Serena Williams has written about her pregnancy, difficult childbirth, and motherhood experience in a new personal essay for Elle.

Titled ‘How Serena Williams Saved Her Own Life‘, the tennis champ — who welcomed daughter Olympia with husband Alexis Ohanian in 2017 — wrote in the essay that when she found out she was pregnant two days before the 2017 Australian Open, her body “had already switched allegiances”. “Its purpose… was to grow and nurture this baby that had seemingly materialised, unplanned.”

The 40-year-old, who continued to play for a while during her pregnancy, wrote that after welcoming her baby, the “stakes of the game have shifted” for her. “…winning is now a desire and no longer a need. I have a beautiful daughter at home; I still want the titles, the success, and the esteem, but it’s not my reason for waking up in the morning.”

But, her pregnancy journey was not without its challenges. Williams’ first trimester brought her headaches, and “a weird metallic taste in [her] mouth”. “…but all in all, I had a wonderful pregnancy. I guess I’m one of those women who likes being pregnant; I enjoyed the positive attention.”

The athlete was “obsessed with having the baby in September”. But the doctors “wanted to induce [her] in late August”. “I finally went in on August 31, and they inserted a little pill inside of me to get things going. Contractions started shortly after that, and it was great! I know that’s not what people are supposed to say, but I was enjoying it, the work of labor.”

Interestingly, the 23-time grand slam champion “loved the cramps” and “loved feeling [her] body trying to push the baby out”. “I wasn’t on an epidural; to get through it, I was using my breath and all the techniques I’d learned from birth training.”

But later, as her baby’s heart rate plummeted, the doctors decided to go for C-section. “She made it clear that there wasn’t time for an epidural or more pushing. I loved her confidence; had she given me the choice between more pushing or surgery, I would have been ruined. I’m not good at making decisions.”

The tennis player continued in her essay that while she loved being pregnant, [she] didn’t have that amazing, ‘Oh my God, this is my baby‘ moment, ever”. “I was nervous about meeting my baby. Throughout my pregnancy, I’d never felt a connection with her… Yes, I was a lioness who would protect her baby at any cost, but I wasn’t gushing over her. I kept waiting to feel like I knew her during pregnancy, but the feeling never came.”

“When I finally saw her—and I just knew it was going to be a girl, that was one thing I knew about her before we even had it confirmed—I loved her right away… I couldn’t stop staring at her, my Olympia.”

Post delivery, the recovery process looked painful, for she faced many other health issues. “I began to cough. The nurses warned me that coughing might burst my stitches, but I couldn’t help it… I grabbed a towel, rolled it up, and put it over my incision. I was hacking so hard that my stitches burst. I went into my first surgery after the C-section to get restitched.”

Unfortunately, this was the “first of many surgeries”. “I was coughing because I had an embolism, a clot in one of my arteries. The doctors would also discover a hematoma, a collection of blood outside the blood vessels, in my abdomen, then even more clots that had to be kept from travelling to my lungs,” she wrote.

When she insisted on a CAT scan, the doctors found “a blood clot in my lungs, and they needed to insert a filter into my veins to break up the clot before it reached my heart”.

In total, she had four surgeries while in the hospital. “My personal OBGYN was amazing. She never made me feel dismissed,” Williams wrote, adding: “In the US, Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts. Many of these deaths are considered by experts to be preventable. Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me.”

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