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Serena Williams

Serena Williams compares being a new mom to being on a plunging airplane

‘I realized I wasn’t putting on my mask first’

Being a new mother brings a lot of stress, to the point that comparisons to plunging airplanes are helpful, says Serena Williams.

At an event in New York on Tuesday night, Williams spoke about the difficulty of remembering to engage in self-care without guilt after becoming a mother to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., her 11-month-old daughter with husband and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

She choked up as she relayed parenting advice she received from her trainer, Mackie Shilstone.

“He told me a baby is like a plane,” Williams said. “When you’re in the plane, the people tell you to put on your mask first before helping the person beside you. And I realized I wasn’t putting on my mask first. I was constantly putting on — I was putting on her mask. It’s a hard thing to process. I’m still learning that.”

The tennis star who famously did Oprah Winfrey’s nails talked about how she went a month without getting a manicure because she’d neglected to think of herself. “I still haven’t gotten a pedicure,” she said.

“I realized I have to take time for myself, even if I don’t want to,” Williams said. “I don’t want to get a manicure. I want to be with my baby. I’d much rather do that.”

Williams was at an event for JPMorgan Chase employees and their children aboard the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier that now doubles as a sea, air and space museum in New York. JPMorgan Chase is one of Williams’ sponsors. She was dressed in a cropped black hoodie with the word “ROYAL” emblazoned across the chest, which she layered over a black bodysuit, Beychella-style. It’s a piece from her fashion line, and Williams told the crowd she sent one to her friend Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex. Against a sonic backdrop of wailing babies, Williams answered questions about parenting from MSNBC News host Stephanie Ruhle and spoke about getting advice on how to handle teething from social media.

Try giving the baby frozen waffles, Williams said a fellow parent suggested.

She revealed that a number of companies send her free clothes for Olympia, but she refused to accept a $695 dress for her.

“I don’t want Olympia thinking money makes her good,” she said, before revealing that she and Ohanian order most of their baby supplies, including clothes, from Amazon.

In a few days, Williams will take the court again at the US Open. Since returning to tennis after giving birth, Williams has had her share of triumphs and disappointments. She finished as runner-up in the Wimbledon final in July but also endured the most lopsided loss of her career last month when she was beaten 6-1, 6-0 by Johanna Konta at a tournament in San Diego.

When a young admirer asked Williams how she handles pressure, Williams cited Billie Jean King and her famous quotation on the subject: “Pressure is a privilege.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the culture critic for The Undefeated. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts, and literature. She's based in Brooklyn.