Serena Williams Opens Up About The Frightening Experience She Had After Giving Birth To Her Daughter: "I Felt Like I Was Dying"

By Gina Florio··  6 min read
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Tennis champion Serena Williams has become one of the greatest athletes of our time. The Oscar-winning film "King Richard" was a biopic about her and her sister Venus's upbringing and how their father reared them to be tremendous winners.

Serena and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, had their first child together in 2017. But her birthing experience didn't go as planned, and in fact Serena endured some intense difficulties that almost cost her her life. She penned a heartfelt essay about her experiences, which was shared by Elle.

Serena Williams Had To Have a C-Section

Any woman who has children knows that births rarely go exactly as planned. The birth of Serena's daughter Olympia came with many complications that she never expected. She writes in the essay how much she loved being pregnant. "I guess I’m one of those women who likes being pregnant," she shared. "I settled into a whole new way of being. I was relaxed not playing: my life was just sitting at home, and it was wonderful. I still had plenty of work to do, but my focus narrowed to keeping myself healthy for the baby."

She was induced on August 31, and the labor seemed to be going fairly well. "I know that’s not what people are supposed to say, but I was enjoying it, the work of labor," she said. "I was completely in the moment. I loved the cramps. I loved feeling my body trying to push the baby out."

"I know that’s not what people are supposed to say, but I was enjoying it, the work of labor."

But then things took a turn for the worse. Her daughter's heart rate kept slowing, raising again, and dropping yet again. Her husband and doctor ended up speaking privately and made the decision that it was time for a C-section. Serena says she felt relieved that the choice was made for her because she's "not good at making decisions." Besides, as an athlete who has had many surgeries, she didn't think much about having yet another one, especially if it ended with having a healthy daughter.

Serena Williams Had To Have 3 More Surgeries after the C-Section

Olympia came out healthy and beautiful, and she "spent the night in the hospital with my baby in the room." But when she woke up the next morning, her body was paralyzed and she felt herself going in and out of a haze. Since she had blood clots in 2010, she knew she was "at high risk for blood clots." She asked the nurse if she should start the heparin drip (a blood thinner to prevent clotting).

"The response was, 'Well, we don’t really know if that’s what you need to be on right now,'" Serena wrote. "No one was really listening to what I was saying. The logic for not starting the blood thinners was that it could cause my C-section wound to bleed, which is true. Still, I felt it was important and kept pressing. All the while, I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t move at all—not my legs, not my back, nothing."

Serena began coughing, so much so that her stitches burst and she had to go into her first surgery to get restitched.

"I was coughing because I had an embolism, a clot in one of my arteries."

"Little did I realize that this would be the first of many surgeries. I wasn’t coughing for nothing; I was coughing because I had an embolism, a clot in one of my arteries," Serena said. "The doctors would also discover a hematoma, a collection of blood outside the blood vessels, in my abdomen, then even more clots that had to be kept from traveling to my lungs. That’s what the medical report says, anyway. To me, it was just a fog of surgeries, one after another."

After the second surgery, Serena wasn't sure if she was going to make it. "When I woke up from that surgery, in the hospital room with my parents and my in-laws, I felt like I was dying," she recalled. "They were trying to talk to me, and all I could think was, 'I’m dying, I’m dying. Oh my God.' I really thought I would faint. I got up somehow, and I went into the other room because I didn’t want my mom to worry. I didn’t want her to hear me; she’s the world’s biggest worrier."

"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.'"

"All I could think was, 'I’m dying, I’m dying. Oh my God.'"

"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."

That's when she had to have yet another surgery. In total, Serena ended up having four surgeries, including her C-section, in the week following Olympia's birth.

Serena Williams Had To Fight To Save Her Own Life

"In the U.S., Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts," she wrote. "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."

Serena had to fight for her own life, and she doesn't know if she'd be here if she didn't. The incredible reward was connecting with her daughter finally and spending every day with her. "I still feel like I have to be around her for every day of her life, as much as possible," she wrote.

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