By Laura Pappano
By the time Kim Clijsters charged toward the net to hit a final, overhead smash against Caroline Wozniacki and claim the 2009 US Open championship (7-5, 6-3), I was wondering if I really should be thinking so much about her uterus.
Sure, as a mother of three who plays tennis, I grinned with satisfaction to see a fellow mom triumph over a perky and fashionable 19-year-old and become as, The New York Times pointed out yesterday, “the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980.”
But amid the celebratory chatter (and the frequent camera glimpses of her adorable curly-haired, binky-mouthed daughter Jada), I couldn’t help but wonder: Why is this such a big deal?
Was I missing something about the experience of childbirth? Or, more accurately, was I missing something, some critical something that left me when I gave birth? Did childbirth transform me physically, handicapping me in some way that I hadn’t considered – and no one dared share?
The prospect – and problem – of women playing competitive sports, historically speaking, has been rooted in the alleged physical strains that are part of being female and bearing children. Fortunately, we now understand that blood doesn’t really rush from the uterus to the brain making females barren if they do anything more challenging than needlepoint (a Victorian belief). And all those pamphlets from Kotex and Modess warning girls they’d better sit out gym class now seem quaint.