Serena Williams is an absolute powerhouse, both on and off the court. She’s one of the highest ranked tennis players in the world. And she’s a new mom to the sweetest little baby girl we’ve ever seen. But, in an interview with Vogue, Serena opens up about the harrowing ordeal she went through after giving birth to Alexis Olympia in September. Her story is a reminder that women, all women, are their own strongest advocates.

Serena Williams says she had a relatively easy pregnancy with Olympia. But her labor, delivery, and recovery were anything but easy, and put her life in danger.

Olympia was born via emergency c-section, after contractions caused her heart rate to drop dangerously low. The surgery was fine, and Olympia’s dad was standing by to cut the cord. Serena calls the moment doctors placed her baby girl on her chest “an amazing feeling”.

But then, Serena says, everything went terribly wrong.

While recovering in the hospital, she began to feel short of breath. Serena has a history of blood clots, and had been off her anticoagulant meds because of the surgery. Knowing her own history, Serena immediately believed she was having a pulmonary embolism. Not wanting to frighten her mom, who was in the room with her, she walked into the hallway and, gasping for breath, told the nurse she needed a CT scan and heparin IV right away (heparin is a blood thinner).

Mommy and me

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The nurse assumed Serena was confused because of her pain medication. Serena insisted something was wrong, and a doctor was called to perform an ultrasound on her legs.

Serena told Vogue, ““I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip.” The ultrasound revealed nothing, but she was sent for a CT scan. The scan showed that several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Serena was started on an IV of heparin right away.

But her ordeal didn’t end there. Coughing from the embolism caused her incision to open up. Once she was back in the OR, doctors discovered that a large hematoma had filled her abdomen. The same medication used to treat the embolism (and likely saved her life) had also caused bleeding at the surgical site.

Serena Williams recovered, and a week later, was home with Olympia. And while her story is indeed scary, it’s not uncommon. The U.S. has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world. And black women are at an especially high risk.

serena williams

Image: The Atlas

The racial bias is well-documented; according to The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 46% of maternal deaths among African-American women could be prevented. Doctors and other health care providers are quick to dismiss the concerns of women, and black women in particular. And as we can see from Serena’s story, this dismissal happens to black women of all socio-economic backgrounds.

We’re so glad Serena Williams recovered, and can share her story with us. It’s so important to hear that this happens to everyone. Even bad-ass women like Serena.

(Image: Facebook/United States Tennis Association – USTA (Official)