Celebrated professional tennis player Serena Williams almost died after giving birth in September of last year. Now she is using her platform to spread awareness about the realities of maternal and infant mortality, and the importance of access to affordable healthcare.
“I almost died after giving birth to my daughter, Olympia,” Williams wrote in an essay published on CNN Tuesday.
Williams, who said she had a fairly easy pregnancy, had complications in labor when her daughter’s heart rate dropped during contractions, resulting in an emergency C-section.
“The surgery went smoothly. Before I knew it, Olympia was in my arms. It was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she wrote.
However, Williams’ maternal excitement quickly turned into fear. “But what followed just 24 hours after giving birth were six days of uncertainty,” the tennis player wrote.
First, because of her medical history with this issue before, Williams was able to self-diagnose a pulmonary embolism, “a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by a blood clot,” she explained.
The pulmonary embolism ignited more health issues and measures, including a torn C-section wound, a hematoma, which is inflammation of clotted blood, in her abdomen, and then a procedure to prevent anymore blood clots. After she was able to return home from the health scares, she was confined to bed for over a month.
“I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed,” Williams wrote.
With fame and fortune, Williams had access to some of the best doctors and healthcare. “Yet I consider myself fortunate,” she wrote.
“I am so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren’t for their professional care, I wouldn’t be here today,” the 36-year-old wrote.
Her near death experience brought attention to a sobering reality- many women, in particularly those of color, would not have been as lucky as the rich and revered tennis player.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [Black] women in the United States are over three times more likely to dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes,” Williams wrote.
Beyond the realities Black mothers in America face in pregnancy and labor, Williams also considered the thousands of women in poor countries around the world.
“When they have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them. If they don’t want to give birth at home, they have to travel great distances at the height of pregnancy. Before they even bring a new life into this world, the cards are already stacked against them,” Williams wrote.
In her essay, Williams pondered a world where there was sufficient access to adequate birthing attendants, clean water, and affordable and accessible healthcare.
“That world is possible. And we must dare to dream it for every Black woman, for every woman in Malawi, and for every mother out there,” she wrote.