Ahead of Black Maternal Health Week, Serena Williams details the series of complications and dismissals that almost ended her life.“I know my body” Serena begins in the essay, after admitting that her body belonged to tennis for as long as she can remember experiencing every injury imaginable including a busted knee, an Achilles heel, and back spasms. But when she found out she was pregnant she knew that not only her body would change but also her mindset. “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.” A near-perfect pregnancy turned into long labor which lead to a c-section and ultimately a complicated recovery.
“I began to cough. The nurses warned me that coughing might burst my stitches, but I couldn’t help it. The coughs became racking, full-body ordeals. Every time I coughed, sharp pains shot through my wound.” I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing because I just couldn’t get enough air. I grabbed a towel, rolled it up, and put it over my incision. Sure enough, I was hacking so hard that my stitches burst. I went into my first surgery after the C-section to get restitched. I was coughing because I had an embolism, a clot in one of my arteries. 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. That’s what the medical report says, anyway. To me, it was just a fog of surgeries, one after another.”
Williams “fought hard” to be heard, and a doctor would soon confirm her fears were legitimate, as she had a blood clot in her lungs that needed to be quickly dissolved before it reached her heart.
“I told her, I need to have a CAT scan of my lungs bilaterally, and then I need to be on my heparin drip.” She said, “I think all this medicine is making you talk crazy.” I said, “No, I’m telling you what I need: I need the scan immediately. And I need it to be done with dye.” I guess I said the name of the dye wrong, and she told me I just needed to rest. But I persisted: “I’m telling you, this is what I need.” 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. 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. 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. 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.”
Read her essay in its entirety HERE