Last month, we learned that tennis star Serena Williams had a harrowing birth experience: Her baby's heart rate dropped dramatically during contractions and Williams needed an emergency Cesarean section. The next day, Williams developed a potentially life-threatening blood clot in the lungs known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), which she identified herself, and the clot made her cough so hard that her C-section wound re-opened.
When surgeons went to close her wound, they found a swelling of clotted blood in her abdomen from the blood thinners used to treat the PE. She needed yet another surgery to prevent more clots from traveling to her lungs. When she was finally discharged from the hospital, she had to spend the next six weeks in bed.
In a new op-ed for CNN, Williams writes "I almost died after giving birth to my daughter, Olympia" and says that if it weren't for the care of the doctors and nurses at her hospital, she could have become a statistic; one of the black women who die during pregnancy and childbirth at rates three times higher than white women, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that's in the United States.
If Williams, one of the world's highest-paid athletes with access to the best doctors and healthcare, can come close to dying from childbirth, just imagine the hurdles that women of lesser means are facing.
Williams, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, points out that when women in the poorest countries "have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them," adding "If they don't want to give birth at home, they have to travel great distances at the height of pregnancy. Before they even bring a new life into this world, the cards are already stacked against them."
Williams lists the solutions that experts know exist, like like access to midwives, doctors, nurses, working health facilities, clean water, basic drugs, and good nutrition. "What if we lived in a world where every mother and newborn could receive affordable health care and thrive in life?" she asks. "That world is possible. And we must dare to dream it for every black woman, for every woman in Malawi, and for every mother out there."
WIlliams urges readers to demand that governments, businesses, and health care providers do more to help save women and infants at risk and donate to groups like UNICEF that are working to train more doctors and midwives and improve health facilities worldwide.
"Every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. And you can help make this a reality," she writes. "In doing so, you become part of this narrative—making sure that one day, who you are or where you are from does not decide whether your baby gets to live or to die."
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