The New Scientist, a publication I had never heard of before, wonders if Serena Williams pregnancy is making her a better athlete?
This is a new low in “pregnancy angles.”
I often get asked to comment on celebrity/athlete pregnancies and I always decline. Why? Partly because I don’t want my name in a shit article like this, but also I don’t care what anyone does in their pregnancy and neither should you. If a celebrity or athlete is offering pregnancy advice or proselytizing about a medication that is different, but if they are minding their own prenatal business and just sharing their joy then it is of no relevance to me. Best wishes is basically what I have to say.
Ever since Ms. Williams announced her pregnancy and a certain part of the Internet took to their pregnancy wheels some have concluded that she was pregnant when she won the Australian open and have been discussing it ever since. You know who didn’t check? Me. Was she or wasn’t she? Dunno and don’t care. Her pregnancy is quite simply her business. I can certainly guess given the articles that have appeared why she said nothing sooner. If people knew she was playing pregnant there would be hundreds of thousands of amateur obstetricians offering advice and of course if she lost I imagine some would use it as an excuse. I highly doubt Ms. Williams would, but the only way she gets to be in control her narrative is to reveal her pregnancy on her own terms.
No one should be surprised that an athlete as accomplished as Ms. Williams continued to compete in her pregnancy at a high level. In general the amount of exercise one can do in pregnancy is what one could do before pregnancy. Elite athletes train during pregnancy and many compete as long as they can. I used to take a high impact aerobics class in the 80s (when they were in vogue) and my pregnant instructor put every one of us to shame until the day she delivered. The only concession she made was reducing her impact factor at the end because she didn’t want to lose her balance and fall. Modifications that elite athletes make in pregnancy involve around center of gravity issues and risk of abdominal trauma. Heat can also be an issue.
The article gets offensive very quickly. Ok, it starts with the title and then gets worse. Ms. Williams won the Australian Open because she was best athlete. In fact, she is probably one of if not the best athletes of all time. Why even take this pregnancy angle? What’s the point? Page clicks? To take something away from Ms. Williams accomplishments?
Even the supposed science behind the article is ill-conceived. The author floats this supposed idea of pregnancy doping. Not that Serena did it mind you, but there were rumors of it in the 70s and 80s. Athletes supposedly getting pregnant to compete and then having abortions once they had their world record or gold medal. I kid you not, an article in a publication called the New Scientist used rumors of pregnancy doping (physiologically stupid, by the way) in an article. The author opines that as there is an increased blood volume and an increase in red blood cells in pregnancy perhaps that could improve performance? After all, living at high altitude can increase blood volume and can lead to better performance for non pregnant athletes.
There are a variety of physiologic changes in pregnancy involving blood flow, the heart, the lungs, and muscles. All together for an elite athlete aerobic performance in early pregnancy stays the same or slightly improves. This obviously balanced against fatigue (affects 90% of women in pregnancy) and the risk of nausea. To suggest that a woman who won 22 Grand Slam singles titles before she was pregnant needed any kind of boost to win another is as ludicrous as it is offensive. She wasn’t ranked 300th and then came out of no where to win she is Serena Williams.
Introducing this idea of pregnancy doping is offensive and ignorant. Just imagine, if you will, the effort it would take to time a pregnancy for competition! Spoiler alert not everyone gets pregnant the exact day they pick. What if you mistimed it? What if you miscarried and derailed your training or worse, miscarried on the day of your gold medal event? What if you developed hyperemesis gravidarum and were dehydrated (not good for athletes) or just had so much nausea that you couldn’t stay hydrated? What if you were too fatigued to train at the same intensity? Even if pregnancy were a huge boost (and it’s not) a pregnancy introduces too many variables that could negatively impact performance. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a blood transfusion? There is so much stupid in the idea of abortion doping that all you need it logic to cast it aside.
Will Serena Williams come back to athletics after she delivers? My aerobics instructor was teaching a class at 6 weeks and looked better than anyone taking the class and Yvonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon three years after her first delivery. Pregnancy does not make someone a non athlete. The only impact pregnancy has on an athlete is in their 2nd and third trimester and for a few weeks post partum they are likely have to modify their training. The media needs to stop looking at pregnancy as if it is some kind of disability, for a committed athlete who remains healthy it is at most a reduction in training and then a short break with delivery. It’s as if people who write these articles (and I am looking at a lot of the media right now) are stuck in this 18th century pregnancy ideal where woman were told to rest in bed for weeks after delivery.
You know what is one of the best ways to improve yout pregnancy outcome? Exercise.
The only thing we should be discussing about Serena Williams and her pregnancy is our congratulations and our best wishes for a good outcome.