Serena Williams is a lot of things. She’s the greatest tennis player of all time. She’s a model, a Vogue cover model, and a role model. And, as of last September, she’s a mom, giving birth to her first child, a daughter named Alexis Olympia Ohanian.
While that’s certainly joyous and wonderful, the birthing process was extremely harrowing and unpleasant for the tennis legend. The pregnancy was relatively smooth, but during delivery, Williams’ heart rate plummeted and Alexis had to be born via Caesarean section. And then, owing to a medical history of blood clots, Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism—blood clots in the lungs. They were safety treated, but then Williams was back under the knife when a coughing fit resulted in a C-section scar popping open. While operating, doctors found a hematoma—swelling and blood clots—in her abdomen. That required even more surgery. All told, Williams was bedridden for six weeks.
That’s all nightmarish, of course, but this week, Williams wrote on Facebook about how she received a lot of comments from other women who had gone through similar ordeals, particularly other African-American women.
In addition to a cute video of her baby daughter, Williams writes:
I didn’t expect that sharing our family’s story of Olympia’s birth and all of complications after giving birth would start such an outpouring of discussion from women — especially black women — who have faced similar complications and women whose problems go unaddressed.
These aren’t just stories: according to the CDC, (Center for Disease Control) black women are over 3 times more likely than White women to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. We have a lot of work to do as a nation and I hope my story can inspire a conversation that gets us to close this gap.
Let me be clear: EVERY mother, regardless of race, or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and childbirth. I personally want all women of all colors to have the best experience they can have. My personal experience was not great but it was MY experience and I’m happy it happened to me. It made me stronger and it made me appreciate women — both women with and without kids — even more. We are powerful!!!
I want to thank all of you who have opened up through online comments and other platforms to tell your story. I encourage you to continue to tell those stories. This helps. We can help others. Our voices are our power.
Williams’ call to awareness was met with huge support on social media, where many women shared their own pregnancy stories.