Serena Williams had a life-threatening experience after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia. In a recent interview with the BBC, she said "doctors aren't listening," as she discussed racial disparities in deaths related to childbirth and complications in pregnancy for black women.
In an opinion piece published for CNN, Williams shared a detailed account of her near-death experience after her daughter was born by an emergency C-section. She shared that what followed the successful surgery were "six days of uncertainty."
Williams explained that she has a medical history of pulmonary embolism, a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by blood clots. Because of this, she is well aware of her symptoms.
"So, when I fell short of breath, I didn't wait a second to alert the nurses," she wrote.
But as detailed in her Vogue cover story, the nurses didn't listen. Instead, doctors performed an ultrasound of her legs, which revealed nothing, Williams told Vogue. She told doctors: "I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip," Vogue reported.
The next six days for Williams were "a slew of health complications," she wrote for CNN.
"This sparked a slew of health complications that I am lucky to have survived," she wrote. "First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism. I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs. When I finally made it home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed."
Reflecting on her scary experience with the BBC, Williams discussed treatment in healthcare and disparity in deaths related to childbirth and complications in pregnancy for black women.
"Doctors aren't listening to us, just to be quite frank," she said. "We're dying, three times more likely. Knowing that going in, there are some doctors not caring as much for us, is heartbreaking."
According to the CDC, the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than for white women. A 2016 report in Texas revealed that black women accounted for 11.4 percent of total births in 2011 and 2012 but were 28.8 percent of pregnancy-related deaths, The LA Times reported. Furthermore, studies on implicit racial bias reveal that black Americans are systemically and disproportionately undertreated for pain.
Williams also stated she was fortunate to have good health care during her life-threatening experience.
"To imagine all the other women who do go through that, without the same health care … is again, it's upsetting," she said.