting the help they need to heal.
When these women bravely come forward and share their stories, it helps normalize the experience for the rest of us; and now, it looks like we can add tennis star Serena Williams to the list of warrior moms who are sharing their PPD stories. In the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar, the new mom graces the cover, and opens up for the first time about her struggle with PPD after the difficult birth of 8-month-old daughter Olympia.
As Williams shared back in January, she had a traumatic delivery when giving birth to Olympia, and nearly died due to post-birth complications. Williams was outspoken about the fact that she didn’t think her doctors took her cries for help seriously after the birth, which almost resulted in her not getting the life-saving treatment she so desperately needed.
The star linked her experience to the experience of so many African-American women in America, highlighting research that connects the astronomically high maternal infant mortality rates among African-American mothers with systemic racial bias among health care providers.
“I didn’t expect that sharing our family’s story of Olympia’s birth and all of complications after giving birth would start such an outpouring of discussion from women — especially black women — who have faced similar complications and women whose problems go unaddressed,” Williams wrote on Facebook at the time.
But what Williams didn’t share at the time is how the experience went on to shape her postpartum period. In her interview with Harper’s Bazaar, the new mom doesn’t hold back when describing her PPD, in raw, emotional detail.
“Honestly, sometimes I still think I have to deal with it,” Williams admitted. “I think people need to talk about it more because it’s almost like the fourth trimester, it’s part of the pregnancy.”
Williams was fortunate in that she was able to take some time off from tennis to be with her daughter, and likely received more support than many new moms typically do. But none of that could protect her from the feelings of inadequacy and worry that often trigger PPD in new moms.
Williams recalled one moment in particular from Olympia’s infancy that summed up the experience for her: “I remember one day, I couldn’t find Olympia’s bottle and I got so upset I started crying … because I wanted to be perfect for her,” she told Harper’s.
That feeling of wanting to be a perfect mom is so relatable, isn’t it? And for anyone who’s experienced a postpartum mood disorder, you know that this feeling just becomes amplified — so intense that you’re apt to believe you really are failing as a mother.
Luckily, Williams seems to be doing much better these days. When the magazine asked her if she felt like a good mom now, she responded with, “I do. I hope I am, and I’m going to strive to be the best mom I can be.”
For Williams, being a good mom means getting back in the swing of things when it comes to her career, and bringing little Olympia along for the ride. She is currently training for Wimbledon, and has been taking Olympia to her trainings. In fact, the multi-tasking mom shares that she continues to proudly breastfeed her daughter while she trains, though she tells Harper’s that she plans to stop breastfeeding by the time Wimbledon comes around. (“If I’m in the locker-room pumping before my match, that’s crazy!” she tells Harper’s.)
Above all, what Williams wants for her daughter is exactly what so many of us moms want for our kids — for her to be happy, strong, and proud of who she is. But here’s where the star gets even more candid about her own struggles: Williams confesses that even though she’s known for her amazing physique and towering strength, she has struggled with her own body image at times; and what she wants more than anything is for her daughter’s relationship with her body to be different than hers was.
“Oh God, I’ll never be a size 4!” she told the magazine. “Why would I want to do that, and be that?”
Williams is doing everything she can to own her struggles, and teach her daughter that beauty and strength come from within. She hopes to instill the idea that her daughter can be anything she wants to be, no matter what anyone else tells her.
“I can show Olympia that I struggled, but now I’m happy with who I am and what I am and what I look like,” the star told Harper’s. “Olympia was born and she had my arms, and instead of being sad and fearful about what people would say about her, I was just so happy.”
As far as I’m concerned, Williams is as fierce and beautiful as they get — both inside and out. And the fact that she’s sharing her more vulnerable moments with the world is just about the most powerful thing she could possibly do.
Here’s to her continued healing and strength as she journeys through all the amazing stages of motherhood that are yet to come.