IT would have been the mother of all victories. When Serena Williams stepped out on to Centre Court on Saturday afternoon she wasn’t just bidding to add another Grand Slam title to her collection. She was continuing a stunning comeback following the traumatic birth of her first child.

Anyone who had imagined motherhood would dampen the American’s competitive spirit was clearly mistaken, but anyone seeking to minimise the impact of childbirth on the female body is in denial. Williams herself may reject Sue Barker’s suggestion that she’s a “superhuman supermum”, but to characterise her return as a simple “bouncing back” is to ignore the gory details of what she has gone through in the last 10 months.

A week earlier, a Canadian newspaper had described Williams’s fourth-round meeting with Evgeniya Rodina as a “battle of the moms”. Many took umbrage, arguing this was blatant sexism given the parental status of male players would never be referenced in the same way. They were partly right – it’s highly unlikely any sports writer has ever focused on the offspring of, say, Roger Federer or Novak Djokivic when assessing their chances of winning a match. But they also missed the point entirely by trying to suggest the two situations are comparable.

Recognising the biological differences between men and women isn’t sexism, it’s common sense, and glossing over these when discussing reproduction is a terrible strategy for tackling sexist discrimination. It should go without saying that a single act of ejaculation is not nearly as physically transformative as growing a new human inside one’s own body and then giving birth – and that’s before taking into account the many ways a pregnancy can go badly, tragically wrong, even in a developed country in the 21st century.

After Williams went into labour last September, her baby’s heart rate dropped and an emergency Caesarean section was required. This alone will have had significant implications for her return to elite sport. While such surgery may be common, that doesn’t mean it is trivial. Are you sitting comfortably? A section involves first cutting into skin and fat, revealing a layer of fascia covering the abdominal muscles. After a nick is made in this fascia, the abs can be pulled apart. The flimsy first layer of peritoneum is then snipped with scissors, and after a second layer is cut the bladder can be pushed out of the way. Finally the uterus is revealed, and another incision can be made to uncover the foetus, which is carefully extracted.

The human body is an incredible feat of evolutionary engineering, but recovery from all of the above is not trivial. It’s not a simple case of stitching back together everything that has been snipped, nicked or sliced (indeed, stitching of the peritoneum is no longer regarded as best practice), and potential setbacks include bladder pain, urinary tract infections, and persistent pinching or pulling sensations caused by scar tissue. The surgery also increases the risk of hernia, painful adhesions in the pelvic area and permanent nerve damage causing either numbness or pain.

After the safe delivery of baby Olympia, Williams developed breathing problems and coughed so much that her stitches burst. A pulmonary embolism was diagnosed and she was given blood-thinning drugs, but these caused haemorrhaging and when she returned to the operating theatre a large haematoma was found in her abdomen. She spent the first six weeks of her daughter’s life confined to bed, unable to even change a nappy. Her husband Alexis Ohanian later told Vogue: “Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet, and you’re trapped in it.”

No-one wants to cause fear and alarm by hammering home the risks of pregnancy and birth, but minimising the significance of a return to elite sport after having a child feeds into the same problematic narratives that suggest women simply “pop out sprogs” or “snap back into shape” after doing so. Yes, some are lucky enough to have natural births free from complications, but others will be forced to stop working earlier than planned, and no woman can accurately predict how long her recovery will take. I suspect many of those who objected to William’s status as a new mother being highlighted in coverage of her comeback would be equally critical of headlines praising “pre-baby bodies”, or references to the “baby blues” that obscure the horror of post-natal depression. But why bristle at the suggestion that bringing a new life into the world is a big deal? It is a big deal, and to say so certainly isn’t anti-feminist.

Williams herself does not seem offended or outraged by the suggestion she had something to prove at this year’s Wimbledon. Choking back tears after being defeated by Angelique Kerber, she said: “I was really happy to get this far … I’m literally just getting started”. And in a show of solidarity with every woman who has faced the daunting task of getting back in game, she added: “To all the mums out there, I was playing for you today”.