We all know that Serena Williams gave birth to her first child and daughter Alexis Olympia in September. What many people didn’t know was how Williams almost died afterwards.
The 36-year-old tennis champion, who recently married Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, revealed her scary birth story to Vogue. Williams — who won a Grand Slam while pregnant with Alexis — shared how she almost died after an emergency C-section because she had a life-threatening complication: blood clots on her lungs. According to Vogue, this is what happened:
The next day, while recovering in the hospital, Serena suddenly felt short of breath. Because of her history of blood clots, and because she was off her daily anticoagulant regimen due to the recent surgery, she immediately assumed she was having another pulmonary embolism. (Serena lives in fear of blood clots.) She walked out of the hospital room so her mother wouldn’t worry and told the nearest nurse, between gasps, that she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin (a blood thinner) right away. The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. But Serena insisted, and soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound of her legs. “I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,” she remembers telling 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!”
One of the most frightening parts of her story? Right after the birth, Ohanian cut the umbilical cord, and “then everything went bad,” as Williams explained to Vogue. For moms everywhere, this is really scary stuff, considering nearly a third of births in the United States are via C-sections.
Her experience was so bad that she was bedridden for six weeks. Williams said the experience left her feeling “broken” — adding, “sometimes I get really down and feel like, man, I can’t do this.”
This is a sentiment many moms experience after birth, whether as the result of a serious illness around pregnancy, or because of postpartum depression.
As Quartz points out, 150,000 U.S. women experience illness or near-death experiences around pregnancy every year. Because Williams has a history of blood clots, she was able to advocate for herself, which was very lucky, as that may not be the case for others. For many black and African-American women, about 46% of maternal deaths could likely have been prevented.
Despite all this, Williams said she couldn’t be happier with her daughter. She said she wants to teach Alexis “that there are no limits,” because “sometimes women limit themselves. I’m not sure why we think that way, but I know that we’re sometimes taught to not dream as big as men, not to believe we can be a president or a CEO, when in the same household a male child is told he can be anything he wants.”
Women. They are so prominent strong and vital to my life. My mom raised 5 women (one passed) and 3 grand children. I love this photo because we have a close bond. This is what keeps me humble. They are not afraid to tell me anything after all I am the youngest of 5. I’m so happy Olympia has my mom as her grandma (of course she has Alexis Stepmom as well) and I”m happy she has aunts like my sisters Venus , Isha , Lyn and Alexis’ sisters Amy and Hayley. Alll women! Coincidence? I think it not. She will fit right in. @voguemagazine @mariotestino @tonnegood hair @angelameadowssalon hair @vernonfrancois makeup @natashagrossmakeupartist @orijahnelmua