The tennis legend gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, in 2017.
Serena Williams has admitted that she "almost died" giving birth to her first child. The tennis icon suffered a pulmonary embolism after her daughter, Olympia, was delivered by Caesarean section. According to the 40-year-old, women need "to get feisty and stand up". "Doctors aren't listening to us, just to be quite frank," Williams told the BBC in 2018. "It may be time for women to be comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations. I was in a really fortunate situation where I know my body well, and I am who I am, and I told the doctor: 'I don't feel right, something's wrong.' She immediately listened. She was great. I had a wonderful, wonderful doctor. Unfortunately, a lot of African Americans and black people don't have the same experience that I've had. Also there are some things we are genetically predisposed to that some people aren't. So knowing that going in, or some doctors not caring as much for us, is heartbreaking. Because of what I went through, it would be really difficult if I didn't have the healthcare that I have - and to imagine all the other women that do go through that without the same healthcare, without the same response, it's upsetting."
More recently, the athlete did admit that she had trouble with the staffers during her birth. In a new essay for Elle, Williams said that she was forced to save her own life. While in labor, she was told she should have a C-section as the baby’s heart rate was unstable. “Being an athlete is so often about controlling your body, wielding its power, but it’s also about knowing when to surrender,” Serena wrote. “I was happy and relieved to let go; the energy in the room totally changed. We went from this intense, seemingly endless process to a clear plan for bringing this baby into the world.” After her baby arrived safely, she knew something was not right.
“So much of what happened after that is still a blur,” Serena explained. “I may have passed out a few times. In my haze, I wondered if I should ask someone about my drip. In 2010, I learned I had blood clots in my lungs—clots that, had they not been caught in time, could have killed me. Ever since then, I’ve lived in fear of them returning. It wasn’t a one-off; I’m at high risk for blood clots. I asked a nurse, ‘When do I start my heparin drip? Shouldn’t I be on that now?’ The response was, ‘Well, we don’t really know if that’s what you need to be on right now.’ No one was really listening to what I was saying,” she added.
According to the mother-of-one, the staff was wary of putting her on blood thinners as it could make her C-section bleed, but she “kept pressing” because she “felt it was important.” “I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing because I just couldn’t get enough air. I grabbed a towel, rolled it up, and put it over my incision. Sure enough, I was hacking so hard that my stitches burst. I went into my first surgery after the C-section to get restitched,” she recalled. At one point, Williams believed she was going to die. She said that she approached a nurse and told her that she needed to have a bilateral CAT scan of her lungs and be put on a heparin drip, but the nurse replied: “I think all this medicine is making you talk crazy.”
“I said, ‘No, I’m telling you what I need: I need the scan immediately. And I need it to be done with dye,’” Serena went on. “I guess I said the name of the dye wrong, and she told me I just needed to rest. But I persisted: ‘I’m telling you, this is what I need.’ Finally, the nurse called my doctor, and she listened to me and insisted we check.” Thanks to her doctor and Williams' persistence, they found out that she "had a blood clot in my lungs, and they needed to insert a filter into my veins to break up the clot before it reached my heart.” Black women on Twitter have pointed out that Serena Williams’s story shows just how hard it can be for black women at all levels of society. Her story is also a reminder that "medical gaslighting" is a thing and we need to speak up, louder and clearer. Sometimes our lives really do depend on it.
Doctors didn’t even want to listen to Serena Williams (who is likely more in tune with her body than 99.99% of the population. No wonder black women suffer from maternal mortality at much higher rates. https://t.co/v5X0t0JSZf— KDP (@AZ_KDP) April 7, 2022
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Phil Walter