In an interview with Vogue published on Wednesday, tennis legend Serena Williams spoke about her post-birth experience, highlighting a dangerous issue that black women who seek health care face. Within just a day of delivering her baby daughter, Williams said her condition become life-threatening because of blood clots — and her medical team, as she recounted, reacted in a troubling way.
Williams told Vogue that her pregnancy was initially easy, but in the following weeks, it became increasingly dangerous. She told the publication that her baby daughter, Olympia, was born in an emergency C-section due to her own low heartbeat. When Olympia was finally in Williams' arms, she said, "That was an amazing feeling. And then everything went bad."
Shortly after Olympia was born, Williams was still in the hospital recovering after her pregnancy. During that time, she told Vogue that she had difficulty breathing and feared that it was due to her history of blood clots. According to Williams, she went to a nurse nearby to ask for a CT scan and an IV heparin, a blood-thinning agent for blood clot patients.
Instead, Williams said she got an ultrasound for her legs. Williams told Vogue that she demanded the medical professionals to listen to her. "I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip," she said. Eventually, Williams told the magazine, a CT scan confirmed her worst fear: There were blood clots coagulating in her lungs.
The Vogue interview revealed a much more troubling post-pregnancy for Williams. Prior to the much-anticipated conversation with the magazine, Williams had mentioned the birth of her baby girl in positive and uplifting terms in September. In a video of her little one, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Williams said:
So, we're leaving the hospital after six days, we had a lot of complications but look who we got. We got a baby girl.
Williams' story of post-birth complications elicited outcry from observers on social media. Some people noticed that the tennis icon's haunting experience corroborated a ProPublica investigation on how medical professionals often ignore the plight of pregnant African American women in the United States.
According to the investigation carried out by ProPublica, black women are 243 percent more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy-related complications. And it's frequently linked back to the reported devaluation and dehumanization of black women, regardless of their own social ranking, income, and cultural status. If a powerful tennis celebrity like Williams can be easily exposed to this problem, one observer said that it must be worse for working class black women.
In addition to the ProPublica report, other studies have revealed the same dark trend. A 2000 study, Alarming Racial Differences In Maternal Mortality, revealed similar grim findings on black women's high maternal mortality rates.
In 2016, Joia Crear Perry, president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, spoke the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to shed light on the state of black mothers in the United States. Perry called it an "international crisis" and noted that "the United States is the only developed country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise."
Such medical negligence, as detailed in the ProPublica report, affects black American women across the board — including powerful women like Williams. The far-reaching effects of such a harrowing problem point to a distressing system, according to experts. As top medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Raegan McDonald-Mosley told ProPublica:
It tells you that you can't educate your way out of this problem. You can't health-care-access your way out of this problem. There's something inherently wrong with the system that's not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.