Serena Williams Almost Died After Having Her Baby, and Her Story Is a Wake up Call
Serena Williams is known for being one of the strongest female athletes around. Not only is she an incredibly talented athlete, but she is physically and mentally strong. It takes an enormous amount of strength to do what she has done, rising to the top, not succumbing to the pressure of fame, and perhaps most difficult of all, surviving playing a sport at the professional level against your sister.
But seriously. Serena Williams is one strong woman and when the world found out that the talented tennis player was going to be a mom (ok, so she let her big news slip accidentally, but still), we had no doubts that she would portray that same inner strength through motherhood.
And while she, of course, rocked pregnancy and is definitely rocking motherhood, Serena Williams got extremely real about the fact that even she, one of the best athletes in the world, literally almost lost her life to motherhood.
In an interview with Vogue magazine, Williams detailed her terrifying ordeal and highlighted the importance of mothers not only knowing their own bodies but fighting for their lives. The interview described how Williams wound up having an emergency C-section after her daughter Olympia's heart rate dropped very low during labor. (Side note: how cool is the name Olympia? Love it.)
The surgery went fine and Olympia was born healthy and happy to finally be on the outside with her mom. But after the surgery, Williams faced real danger. She woke up the next day, after her C-section and realized that she was short of breath. Because Williams has a history of blood clots and because she had just had major surgery, she immediately (and rightly so) feared the risk of a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in your lungs that can cause immediate death.
Because Serena's mother was in the room with her, Serena decided to take a walk to the nurses' station instead of calling the nurse into her room so she didn't alarm her own mother. And what did the nurse do when Serena, one of the most famous women in the world, an athlete who most decidedly is fully in tune with her own body and its strengths and limitations, came to express her concern? Did she drop everything and rush to help the new mom?
She accused Serena of being disoriented and confused from her pain medicine and at first, dismissed her concerns. By that time, Serena said in the interview, that she was literally gasping for air and demanding a CT with contrast (a test that can identify blood clots) as well as an IV medicine called heparin that can thin the blood and prevent more clots from forming. (With someone at risk for blood clots, a current blood clot can cause a “traffic jam” situation, as more “sticky” blood hits the clot and piles up even more, putting the person even more at risk.)
Still, the nurse did not listen to her. Serena continued to insist and when an order was finally called, it wasn't for the CT and heparin that Serena first asked for, but for a Doppler ultrasound of her legs–which can't identify blood clots in the lungs.
Are you furious yet?
By the time the medical team finally did what Serena had originally asked for, the CT did confirm that the tennis star had several blood clots in her lungs. Untreated, they most definitely would have killed her.
Serena's story is a disturbing one. But it's one that, both as a nurse and as a mom, I'm grateful she shared. The #1 lesson I learned from the wonderful nurses I worked with in the OB department was to always, always listen to moms. If a mom tells you something doesn't feel right, you listen. Moms know their bodies and they know their children's bodies and more medical professionals need to hear stories like this to realize just how important it is to listen when a mom speaks up.
If you are a new mom or an expecting mom, definitely remember this story. Not to be afraid of what pregnancy and motherhood can bring, but to never be afraid to fight for yourself and your health.