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Black Maternal Health Week: Serena Williams pens personal essay about her life-threatening birth experience

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Serena Williams is one of the most celebrated, decorated and beloved tennis stars of all time. But her superstar status as an Olympic medalist doesn’t negate the fact that as a Black woman, she’s at times overlooked and undervalued.

In a personal essay for ELLE magazine, the 40-year-old star shares the harrowing story of what happened after she gave birth to her now 4-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., when Serena developed life-threatening blood clots throughout her body. 

Generally speaking, Williams described her journey as a “wonderful pregnancy,” saying, “I guess I’m one of those women who likes being pregnant.” The fun of it all came to a halt after giving birth, when her requests for medical attention were ignored by nursing staff, she says. 

As someone who’s already at-risk for blood clots, Williams asked of her nurses, “When do I start my heparin drip? Shouldn’t I be on that now?” 

The apparent disregard for her health and safety made her worry. “All I could think was, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying. Oh my God,'” Serena wrote. Her constant coughing, which she was told “might burst her [C-section] stitches”, finally prompted a CT scan, which revealed clots in her lungs and arteries.  After four subsequent emergency surgeries, they were successfully removed. 

Unfortunately, that isn’t the story for many other Black women in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women are.

Thinking of those women who don’t have the same “happy ending” to their birthing story, Williams said, “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.”

Black Maternal Health Week is celebrated every year from April 11-17. 

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