We always knew Serena Williams’ return from maternity leave would be big, but the way she’s stormed the court to become an advocate for new mothers is something else.
Off the court Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, has become an advocate not just for his wife as a new mother (the guy put up four billboards to celebrate her return to tennis, “I designed them myself”), but also in promoting paid parental leave in the United States.
Williams made it to the Wimbledon final over the weekend, less than a year after a traumatic childbirth in which she almost died.
And while she couldn’t match the sheer power and form of Germany’s Angelique Kerber on the day (Kerber won 6-3, 6-3), Williams certainly looks set to continue her tennis dominance in the years to come.
Ohanian took to Instagram to share just how incredible his wife’s performance was. Featuring an image of Williams serving with the caption, ‘just getting started’, he wrote how just days after their baby was born, he kissed Williams goodbye before surgery, with neither of them knowing if she’d come back.
“We just wanted her to survive — 10 months later, she’s in the #Wimbledon final.”
He congratulated Kerber, before saying that Williams will be holding the trophy again soon, but that, “She’s got the greatest one waiting a home for her.”
It brought a couple of tears to our eyes too.
Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism 24 hours after giving birth, which led to a number of health complications that she was lucky to survive. Her C-section wound popped open due to intense coughing, and doctors found swelling of clotted blood in her abdomen.
She spent the first six weeks of motherhood in bed. Writing about the experience for CNN, Williams said she was grateful to have had access to a great medical team, but noted statistics that “black women in the United States are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related diseases.” She also wrote about the problems affecting women all over the world giving birth, many of whom have no access to drugs or doctors to save them when they suffer health complications.
Following the match over the weekend, Williams told the crowd that she can’t be disappointed. “I have so much to look forward to. I’m literally just getting started.”
And of course she had a message for mums: “I was playing for you today and I tried but Angelique played really well.”
Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, has also shared a number of other messages of support for news parents, particularly in pushing for paid parental leave.
He wrote an opinion piece for The Hill, sharing his concern that one in four women in America return to work within two weeks of giving birth, and that 94% of low wage working people in the US don’t get a single day of paid parental leave.
He followed up on Instagram, saying that the the tech sector can lead by example. “But it’s going to take more people (especially men) taking advantage of parental leave plans and normalizing dad life. Let’s change the culture around fatherhood; it’s a great honor and even greater responsibility.”
Both of the companies Ohanian runs, Reddit and Initialized Capital, offer 16 weeks of fully paid leave for all new parents. He also encourages the founders of companies he invests in to offer such leave, especially as they get bigger.
“This leave time should also be flexible to allow our people to take care of their families when they need them,” he wrote in The Hill. “Every family is different, and paid leave should be customized for their specific needs.”
Days after our baby girl was born, I kissed my wife goodbye before surgery and neither of us knew if she would be coming back. We just wanted her to survive—10 months later, she’s in the #Wimbledon final. Congratulations, @angie.kerber. @serenawilliams will be holding a trophy again soon—she’s got the greatest one waiting at home for her. Our family knows she’ll win many more trophies, too. She’s just getting started. And I couldn’t be more proud.