Being Serena: The Importance of Validating the Mother's Voice
Today is International Women’s Day 2019. It’s a Friday. There is a lot…a lot going on in my life right now. I am gearing up to host the second annual Happy Mom Conference, which is happening in May. I also have my third baby boy due in May, just a few weeks after the conference.
I just got out of the shower, but I wanted to capture a true voice here and just speak from the heart. Once a week, I like to take these longer showers, listen to my meditation music, and have some alone time to myself when the kids are in school. This weekly longer shower is part of my mama self-care as daily showers are never longer than 10-15 minutes.
The reason I bring that up is because this is my time to think... my time to focus. It is my time where I connect with myself and actually listen to what's happening in my heart and in my head. And with everything else that’s going on right now with Happy Mom Conference and in my personal life, there's a long list of to-dos that I should be working on. But I want to stop and drop it all, because I’m moved. I have it on my heart that today, on International Women's Day, I need to write about a woman who is an icon. A woman who, for me, seeing her speak gave me so much validation for my own feelings as a woman and as a mother that I feel EVERY woman—and especially mother—has to hear what she has to say.
I'm talking about Serena Jameka Williams.
A few months ago I actually stumbled upon watching Being Serena. I did not grow up a huge tennis fan, or sports fan for that matter. I knew who she was because she’s obviously ultra famous and has been in the news plenty of times. I remember watching some of her matches with my father who is a tennis fan. The only thing I acknowledged at that time, as a young woman watching Serena Williams was the intensity of her game, and the passion that you feel even through a TV screen watching her playing her sport. The only way that I could relate to that was that I danced growing up. That was my passion in the physical sense, and the way it made me feel to dance on stage and to perform. I imagined that that's what she felt every time she was out on the tennis court, and every match that she went into.
I remember just having such respect for the way that she played the sport as a woman, and even at that time when mostly male figures were dominating the sports scene. She always, always stood out.
Now fast forward to my adult life as a mom. Just a few months ago a good friend of mine—who is a big tennis fan and follows Serena and her sport well and watches all of her matches and thinks the world of her as an athlete (and he’s male, by the way, which is amazing!)—recommended I watch Being Serena on HBO. Now my first reaction was, “Is it just about tennis and sports? Because I wouldn't be so into watching that.” And knowing me, he said, “No, El, you need to watch this.” And I say knowing me because, being a good friend of our family and me, he knew what I felt in my heart. He knew that from the time that I became a mom, everything changed in my life, and how I took to those changes, and how it made me want to fight more for women’s rights and mothers’ rights, and how it made me want to create a forum and a platform for moms and women. He said, “You need to watch this, just trust me,” and he didn’t really say much else about it.
I recorded all of the episodes for the documentary (I think there were five or six). So one day, after putting the kids to sleep, I decided to put it on. And again, nighttime is sometimes my ONLY other time to just digress and focus on myself and have some time ME time mafter the kids go to sleep and they’re in bed. Most of the time I don't take too much time to watch TV, so I figured I’d recorded five or six episodes and would just watch one a night for the week.
Well, I turned it on, and I couldn’t turn it off.
The documentary is presented in the most authentic and beautiful way. It starts with telling the story of Serena’s childhood with her sister growing up. There was this intense passion and dedication for the sport of tennis that started in her and her sister when they were so young and how her father—a male figure—was the one pushing them so hard to succeed in this sport from age 3.
I am literally crying writing this right now and I was in shambles most of the time that I watched the documentary. Could be the pregnancy hormones, but also... her story captured my heart. You know, as a child, there are lots of things that you get into or sports that you sign up for because your parents make you and you kind of decide what you like and you don’t like sometimes you give your opinions on things that you want to stay in or not, but as a child you don’t know much and it’s hard to be so passionate about things when you're still very much developing as a human. But you saw in the documentary that, even as a child, Serena was passionate. It was something she was born with. It was just in her.
She never ever gave up and she spent all of her free time—when other kids are playing or getting into other kinds of activities—on the court practicing and practicing and practicing and just perfecting her craft from such a young age. She put so much into the sport and she gave so much of her life, starting from childhood (and you’ll see why I emphasize that so much later), to tennis.
She ended up becoming the biggest, biggest tennis star of all time, with a net worth of $27 million. She has won four Olympic gold medals, 23 Grand Slam singles titles, and has held the top spot in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings numerous times throughout her 23-year-long professional career. She's the best female athlete of all time... heck, she is arguably the best athlete of all time!
Motherhood Changes Everything
On September 1, 2017, Serena became a mom. She gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., and everything for her changed. Everything.
The way she looked at life changed. The way she looked at tennis changed. This was a woman who gave everything to tennis, and having her little baby changed it all.
Getting to that point in the documentary for me…I broke down.
The first time I became pregnant, the first time I had a baby, the first time I started on my breastfeeding journey…So many people in my life didn’t understand what I was going through. But Serena Williams not only understood, but she was going through the same thing. She was living it. That was mind blowing to me for someone of her status. It just went to remind me that at the end of the day, we are all women, and women go through some things in life that only women can ever understand. Moms go through somethings in life that only fellow mothers can ever understand.
For me, my passion was getting into the entertainment industry. That’s something I wanted to do my whole life. Everything I studied and prepared for was for me to get into the entertainment industry and work on movies. I loved movies growing up so I did that; I thought I achieved my dream job. I thought I was there. I did get there. And then I got pregnant. And I couldn’t go back after maternity leave. I couldn't go back to the job that I thought was my dream because I didn't feel that I would be supported as a mom.
In the documentary, you see Serena Williams struggle on her return back to tennis, and how much after becoming a mom, she was trying so hard to get her "spot" in the sport back. One other thing I related to so strongly was when she talked about breastfeeding. She was working so hard to get her calories up to get to eat the right kind of foods to make sure her nutrition was right so that she could feed Olympia from her breast. She wanted to breastfeed so badly. But at the same time she was making her return back to tennis, her other love.
She probably loves her coach and they may have a great relationship, but in my opinion, he was not as supportive as he should have been of her in the documentary, because again, there is no man that can ever understand the will and the desire to want to breastfeed your child. That is something only another woman or mother who has that goal can understand. I know because I breastfed both of my boys until they were around 14-15 months old each. And I had so many people in my life just telling me to stop as soon as they got saw about a little bit hard for me or hard for the dynamic of the family. They would say, “Well, why don't you just stop? I don't understand what the big deal is. I don't understand.”
And they could never understand.
Serena went through that and had to make that decision. Ultimately, she was playing so hard and she got back into shape and she did have to stop breastfeeding at a certain point, but she did it on her own time and she did it when it was right for her, and I respect her for that. What I don't respect are the other people around her who were pushing her to stop sooner than she wanted to, because that is not right.
What International Women’s Day Means to Me
This is something I want to share on International Women’s Day because, to me, this is what the day is all about: Listening to women and validating our feelings, even if you’re not a woman, because it’s a hard position for you to validate our feelings when you’re not a woman. But that is what International Women's Day is about is listening and validating, even when you don't understand. Even when you can’t ever be in that person’s shoes.
So, I just felt it in my heart that I wanted to share this. If you’re a woman, and especially if you’re a mom, and if you haven’t seen Being Serena, I highly, highly, highly recommend it. Because I promise you that if you ever felt that you weren’t good enough in the rest of your life and in anything that you were doing. If you questioned how good you could be at your craft. Your work. Your business. If you ever questioned yourself and your capabilities after becoming a mom, you need to hear what this amazing woman Serena Williams has to say and listen to her share her story, because it will make you feel so normal and so validated... as a woman, and as a mother.
Did you grow up watching Serena Williams? Mamas, what passion of yours became difficult to pursue when you became a mom?