After a textbook pregnancy, things took a turn for the worse during labour as her baby’s heart rate dipped drastically. The emergency surgery that followed was only the beginning of Serena’s very scary postpartum complications.
“Everything went bad”
Turns out that things went very, very awry, and the tennis great battled life-threatening health issues in the days after baby Alexis Olympia’s birth.
In a cover story with Vogue, Serena talked through her c-section, saying the surgery was quick and efficient, with fiancé Alexis cutting the cord and baby Alexis Junior’s wails silenced as soon as she was in her mum’s arms.
“That was an amazing feeling,” Serena says. “And then everything went bad.”
And by bad, she’s really not kidding.
Serena has a history of blood clots, and is usually on blood thinners. The thinners were stopped, due to her surgery, and the day after Alexis’ birth, the new mum began to feel breathless.
After urging her medical team to give her a CT scan, they finally submitted and found clots in her lungs. Treatment began immediately, but the acute coughing the clots were causing led to Serena’s c-section scar popping open.
She was rushed back into surgery where doctors found the blood thinners they’d had to put her back on, to prevent further clots, had caused a haemorrhage at the site of the c-section.
“She returned yet again to the OR to have a filter inserted into a major vein, in order to prevent more clots from dislodging and traveling into her lungs,” Vogue reports.
It was a cascade of life-threatening disasters, but thankfully Serena came out on top.
Serena spent the next six weeks at home recovering, unable to get out of bed, counting her lucky stars she had a healthy baby – but battling to get back on her feet, or care for her newborn.
“I was happy to change diapers,” new dad Alexis remembers, “but on top of everything she was going through, the feeling of not being able to help made it even harder.”
“Consider for a moment that your body is one of the greatest things on this planet, and you’re trapped in it.”
It’s hard to imagine how tough this was for the champion athlete, especially when she’d had such an easy pregnancy and possibly figured she’d nailed the baby-growing thing with ease.
Serena says that as she’s recuperated physically, there have been mental challenges, too.
“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, man, I can’t do this,” she told Vogue. “No one talks about the low moments—the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry.”
“I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’ The emotions are insane,” Serena admits.
Good on you, mum/s
Serena’s mum has moved in with the couple, for now, helping with her granddaughter and giving the new little family pointers on using a firm hand with little people.
“Obedience brings protection; that’s what my mom told me,” Serena says, of her mum’s discipline led approach.
While she’s pulled out of the Australian Open, this is a restorative break, rather than a retreat.
“I’ve been playing tennis since before my memories started,” she says. “At my age, I see the finish line. And when you see the finish line, you don’t slow down. You speed up.”