Naomi Osaka has spoken for the first time on her difficult pregnancy and childbirth experience, as the former world No.1 prepares to return to tennis in Brisbane.
The four-time grand slam champion took a break from the sport late in the 2022 season and only revealed she was expecting when she was a late withdrawal from the 2023 Australian Open.
She gave birth to daughter Shai in July this year and promptly announced her intention to get back to her “regularly scheduled program”.
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But to do so Osaka, 26, has had to overcome significant challenges.
The US-based Japanese superstar has revealed she “wrote a will” after a worrying diagnosis while pregnant combined with other fears about giving birth.
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She tested positive for Group B streptococcus, a bacterial infection opening up the risk of conditions such as sepsis or even stillbirth.
Pregnancy itself also proved more troubling than she expected as morning sickness, weight gain and loneliness struck.
“I don’t think people know how hard pregnancy is; no one really talks about it as much. Going into it, you kind of think ‘oh, it’s this beautiful journey’. But it’s kind of rough,” Osaka told InStyle.
Osaka gave birth in July after a difficult pregnancy and childbirth experience. Credit: Instagram
Her worries peaked in June when the world learned that Olympic champion Tori Bowie, found dead six weeks earlier, was eight months pregnant and in labour when she died due to complications from childbirth.
“I was kind of starting to freak out a little bit,” Osaka said.
She reached out to Bowie’s teammate Allyson Felix, who experienced preeclampsia while giving birth prematurely, and other mothers for help.
Osaka’s childbirth experience then began on a low note.
Her infection meant she was given an IV drip with antibiotics after her waters broke, while the first 12 hours of labour went by without much progress.
Medicine to help the process brought on vomiting.
Eventually Osaka — experiencing what she described as “the worst pain of my life” — was told to ‘push fast’, and the baby was delivered with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
“It was life-changing in a day. From the moment that you come back home from the hospital, everything’s different,” Osaka said.
The two-time Australian Open champion will make her comeback in Brisbane before the grand slam. Credit: AAP
Osaka said she was surprised by the effects of pregnancy on her fitness levels but has worked for hours almost every day to get ready for her comeback.
She will make her formal return at the Brisbane International, becoming the latest in a growing group of mothers to return to the tour, before she attempts to win a third Australian Open title.
Angelique Kerber, another former world No.1 and Australian Open champion, is also making her comeback in Australia after giving birth to her first child in February this year.
Elina Svitolina famously reached the French Open quarter-finals and Wimbledon semi-finals this year after giving birth in October 2022.
Former world No.1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki also enjoyed her own impressive comeback from three and a half years in retirement.
The mother-of-two reached the fourth round of the US Open and pushed eventual champion Coco Gauff to three sets.