Photos: Instagram @olympiaohanian
Her new Vogue cover with her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian is beyond beautiful — showing the strong mom with her sweet, healthy baby girl, but Serena Williams’ birth experience and recovery was anything but routine, the magazine’s pages reveal. Despite the fact that Williams is arguably the best tennis player in the world and was in amazing physical shape while pregnant, she proved that giving birth can be a scary and deadly business.
She also proved that as a new mom (or as a patient in the hospital for ANY reason), it’s CRITICAL to advocate for your health. Despite being a seriously healthy athlete, Williams has a history of blood clots and is prescribed blood thinners, which she takes every day to avoid forming them. Clots are a serious health risk, and can damage your organs or even kill you, so they are nothing to mess around with. However, blood thinners and surgery are not a good mix, so after Williams had to undergo an emergency C-section when contractions caused baby Alexis’ heart rate to plummet, Williams had to stop taking the blood thinners in order for her surgery incision heal.
The very next day after Alexis’ birth, Williams began feeling short of breath. Because she is educated about her condition, Williams knew this could be a sign of deadly blood clots in her lungs. Williams told Vogue she flagged down a nurse and told her she needed an IV with the medication heparin, a blood thinner, and a CT scan to check for clots.
And then the medical professionals at the hospital almost failed Serena Williams. They actually might have if she hadn’t refused to let them fail her, and fought for herself. A doctor arrived and performed an ultrasound on her lungs, not the CT scan that Williams urged them to give her. The ultrasound showed nothing, but the determined mom would not stop advocating, telling Vogue she said “I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip.” The medical team acquiesced. When the CT scan DID show several clots in her lungs, they started the heparin to break them up.
And then, things continued to go south for the tennis star.
A bad coughing fit caused by the blood clots in her lungs caused her c-section wound to re-open. Then, she had to have surgery to fix the clots in her lungs. During the surgery, her medical team found a large hematoma in her abdomen that was caused by the blood thinners she had resumed to prevent further clotting. A FINAL operation had a surgeon inserting a filter into one of her major veins to prevent new clots from forming.
ALL of this after just giving birth and wanting to bond with and care for your new baby. I cannot imagine!! The medical stress took a toll on Williams, and she says she was in bed for six weeks and relied on her husband Alexis Ohanian to take care of baby Alexis.
The emotional was intense as well. “No one talks about the low moments,” she told Vogue. “(The) incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry … Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’ The emotions are insane.”
Happily, four months after Alexis’ September birth, mom and baby are both doing great. Serena has gone back to training for the upcoming tennis season, and she and Ohanian have started an adorable Instagram for baby Alexis which is full of cuteness, as you can see:
As a mom who also had a scary first birth experience with c-section complications and who ALSO had to advocate for treatment (learned the hard way, sadly), I REALLY appreciate Williams speaking up. Mamas, TRUST your instinct and don’t be afraid to challenge medical staff when you feel you aren’t being given the care you need. YOU are the expert on YOUR health.