Updated: May 11
✦ Each and every mother is a superhero in her own right. Right across the world, mothers are rightfully upheld as truly inspirational figures, the fulcrum of the family that nurture, guide and support. We all know how important a role they play within our lives and we will all be forever grateful to them for all they do.
Balancing motherhood and a career has always presented challenges but for the purpose of this piece we decided to focus on mothers whose career is that of a professional athlete. Whereas there are literally countless examples of women returning to the track, court, pitch or pool after giving birth, we have focused on a select number here to highlight their respective stories.
There have been numerous examples of female tennis players who have returned to the court after giving birth.
Arguably the most famous is Australian Margaret Court. Despite her controversial stance on LGBT and same-sex marriage since retiring from the sport, Court is remembered as a bona fide legend on it, and for good reason. She became the first woman in the Open era to win the singles Grand Slam of all four major tournaments in one calendar year (the Australian, French, US Opens and Wimbledon) and went on to amass more major titles than any other player in history. Her singles career-winning percentage of 91.74 is still regarded as the best of all time.
Court lost the 1971 Wimbledon singles final to fellow Aussie Evonne Goolagong Cawley when she was pregnant with her first child Daniel, who was born the following year. She returned in 1973 and went on to win a further three Grand Slam titles, the only woman in the Open era to win a major after childbirth, before the birth of her second child, daughter Marika, in 1974. Court had two further children and continued to juggle motherhood with battles on the court before she finally hung up her racquet in 1976 following the Australian Open.
Not only did Evonne Goolagong Cawley share many titanic battles with compatriot Margert Court on the tennis court during the 1970s but she also lays claim to becoming a mother who continued to dominate her profession, becoming the first mother to win the Wimbledon singles title in 66 years in 1980, three years after the birth of her daughter Kelly.
Goolagong Cawley became a grandmother in 2013, telling the Sydney Morning Herald: “I used to say during my career that the biggest gift was having my children. But this is my second-best gift and better than any trophy. I’m very excited... I can’t wait to babysit.”
Still on court, Kim Clijsters is one of the most well known and well loved names on the women’s circuit, winning six major titles and achieving world No.1 ranking in both singles and doubles, which she held simultaneously in 2003.
The Belgian gave birth to a daughter, Jada Elly Lynch, in 2008, but was soon back out on the court, winning the US Open in 2009 and 2010 and the Australian Open a year later. She was also the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.
Serena Williams needs no introduction. A tennis phenomenon who stands just one win away from equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. In September 2017, Williams gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia. The pregnancy was not without complication as two pulmonary embolisms left the new mother bedridden for six weeks, delaying her return to training.
However, it wasn’t long before she was back on court, playing an exhibition match at the World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on December 30, 2017. She won her first singles title as a mother at the 2020 ASB Classic and, whereas she hasn’t quite been the dominant force she once was, she continues to compete at the highest level as she chases Court’s record.
Acknowledging the struggles of juggling motherhood and a professional sports career, Williams admits it is the average working mom that continues to inspire her to keep going, telling Today.com in a 2020 interview: “I think of what they do literally every single day to support their family and to be a rock for their family. And it helps me keep going. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think that women are just really amazing.”
There are so many other examples of female athletes that have returned to their respective sports and continued to shine after becoming mothers.
UFC is rightfully regarded as one of the, if not THE, most brutal sports around. Brazilian fighter Amanda Nunes, the current women’s featherweight champion, gave birth to her first child in September 2020 and was back in the octagon less than six months later to defend her title with a first round win against opponent Megan Anderson.