After A Near-Fatal Scare, Serena Williams Calls For Better Health Care For All Moms

“Together, we can make this change. Together we can be the change.”

Serena Williams is often lauded for her fierce strength and athletic ability. That's why it took many by surprise when she revealed in a Vogue cover story that she nearly died after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., last year. The tennis star writes about that experience in an empowering essay for CNN that advocates for mothers who might find themselves in the same predicament but without access to quality health care.

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Williams first expresses how the birth of her daughter was "the most amazing experience" that she's ever felt. Soon after, though, she details the harrowing process of the next six days. A pulmonary embolism, where arteries in the lungs become blocked by blood clots, led to violent coughing and ultimately caused the reopening of her C-section wound and other complications. The health scares, of course, took their toll, with Williams writing, "When I finally made it home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed."

Through it all, Williams realized the privilege she's afforded, writing, "I am so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren't for their professional care, I wouldn't be here today." She then pivots from her own story to act as a voice for women who are not so fortunate, reminding us of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention statistic that Black women are "three times more likely to die from pregnancy or other childbirth-related causes" and that the circumstances are even more dire for women outside of the United States. 

Perhaps one of the essays most resonating moments is when she relays the story of a Malawian woman named Mary:

Here's the reality of one woman, as documented by UNICEF. In Malawi, Mary James walked hours to reach the closest health center while she was in labor. Exhausted, she made it to the facility and gave birth, only to lose her child later that day. She picked a name for him, but he never opened his eyes. He never cried. She kept the name to herself. Sadly, Mary's nameless son was not the only one. That same day, approximately 2,600 babies died on their first day of life.

"Every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth," the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador reminds. "And you can help make this a reality." She then lists how everyone can get involved in some way, including putting pressure on business owners, the government and health care providers to do more and making donations to organizations such as UNICEF that aid mothers and children in need.

"In doing so," she closes, "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."

The essay ends with a powerful statement of hope and a call to action: "Together we can make this change. Together we can be the change."

You can read Serena Williams' essay in full on CNN's website.

Cover image: Jimmie48 Photography / Shutterstock.com

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