Vogue‘s newest star can’t walk, talk, or feed herself yet, but she’s already a master at the whole “cover girl” thing. For the cover of the magazine’s February 2018 issue, Serena Williams‘s four-month-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., poses alongside her mom—and steals the show, obviously.
In the cover image, a beaming Williams holds Alexis close while flashing her massive diamond engagement ring (she married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in a New Orleans ceremony in November). Other images from the photoshoot show Williams laying down next to a diaper-clad Alexis, dancing with her husband, rocking out in matching unicorn onesies with older sister Venus, and sitting with Alexis—who she calls Olympia and Ohanian calls Junior—during a pajama party with her mother, sister, and two half-sisters.
Inside the issue, the new mom opened up about the emergency C-section she underwent during Alexis’s September 1 birth and the medical complications that followed. As Williams puts it, almost immediately after Alexis arrived safely into the world, “everything went bad.” The day after giving birth, Williams felt short of breath and, worrying that she was having another pulmonary embolism, asked for a CT scan with contrast and heparin, a blood thinner, in an IV. She was right: A few small blood clots had found their way into her lungs. In the days that followed, the clots made her cough so much that her C-section stitches broke open; the blood thinner produced hemorrhaging at the C-section site, causing a large hematoma to flood her abdomen; and on top of all that, when she was finally allowed to go home, she found out she no longer had a night nurse. “On top of everything she was going through, the feeling of not being able to help made it even harder,” Ohanian said. “Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet, and you’re trapped in it.”
The record-breaking athlete, who is back on track for a full recovery and is already back on the tennis court, also discussed wanting to be there for every moment of her daughter’s life—”We’re not spending a day apart until she’s 18,” she half-joked—while feeling the drive to win even more trophies. “Actually, I think having a baby might help. When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born. Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me,” said Williams, who has already won 23 Grand Slam tournaments and only needs to snag two more to set the all-time record. (This week Williams announced that she would be withdrawing from the Australian Open.)
Although Williams has felt that drive and unapologetically owned the tennis court for pretty much her entire life, she doesn’t want Alexis to follow in her footsteps. “I would hate her to have to deal with comparisons or expectations. It’s so much work, and I’ve given up so much,” she said. “I don’t regret it, but it’s like Sliding Doors: Go through a different door and lead a different life. I’d like her to have a normal life. I didn’t have that.”
And even though Williams is feeling less anxious on the court these days, that doesn’t mean her perfectionist tendencies are completely gone—instead, they’ve transferred to her home life. “Sometimes I get really down and feel like, ‘Man, I can’t do this.’ It’s that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes. I guess that’s just who I am,” she said. “No one talks about the low moments—the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry. I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’ The emotions are insane.”
The strongest emotion she feels as a mother, though, is that of making sure Alexis grows up knowing her power. “I think sometimes women limit themselves. I’m not sure why we think that way, but I know that we’re sometimes taught to not dream as big as men, not to believe we can be a president or a CEO, when in the same household, a male child is told he can be anything he wants,” she said. “I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”