Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Serena Williams plans to play on, but why ask?

- Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune (hstevens@chicagotri­bune.

It didn’t take long for the Serena Williams pregnancy glow to get overshadow­ed by the typical mess of speculatio­n we reserve for a pregnant woman — namely, what a baby will mean for her career.

As The Guardian put it, “The announceme­nt left the sport’s chattering class wondering to what degree she was looking ahead to life after tennis.”

“Are Serena’s playing days over?” asked Tennis magazine, a question repeated far and wide after the 23 Grand Slam-winning athlete revealed Wednesday on Snapchat that she’s 20 weeks pregnant.

(Interestin­g that we treat pregnancy like a big enough deal to end a woman’s career, but not a big enough deal to guarantee her paid leave to recover, isn’t it?)

“The real question relates to motivation,” declared the Sydney Morning Herald. “How much would she want her career back?”

The real question, to my mind, relates to how she won the Australia Open in January when she was close to two months pregnant — a state many of us refer to politely as hell on Earth, what with the nausea and exhaustion and aches where you didn’t know you could ache.

But Ms. Williams, 35, isn’t like us mere mortals. She’s the greatest tennis player in the world. Many consider her the greatest athlete in the world. She has strength, stamina, talent and motivation that most of us have never even attempted to muster.

And we’re questionin­g her motivation? Come on.

Ms. Williams’ spokeswoma­n told The New York Times she’ll miss the rest of the 2017 season, but she’ll return to the game in 2018.

“Serena said that I should make sure if anyone asks that that is clear,” Kelly Bush Novak told the Times.

That won’t end the speculatio­n. But it should.

Women’s bodies react a million different ways to pregnancy — some sail through, some develop hypertensi­on and pre-eclampsia. Some deliveries are complicati­on-free and some are anything but.

The difference­s don’t stop once the baby is born. Recoveries vary widely, and so do post-pregnancy plans. Many women want to dive back into their careers quickly; others, for a variety of reasons, do not.

But a common motivation in every mother — indeed, every parent — I’ve ever known is a sudden increased desire to make the world a better place.

We become acutely aware of the world’s shortcomin­gs and newly determined to solve them. We want to right the wrongs. We want to protect our children from the muck — be it cultural, environmen­tal, social or global.

For some people, that means forgoing the paid work they did before parenthood. For others, it means diving back into that work with renewed energy.

Ms. Williams has forever shaped and changed tennis with her prowess and her sheer domination. She has, in so doing, changed sports. She has defied expectatio­ns, broken records and pushed back against all the stupid stereotype­s thrown her way. (Exhibit 1,000: “People call me one of the ‘world’s greatest female athletes,’ ” she wrote in an open letter last fall. “Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female.”)

Her game makes the world a better place.

And we have no reason to believe she’s finished.

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