Serena Williams is sharing the terrifying moment when she saved her own life after her daughter, Olympia was born.
In a personal essay adapted from Arrival Stories: Women Share Their Experiences of Becoming Mothers, an anthology collected by Amy Schumer and Christy Turlington Burns and shared with Elle, Wiliams spoke on how advocating for herself after giving birth saved her life.
Williams went on to detail how her body before Olympia was ultimately for tennis and since becoming a mother, “the stakes of the game have shifted for me.”
“My body has belonged to tennis for so long. I’ve suffered every injury imaginable, and I know my body,” she writes.
“When I found out I was pregnant two days before the 2017 Australian Open, my body had already switched allegiances. Its purpose, as far as it was concerned, was to grow and nurture this baby that had seemingly materialized, unplanned… Since I’ve had my baby, the stakes of the game have shifted for me. I have 23 Grand Slams to my name, more than any other active player. But winning is now a desire and no longer a need.”
“I have a beautiful daughter at home; I still want the titles, the success, and the esteem, but it’s not my reason for waking up in the morning. There is more to teach her about this game than winning,” she adds.
“I’ve learned to dust myself off after defeat, to stand up for what matters at any cost, to call out for what’s fair — even when it makes me unpopular. Giving birth to my baby, it turned out, was a test for how loud and how often I would have to call out before I was finally heard.”
She also touched on how it wasn’t until after she met her baby that she felt a connection to Olympia.
“I was nervous about meeting my baby. Throughout my pregnancy, I’d never felt a connection with her. While I loved being pregnant, I didn’t have that amazing Oh my God, this is my baby moment, ever. It’s something people don’t usually talk about, because we’re supposed to be in love from the first second. Yes, I was a lioness who would protect her baby at any cost, but I wasn’t gushing over her. I kept waiting to feel like I knew her during pregnancy, but the feeling never came. Some of my mom friends told me they didn’t feel the connection in the womb either, which made me feel better, but still, I longed for it.”
Williams has spoken about her traumatic birth experience before, and in her essay, recalls the busy birthing room from the “meetings going on without me” to her intense need for “calm, affirmative direction.”
Her doctor ended up giving that to her when she makes the decision that Williams will have a C-section, which the athlete says left her “relieved to let go.”
“Being an athlete is so often about controlling your body, wielding its power, but it’s also about knowing when to surrender. I was happy and relieved to let go; the energy in the room totally changed,” she shared. “We went from this intense, seemingly endless process to a clear plan for bringing this baby into the world.”
In fact, it was Williams’ post-birth experience that led her to reclaim her agency in the situation.
“In the U.S., Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts. Many of these deaths are considered by experts to be preventable,” she shares. “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.”
Williams went on to detail how none of the nurses around her were “really listening to what I was saying” until Williams could speak with her doctor and demand a CAT scan of her lungs after multiple surgeries.
“I fought hard, and I ended up getting the CAT scan. I’m so grateful to her,” she writes. “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.”
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