Tennis supporters were left disappointed by the news on Wednesday that Serena Williams was forced to pull out of her second round match against Tsvetana Pironkova at Roland Garros.
Not only were they denied seeing two incredible players battling it out on the clay, but both are mothers of young children and it would have been another chance to celebrate their incredible achievements in the game. The pair made history at the US Open when they, and Victoria Azarenka, all qualified for the quarter-finals. It was the first time three mums had achieved such a feat.
There were nine mothers in total competing in round one of the women’s singles at the US Open and Williams, who eventually lost in the semi-finals to Azarenka, was vocal in her respect for those who continued to do battle at the top level as well as being a mum.
“I just have a totally new respect for moms,” she said as her three-year-old daughter, Olympia, looked on.
“I would never have thought I would be playing as a mom. The pluses is that one day your daughter can say she was there. But other than that, it’s just minus. Like, I’m not with her, I’m not around her. It’s hard.”
Azarenka, who slipped down the world rankings after the birth of her son Leo, said while she loved being a mum and identifying as one, it was crucial that people still saw her as a tennis player too. “Identifying myself or other players just as mothers, I think that’s not the only thing that we are. We are also tennis players. We are also women who have dreams and goals and passions.
“Your life doesn’t stop. My life just began when I became a mother. To see that rise of women being able to fulfil their dreams, as well as balancing motherhood, I think they all are heroes. I really, really appreciate all of them. And I hope this continues to go on where women are inspired to do what they love to do but still being able to go after what they want.”
With prescient timing, Nike launched its first maternity sports clothing range earlier this month, including a sports bra that allows breastfeeding.
As the marketing campaign attests: “Mothers are the ultimate endurance athletes,” and the company proudly states that it has pored over data from over 150,000 pregnant and non-pregnant women to achieve the optimum design
“The more we listened to expecting mothers and postpartum mothers, the more we learned, reworked and innovated through inclusive design,” Carmen Zolman, Nike Senior Design Director for Apparel Innovation, said. “It’s the project of a lifetime to work in lockstep with all kinds of mothers to bring to life a capsule that truly supports women’s relationship with sport during such a transformative time in their lives.”
Alex Morgan, who has just signed for Tottenham Hotspur having become a mother to daughter Charlie recently, spoke to all mothers when she talked about the changes she had to make to adapt during pregnancy and after she had given birth. And, while her experiences are those of an elite athlete, they talk to all Sportsiders looking to keep active during pregnancy and beyond.
“Not only was there a physical shift I had to make, but it was a mental shift,” Morgan said. “As an athlete, you want to see gains. You want to continue to progress. Throughout my pregnancy I had to shift my focus from thinking, ‘I’m getting worse at my mile’ or ‘I’m getting more tired easily,’ to ‘I’m growing a baby, so be forgiving of yourself and your body, and really enjoy this time.’”
But Morgan also acknowledges that it is not always as simple as just telling yourself to enjoy it – and she emphasises the fact that postpartum is often the hardest for mums to feel like they can be themselves again. “It is one of those areas that really gets forgotten,” she says.
The brilliant Telegraph Women’s Sport supplement [TWS] shone the spotlight on the problems new mothers face in the sporting arena this month too.
They highlighted an email sent by a pregnancy and parenting company which had been sent to Irish rugby player Sorcha MacLaimhin. The subject header read: ‘The ultimate guide to shaping up post-baby’ and, upon opening the email she was confronted by photos of women with very flat tummies in bikinis with the caption: ‘Seven easy ways to get your pre-baby body back.’
She was rightly horrified by the pressurised messaging and, when lockdown struck, she set about doing something about it by launching her own online platform ‘Mama Loves Sport’ to celebrate ordinary mums who play grassroots sport.
“When we talk about mums getting active again – that’s just it – getting mums moving again after having a baby,” MacLaimhin told The Telegraph.
“Why are we focusing on an aesthetic when we should be encouraging mums to play sports because it’s fun, it’s a mental break and it’s great for you physically?
“We so rarely celebrate mums who play sport and the focus tends to be on getting back to an active lifestyle and the dreaded ‘snapping-back’ – getting your pre-pregnancy jeans back on.”
MacLaimhin’s sentiments chime exactly with our ethos at Sportside – it is about the sport itself and the mental wellbeing it can bring about, not the image you can project as a result.
A recent survey of 1000 women by health insurer Vitality asked them how the lockdown had impacted their relationship with exercise. And it found nearly two-thirds of mothers felt isolated, while a similar proportion said they would like to exercise more but did not know how to with a new baby.
The first step to addressing those feelings, we believe, is to connect with like-minded people. If two thirds of mums are feeling isolated and not knowing how to exercise with a baby, it is vital we do all we can as a society to put them in touch with each other. And Sportside can help with that.