Serena Williams Shared New Details About Her Near-Death Labor Experience

Williams recounted what she went through and highlighted the racial disparity in the maternal mortality rate in the U.S.

Serena Williams
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Serena Williams recently opened up about her nearly-fatal complications after giving birth to her now 4-year-old daughter Olympia. In a recent essay for Elle, the athlete shared new details about the experience, including moments when she felt dismissed by a nurse who was caring for her.

Williams started her essay by noting that she actually liked pregnancy and even enjoyed "the work of labor," an experience that many people describe as painful and strenuous. "I was completely in the moment," she wrote. "I loved the cramps. I loved feeling my body trying to push the baby out" The tennis star revealed that she wasn't on an epidural and relied on breathing techniques she learned while taking birth training classes. (

Things took a turn the morning after Williams was induced. "By the next morning, the contractions were coming harder and faster," shared Williams in the essay. "With each one, my baby's heart plummeted. I was scared." After about 20 minutes of the baby's heart rate dropping and coming back up, Williams' doctor decided to give her a C-section, a decision Williams shared she was happy with despite wanting to have the baby vaginally. "I loved her confidence; had she given me the choice between more pushing or surgery, I would have been ruined," admits Williams. "I'm not good at making decisions. In that moment, what I needed most was that calm, affirmative direction." (

While Williams notes in her essay that her ob-gyn "never made [her] feel dismissed," that wasn't the case with everyone she interacted with. After a successful delivery, Williams asked a nurse when she should start taking blood thinners, since the athlete knew that she had a history of blood clots, she wrote. "The response was, 'Well, we don't really know if that's what you need to be on right now,'" wrote Williams. "No one was really listening to what I was saying." Despite concerns that the blood thinners could cause her C-section wound to bleed, Williams insisted. "Still, I felt it was important and kept pressing," she shared in the essay. "All the while, I was in excruciating pain. I couldn't move at all — not my legs, not my back, nothing."

Williams began to cough, describing the experience as "racking, full-body ordeals" that sent sharp pains through her wound. Eventually, her wound burst, sending her into her second surgery. "Little did I realize that this would be the first of many surgeries," she shared. "I wasn't coughing for nothing; 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."

After her second surgery to close her C-section wound, Williams wrote that she woke up and felt like she was going to pass out. "They were trying to talk to me, and all I could think was, 'I'm dying, I'm dying. Oh my God.' I really thought I would faint," she said. Williams urged her nurse to give her a CAT scan of her lungs and a heparin drip (blood thinner), to which the nurse dismissively responded, "I think all this medicine is making you talk crazy," wrote Williams. (

After persisting, Williams finally got her CAT scan, which showed she had a blood clot in her lungs, calling for a third surgery. "They needed to insert a filter into my veins to break up the clot before it reached my heart," wrote Williams. Later, doctors discovered another blood clot, sending Williams into her fourth and final surgery.

After detailing her experience, Williams argued that her story illustrates why it's crucial that Black women are heard by their health care providers when they're giving birth. In the United States, Black women are up to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women — a disparity that increases with age while many of the deaths are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "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," wrote Williams.

Seven days and four back-to-back surgeries later, Williams successfully recovered and returned home to enjoy the time with her daughter. "Despite my body's wreckage — and the fact that I couldn't get in much breastfeeding — connecting with Olympia at long last was amazing," she wrote. "It was both the reward and the validation for all I'd been through."

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