Serena Williams: 'I almost died after giving birth to my daughter'

In a powerful op-ed, Williams reveals her post-pregnancy complications and highlights disparities in healthcare

By Rachel Leah

Published February 20, 2018 3:03PM (EST)

Serena Williams (Getty/Richard Shiro)
Serena Williams (Getty/Richard Shiro)

In a new op-ed for CNN, Serena Williams revealed that she almost died giving birth to her daughter. She said her pregnancy was "pretty easy," but things became more complicated and dire during the childbirth and aftermath.

Williams said she underwent an emergency C-section, because during contractions, her daughter's heart rate dropped significantly. While the surgery was successful, and afterwards, her daughter Olympia was alive and in her arms, "what followed just 24 hours after giving birth were six days of uncertainty," Williams wrote.

After the C-section, she suffered a pulmonary embolism, where one or more arteries in the lungs gets blocked by a blood clot, a condition, Williams says she has a history of dealing with.

"This sparked a slew of health complications that I am lucky to have survived," Williams said. "First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism. I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs. When I finally made it home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed."

Williams explained that even though this experience was complicated and uncertain, her access to top-notch medical professionals and care is the reason she is alive today. She acknowledges that this is privilege many women cannot experience, especially when it comes to low-income and black expectant mothers.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women in the United States are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes," Williams wrote.

The Los Angeles Times reported that even though the U.S. is one of the most developed countries, "women in the U.S. die in much higher numbers than those in most developed nations, where maternal deaths are generally declining." About 700 women die annually from pregnancy or delivery complications, but up to 600,000 pregnant women face life-threatening problems. And, as Williams noted, black women suffer from complications at a disproportionately higher rate than all American women.

Research suggests that this is the result of higher and more persistent rates of poverty and lack of health insurance and care. Additionally, researchers are finding that racial discrimination has wide-reaching effects on expectant black mothers and their babies. The Nation reported, "The research suggests that what happens outside a woman’s body—not just during the nine months of pregnancy—can profoundly affect the biology within."

Certainly, President Donald Trump's threats to healthcare and government assistance problems will only exacerbate an already unequal system.

Williams asks the question: "What if we lived in a world where every mother and newborn could receive affordable health care and thrive in life?" What's clear is that the answer lies not just in access to quality, affordable healthcare, but in reducing the everyday burdens of racial discrimination that so many expectant black mothers are forced to endure.

Rachel Leah

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