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Serena Williams Reveals That Post-Birth Complications Kept Her Bed-Ridden for Six Weeks

Serena Williams had blood clots and hemorrhaging that kept her bed-ridden for six weeks. 

Serena Williams dealt with serious health issues after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., in September, she revealed in a Vogue profile.

Williams and Olympia are featured on the cover of Vogue’s February issue. In the accompanying story, Williams details the series of complications after Olympia was delivered by emergency C-section on Sept. 1.

The next day, while recovering in the hospital, Serena suddenly felt short of breath. Because of her history of blood clots, and because she was off her daily anticoagulant regimen due to the recent surgery, she immediately assumed she was having another pulmonary embolism. (Serena lives in fear of blood clots.) She walked out of the hospital room so her mother wouldn’t worry and told the nearest nurse, between gasps, that she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin (a blood thinner) right away. The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. But Serena insisted, and soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound of her legs. “I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,” she remembers telling the team. The ultrasound revealed nothing, so they sent her for the CT, and sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Minutes later she was on the drip. “I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!”

But this was just the first chapter of a six-day drama. Her fresh C-section wound popped open from the intense coughing spells caused by the pulmonary embolism, and when she returned to surgery, they found that a large hematoma had flooded her abdomen, the result of a medical catch-22 in which the potentially lifesaving blood thinner caused hemorrhaging at the site of her 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. Serena came home a week later only to find that the night nurse had fallen through, and she spent the first six weeks of motherhood unable to get out of bed. “I was happy to change diapers,” Alexis [Ohanian, her husband] says, “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.”

Williams was also treated for a pulmonary embolism in 2011, possibly the result of stepping on a broken glass in a restaurant.

It took until early November before Williams was able to walk the length of block and, though she was hitting shots when Vogue’s Rob Haskell visited with her the week before her Nov. 16 wedding to Ohanian, she couldn’t do more than a few crunches. 

Williams returned to competitive play on Dec. 30 with an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi against 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko and lost 2–6, 6–3, 5–10. She had initially hoped to play in this month’s Australian Open but withdrew from the tournament last week. She now figures to make her return to the tour at Indian Wells in March.