In September, when Serena Williams gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., the world had no idea what she went through.
The tennis champion with 23 Grand Slams was fighting for her life at the hospital, soon after her C-section. Williams shared the terrifying story of what she went through in the latest issue of Vogue.
“Now that I’m 36 and I look at my baby, I remember that this was also one of my goals when I was little, before tennis took over, when I was still kind of a normal girl who played with dolls,” Williams said about loving her daughter.
After giving birth via C-section, Williams fell short of breath. She then insisted on getting a CT scan —after she was brushed off with a painkiller suggestion from a nurse— where she found out she had several small blood clots. “I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,” she told the team. The ultrasound revealed nothing, so they sent her for the CT, and sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Minutes later she was on the drip. “I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!”
She was put on the drip, but then her C-section stitching popped open after a coughing spells from a previous pulmonary embolism. She went into the operating room again, where they found that a large hematoma had flooded her abdomen in which the potentially lifesaving blood thinner (drip) caused hemorrhaging at the site of her C-section.
Williams went into surgery for the third time to get a filter inserted into her veins to prevent blood clots from dislodging and traveling into her lungs —all to come home and be out of a night nurse. Her fiancé, now husband, Alexis Ohanian, stepped up to the plate to take care of their daughter while Williams was on bed rest.
Williams’ story isn’t uncommon. In fact, Black women in the U.S. are more likely to die during and after childbirth. Statistics show that Black women also have less access to preventative and post-partum health care, leading to this death rate.
And despite all the physical and emotional trauma, Williams is still overjoyed —and overwhelmed at times— to be a mother.
“No one talks about the low moments—the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry. I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times,” she confessed.
“Obedience brings protection; that’s what my mom told me. That’s straight from the Bible, and she wrote it down on paper and gave it to me. I was always obedient: Whatever my parents told me to do, I did. There was no discussion. Maybe I had a little rebellious phase in my 20s, when I tried liquor for the first time. Maybe having a baby on the tennis tour is the most rebellious thing I could ever do.”