Serena Williams is a mother to four-year-old Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. whom she shares with her husband Alexis Ohanian. Being that Alexis was the tennis champ’s first and only child, Serena excitedly was ready to have the full experience of being pregnant, pains and all. But what she didn’t know was that she would almost lose her life in the process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Black women are three times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner wrote an essay about her alarming childbirth experience for Elle, in which she recalled feeling like she was going to die. However, leading up to the day she was to give birth, Serena enjoyed her pregnancy.
“I was completely in the moment,” she wrote. “I loved the cramps. I loved feeling my body trying to push the baby out. I wasn’t on an epidural; to get through it, I was using my breath and all the techniques I’d learned from birth training (I had taken every birthing class that the hospital had to offer).” Once her contractions started to come more frequently and the baby’s heart rate kept going up and down, the doctors decided to give her a C-section and she gave birth to Olympia.
“When I finally saw her—and I just knew it was going to be a girl, that was one thing I knew about her before we even had it confirmed—I loved her right away,” she wrote. “It wasn’t exactly instantaneous, but it was there, and from that seed, it grew. I couldn’t stop staring at her, my Olympia.”
But after giving birth was when problems arose. In 2010, Serena was diagnosed with blood clots and she feared that they would return. After giving birth, she felt paralyzed and couldn’t get out of the bed because her legs were numb. She began asking for a heparin drip, which helps prevent blood clots but her concerns were ignored.
“No one was really listening to what I was saying. The logic for not starting the blood thinners was that it could cause my C-section wound to bleed, which is true. Still, I felt it was important and kept pressing,” she wrote. But it got worse from there. She began coughing hysterically, which ripped her stitches from her C-section and she had to go back into surgery. Little did she know that one surgery would turn into four surgeries after doctors found blood clots. Before her third surgery, she demanded that the nurses give her a CAT scan and a heparin drip and after some persistence, they finally gave in.
“Finally, the nurse called my doctor, and she listened to me and insisted we check. I fought hard, and I ended up getting the CAT scan. I’m so grateful to her,” she wrote. “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.” After a week of back-to-back surgeries, Serena was finally able to take her daughter home.
Serena’s harrowing experience is just one of many pregnant Black women have faced. Here are some other Black women who had similar stories.
“When I asked my OB-GYN what positions I could be in during labor and delivery, he said that I ‘could hang from the lights’ if that made me happy,” she said. “This being my first birth, the dismissal of my very earnest query into birthing techniques hurt. I felt silly. That should have been a warning.”
She continued, “One doctor climbed onto the side of the bed and pushed his forearm into my belly so hard that I could still feel the pain days later. My baby had been crowned for hours. I could feel his hair. We said 'no’ when they offered forceps. They used a suction, a plunger-type apparatus, and tried four times. The suction aggressively popped off of his head again and again. I knew instinctively that they would hurt my baby irreparably if this circus continued.”
It got even more dangerous when the actress asked to have a C-section. She recalled how a doctor “pushed my baby back inside me in an extremely dangerous procedure called the Zavanelli maneuver. I began to convulse and shake. Then my world went dark.”
Once her son, Edward, was born, he was put in the neonatal intensive care unit, and he couldn’t urinate without assistance “because of his traumatic birth.” via SheKnows.
Allyson Felix opened up about being diagnosed with preeclampsia and having to undergo a C-section when she gave birth to her daughter Camryn. “I’m an athlete. I take great care of my body and was in great health. I had a birthing plan. I was at one of the best hospitals in the country. There was no way anything could go wrong, right? But my eyes were completely opened to the fact that no one is immune from this reality and that Black women face significantly higher risks– ones I wasn’t really aware of and looking for.” via Today.
“I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth to Rumi and Sir. I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section. We spent many weeks in the NICU. My husband was a soldier and such a strong support system for me. I am proud to have been a witness to his strength and evolution as a man, a best friend, and a father. I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later.”
“Today I have a connection to any parent who has been through such an experience. After the C-section, my core felt different. It had been major surgery. Some of your organs are shifted temporarily, and in rare cases, removed temporarily during delivery. I am not sure everyone understands that. I needed time to heal, to recover. During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier. I accepted what my body wanted to be. After six months, I started preparing for Coachella. I became vegan temporarily, gave up coffee, alcohol, and all fruit drinks. But I was patient with myself and enjoyed my fuller curves. My kids and husband did, too.” via Vogue.
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