Despite her being a superhero in our eyes, Serena Williams isn’t as indestructible as we all may think. She is just as human and vulnerable like the rest of us.
In a recent op-ed for CNN, the tennis legend shared that while giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. was an amazing moment, she admitting she “almost died” from complications from delivery. She said that because Alexis’ heart rate had plummeted in utero, the doctors performed a C-section that thankfully went “smoothly.” But soon after, Serena’s health went downhill with “six days of uncertainty.”
“It began with a pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs becomes blocked by a blood clot. Because of my medical history with this problem, I live in fear of this situation. So, when I fell short of breath, I didn’t wait a second to alert the nurses.
This sparked a slew of health complications that I am lucky to have survived. First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism. I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs. When I finally made it home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed. I am so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren’t for their professional care, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The 36-year-old also pointed out that her experience isn’t new or rare when it comes to Black women and childbirth:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women in the United States are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. But this is not just a challenge in the United States. Around the world, thousands of women struggle to give birth in the poorest countries. When they have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them. If they don’t want to give birth at home, they have to travel great distances at the height of pregnancy. Before they even bring a new life into this world, the cards are already stacked against them.”
Serena also highlighted infant mortality rates:
“According to UNICEF, each year, 2.6 million newborns die, tragically before their lives even really get started. Over 80% die from preventable causes. We know simple solutions exist, like access to midwives and functional health facilities, along with breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact, clean water, basic drugs and good nutrition. Yet we are not doing our part. We are not rising to the challenge to help the women of the world.”
In the end, Serena stressed what we can all do to demand that mothers and babies–in the U.S. and around the world– are better protected: