Posted on Elle in an article format a few days ago by professional tennis player Serena Williams, she opens up about her traumatic birthing story and racism within the medical system. According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related incident than white women, which they confirm is related to “variation in quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias.” Black maternal health week is April 11-17th to raise awareness for this issue, and Serena Williams opens up about her experience.
How Serena Williams saved her own life
In the article, Williams explains that she knows her body well due to suffering from multiple tennis-related injuries. When she was pregnant, she says she had a relatively easy pregnancy, despite a few headaches. Unfortunately, this was not the case when giving birth. She says as she labored and would have contractions, the baby’s heart rate would go down. It was then announced she would have to have a C-section, which went well.
#ThisMama tries to spend as much time with @OlympiaOhanian as possible. She keeps me going especially during tournaments. Although the popcorn machine has her attention here, I know she's watching and learning to see how I persevere. #ThisMama keeps going, how do you? pic.twitter.com/DlN6IjnOTy
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) August 26, 2019
She then says that she was supposed to be given a heparin drip, as she once had potentially fatal blood clots that happened to be caught in time. When she asked about it, however, the nurse said they were not sure if she needed the drip. The blood thinner could cause her C-section to bleed, but when Williams began coughing, describing them as “racking, full-body ordeals.” She was then unable to breathe, and the coughing reopened her stitches. After she was restitched, she thought all was well and taken care of. But, she later discovered the reason behind those coughs was a clot in her arteries, also known as an embolism. She writes that “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.”
I watched the segment on her HBO show; frightening and horrifying. If she had not persisted, it’s likely she wouldn’t have survived.
— Bob Franklin (@BobFran68995191) April 7, 2022
Williams said that she asked for a CAT scan of her lungs and to be given her heparin drip, which her nurse denied and said that the medicine was making her “talk crazy.” She continued to fight for it, and this was how she was eventually treated for the blood clots. And although the story was a happy ending, Williams’ message was clear: why did the nurse not believe her the first time?
Williams began to trend on Twitter when hearing about Williams’ traumatic incident, sharing the same question and message Williams brought to light. Many began resharing the article and discussing the issue at hand, especially since the horrific statistic is not something discussed often. Child birth can be something that is traumatic for women but having to beg someone to take care of you when they do not believe you is an added stress that someone should not have to go through.
This here from Serena Williams. I am so grateful for my OB/GYN & my primary doctor. People ask why I only had one child. It was because my pregnancy was so traumatic. I was sick all throughout & had a high risk pregnancy & was on bedrest my last month. It was a bad experience. https://t.co/e7f4IrqQgF pic.twitter.com/3IxNbQnrUm
— Lynn V (@lynnv378) April 7, 2022
In Williams’ article, she writes that “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.” Although it is horrible that Black women have to advocate and share their traumatic stories of childbirth to raise awareness, many are hopeful that the stories will continue to be told and will make a difference within the medical institution.