Just ahead of Black Maternal Health Week, Serena Williams is opening up about the struggles she endured on the day of, and days after, giving birth to her four-year-old daughter, Olympia.
Penning the personal essay for the April issue of Elle, Williams reflected on her journey, explaining that for the most part she had a “wonderful pregnancy.” It wouldn’t be until the day she was to give birth that certain complications began, which ultimately forced her to have a C-section.
“Outside my birthing room, there were meetings going on without me—my husband was conferencing with the doctors. By this point, I was more than ready for the epidural, but after 20 minutes, the doctor walked in, looked at me, and said, ‘We’re giving you a C-section.’ She made it clear that there wasn’t time for an epidural or more pushing,” Williams recounted. “I loved her confidence; had she given me the choice between more pushing or surgery, I would have been ruined. I’m not good at making decisions. In that moment, what I needed most was that calm, affirmative direction. Since it was my first child, I really wanted to have the baby vaginally, but I thought to myself, “I’ve had so many surgeries, what’s another one?” Being an athlete is so often about controlling your body, wielding its power, but it’s also about knowing when to surrender. 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.”
That surgery would end up being the first of four—the latter three proving necessary due to burst stitches caused by unrelenting coughing from an embolism, the discovery of a hematoma in her abdomen, and a collection of clots that were on their way to her lungs. Ahead of surgery three, however, Williams explained that she had to push her nurse for a certain drip and a CAT scan citing the fact that she had a familial predisposition for blood clots in her lungs. Had the nurse not listened and the doctor not acted, things would have undoubtedly went different.
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“In the other room, I spoke to the nurse. I told her: ‘I need to have a CAT scan of my lungs bilaterally, and then I need to be on my heparin drip.’ She said, ‘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,’” Williams explained. “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. I fought hard, and I ended up getting the CAT scan. I’m so grateful to her. Lo and behold, I 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.”
She later added:
In the U.S., Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts. Many of these deaths are considered by experts to be preventable. Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me; I know those statistics would be different if the medical establishment listened to every Black woman’s experience.
To read Williams’ full essay, head on over to elle.com.