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Months before announcing her retirement, Serena Williams hinted at a difficult choice between motherhood and her career

Serena Williams and her daughter, Olympia Ohanian.
Serena Williams and her daughter, Alexis Olympia.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

  • Serena Williams told Insider in April that she was experiencing "mom guilt."
  • She said she'd feel guilty when she spent time on herself instead of being with her daughter.
  • She said she wasn't sure whether she was a good mom or whether her parenting method worked.

Serena Williams, who on Tuesday announced her decision to retire from tennis partly to focus on her family, previously said in an interview with Insider that she struggled to find a balance between her career and motherhood.

The 40-year-old sports star — the most successful female tennis player since the open era began, with 23 Grand Slam titles — said in April that "mom guilt is real."

She said that when she would do something for herself without her daughter, Alexis Olympia, 4, she'd feel guilty.

"I don't know if I'm a good mom, and I don't know if my method works, but I'm very hands-on with my daughter, and it was the same with our parents," she said.

In an essay in Vogue on Tuesday in which she announced her retirement after competing in the US Open, Williams wrote: "I started a family. I want to grow that family."

Williams, who's the youngest of five sisters, said Olympia would sometimes pray before bed, when she knew her mother was listening, to "bring her a baby sister." Williams said that her own sisters are her "heroes" and that "this has felt like a moment I need to listen very carefully to."

Williams said that announcing her retirement was a tough call

Williams acknowledged that she "never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family," adding, "I don't think it's fair."

Williams singled out the football star Tom Brady as one of the leading male athletes who hadn't been forced to make such a decision.

"If I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family," she said. "Maybe I'd be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity."

Williams, who's married to Alexis Ohanian, a cofounder of Reddit, had told Insider in April: "After work, I'm going right to my daughter. And that's amazing and good."

But she also said that could come at the expense of her own needs. She said she struggled not to spend all her personal time with Olympia and would sometimes think, "OK, what happens to Serena?"

Olympia Ohanian and Serena Williams, both wearing black dresses, pose against a black background.
Williams with Olympia.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

She said she was "really bad at self-care" and mentioned she hadn't had a pedicure in two years. "Maybe I could do that while I'm multitasking and taking calls," she said.

Writing in Vogue, she stressed the importance of womanhood to her.

"Don't get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia," she said. "I was one of those annoying women who adored being pregnant and was working until the day I had to report to the hospital — although things got super complicated on the other side."

She was alluding to the serious complications she experienced around Olympia's birth: She required an emergency C-section because her baby's heart rate had dipped to a dangerously low level during the delivery. Olympia was fine, but Williams had a pulmonary embolism and needed surgeries.

Williams previously said motherhood helped her career by making her less anxious

In a 2018 interview with Vogue, Williams said she believed that having a baby might have helped her. "When I'm too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born," Williams said.

She added, "Knowing I've got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don't have to play another match."

She added that Olympia's arrival had given her a new perspective on her life goals. "I don't need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don't need them," she said. "That's a different feeling for me."

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