Serena Williams is speaking out about the struggles of being a new mom and a pro athlete.
The 36-year-old tennis star covers TIME's September issue and discusses the difficult decision to sacrifice motherhood milestones in order to conquer the court. One of those sacrifices came when her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, insisted she stop breastfeeding in order to up her game.
“I felt the decisions were taken through the angle of the family, where before, every decision was taken through the angle of tennis,” Mouratoglou tells the magazine. “This is a big difference. Even if you are Serena, if you want to be successful in tennis, tennis has to be priority No. 1.”
"You have the power to sustain the life that God gave her,” she says. “You have the power to make her happy, to calm her. At any other time in your life, you don’t have this magical superpower.”
On top of that, the career advice was especially hard to take from a man, who, Williams thinks, could never "understand the connection."
“It’s absolutely hard to take from a guy,” Williams notes. “He’s not a woman, he doesn’t understand that connection, that the best time of the day for me was when I tried to feed her. I’ve spent my whole life making everyone happy, just servicing it seems like everyone. And this is something I wanted to do.”
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In the end, Williams made the difficult decision to heed her coach's advice and put her career first.
“I looked at Olympia, and I was like, ‘Listen, Mommy needs to get her body back, so Mommy’s going to stop now,’" she reveals. "We had a really good conversation. We talked it out.”
Despite giving up the connection that breastfeeding provides, Williams is still enormously in tune with her daughter.
“I didn’t think I’d be this attached. It’s difficult to leave her,” Williams says. “... Sometimes she just wants Mommy, she doesn’t want anyone else. I still have to learn a balance of being there for her, and being there for me. I’m working on it. I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it’s so easy to do. It’s so easy to do.”
After recently losing in the final round of Wimbledon, suffering the worst defeat of her career in the first round of the Silicon Valley Classic, and falling again in the second round of the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday, Williams still insists she has more fight left in her.
“I’m not done yet, simple," she insists. “My story doesn’t end here.”
With the U.S. open later this month, Williams has vowed to put aside her mom guilt and focus on herself during the tournament.
“I need to be more selfish for just those couple of days,” she says. “I keep telling myself she’s not going to remember that I spent an extra two hours with her. I should be taking that two hours and focusing on my career.”