How Serena Williams 'Saved Her Own Life' After A Near Death Experience During Childbirth
Photo Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris

How Serena Williams 'Saved Her Own Life' After A Near Death Experience During Childbirth

In an op-ed for Elle Magazine, Serena Williams opens up about her medical struggles while giving birth to her now four-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

As a world-class athlete, Williams has experienced a fair share of trials and tribulations, but giving birth would prove to be one of her most challenging.

“Giving birth to my baby, it turned out, was a test for how loud and how often I would have to call out before I was finally heard,” Williams wrote.

Initially, Serena Williams’ pregnancy journey was “wonderful” and she enjoyed the time for the most part, but then it became time to welcome Alexis into the world. Williams was not yet on epidural and she relied on her breath and the techniques she had acquired through birth training. With each contraction, the baby’s heart rate would swiftly decrease and Williams would have to turn on her side to restore it to normalcy. As contractions increased Williams was notified by doctors that she would be having a C-Section because time was running out. At this moment, Williams learned the beauty of letting go.

“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,” Serena Williams wrote.

Williams Advocates For Her Health

Soon, Williams became enamored with her new bundle of joy but those precious moments became disrupted by waves of pain, and the inability to move her limbs, and she passed out a few times. Williams became concerned as she previously had blood clots in her lungs back in 2010. Therefore, she asked a nurse if she could begin a heparin drip. Williams’ request was denied as it would cause her C-section to bleed. However, the pain remained and she began to experience coughs so egregious her stitched wounds opened.

Williams underwent the first of many surgeries as doctors later found a hematoma in her abdomen and more clots that had to be removed to avoid complications in the lungs.

“I felt like I was dying,” Williams wrote.

For Williams, the feeling of death almost became a gruesome reality if she had not fiercely advocated for her health. Williams requested a CAT scan of her lungs and a heparin drip. However, the nurse brushed off her needs. It was not until a doctor listened and validated Williams’ concerns that she received a CAT scan which would reveal there was indeed a clot in her lungs.

The Importance Of Being Heard

Williams found herself in the operating rooms four times within seven days. Thankfully, she eventually returned to her room welcomed by family — a reality that may not have existed if a doctor had not taken the time to listen.

“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,” Williams wrote.