Serena Williams shares frightening birth story

Serena Williams on the court last year.
Serena Williams on the court last year.  Photo: AARON FAVILA

Serena Williams has not been shy in sharing her parenting journey, often taking to social media to share the trials and tribulations that come with pregnancy and new motherhood.

But this is the first time the tennis superstar has spoken about the birth of daughter Alexis Olympia and the traumatic events that followed.  

Williams, and her baby, appear on the cover of the February issue of Vogue and the accompanying story sharing details of the frightening  aftermath of the baby's birth in September is anything but serene.

Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia on the cover of Vogue.
Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia on the cover of Vogue. Photo: Vogue

Williams, 36, told writer Rob Haskell that there were some harrowing moments because she experienced a pulmonary embolism, a recurrence of an issue that left her "on my death bed" in 2011.

That time, she did not appreciate the gravity of the matter. This time, after having an emergency C-section when her heart rate dropped during contractions, she knew that something was very, very wrong when she suddenly felt short of breath. Williams was off the anticoagulant she takes daily because of the surgery and she "immediately assumed" she was having another embolism.

"She walked out of the hospital room so her mother wouldn't worry and told the nearest nurse, between gasps, that she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin (a blood thinner) right away," Haskell writes.

"The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. But Serena insisted, and soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound of her legs. 'I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,' she remembers telling the team. The ultrasound revealed nothing, so they sent her for the CT, and sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Minutes later she was on the drip. 'I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!'"

If only that were the end of it. The incision from her C-section popped open because of coughing fits from the embolism.

During surgery, doctors "found that a large hematoma had flooded her abdomen, the result of a medical Catch-22 in which the potentially lifesaving blood thinner caused hemorrhaging at the site of her C-section. She returned yet again to the operating room to have a filter inserted into a major vein, to prevent more clots from dislodging and travelling into her lungs," Haskell writes.

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"Serena came home a week later only to find that the night nurse had fallen through, and she spent the first six weeks of motherhood unable to get out of bed."

Williams has, of course, recovered and settled into the routine of new motherhood while also marrying Ohanian in a lavish wedding in New Orleans. Tennis has not been far from her mind, either. She had targeted the Australian Open, which she won last year while only a few weeks pregnant, but that did not pan out after an exhibition match loss to Jelena Ostapenko last week.

"After competing in Abu Dhabi I realised that although I am super close, I'm not where I personally want to be," she said in a statement on Snapchat.

"My coach and team always said, 'Only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way'. I can compete - but I don't want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so I will need a little more time. With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I've decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.

"The memory of last year's Open is one that I will carry with me, and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again. I appreciate the support and understanding of my fans and everyone at the Australian Open."

- The Washington Post.