The elite athlete and new mom, who covers the February issue of Vogue, underwent several surgeries in the days following her daughter's birth.


Back on September 1, Serena Williams gave birth to her first child, daughter Alexis Olympia. Now, in the cover story of Vogue's February issue, the tennis champ is opening up for the first time about the unnerving complications that marked her labor and delivery. She shared that when her heart rate plummeted to frightenly low levels during contractions, she ended up needing an emergency cesarean section and for six days after Alexis' birth, she faced a pulmonary embolism that required several operations.

The new mom explained that having her little girl peacefully cozy into her chest just seconds after birth was "an amazing feeling. And then everything went bad." She noted that the issues started the day following Alexis' birth, beginning with shortness of breath, which was an indication of a pulmonary embolism -- which Serena had experienced in the past.

Because she knew what was going on, Serena asked a nurse for a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin. According to Vogue, 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,” Serena shared. The ultrasound showed nothing, so then she went for the CT -- and the team then noticed several small blood clots in her lungs, ultimately leading to her being put on the heparin drip. “I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!” she said.

No kidding! It's so deeply frustrating when health care providers don't listen to patients who know their own bodies.

And even after the elite athlete was put on the proper treatment for her blood clots, she continued to experience health issues. She was coughing, as a result of the embolism, and that caused her C-section wound to pop open. So, she was back on the operating table, and that's when doctors found a large hematoma in her abdomen that had been caused by hemorrhaging at the site of her C-section. So, she required another surgery to have a filter inserted into a major vein, in order to prevent more clots from dislodging and traveling into her lungs.

After all of those intense, worrisome challenges, Serena returned home to find out that the baby nurse had fallen through, and she said she spent the first six weeks unable to get out of bed. “I was happy to change diapers,” Alexis told Vogue. “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.”

Of course, Serena's been tested on the court time and again, but she explained to Vogue that motherhood is of course a whole different ball game.“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, 'Man, I can’t do this,'” Serena admitted. “It’s that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes. I guess that’s just who I am. 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.”

Ultimately, though, she feels buoyed by strength. Vogue writer Rob Haskell notes, "Strength is much more than a mere physical detail for Serena Williams; it is a guiding principle. She had it in mind last summer as she considered what to call her baby, Googling names that derive from words for strong in a mix of languages before settling on something Greek. But with Olympia home and healthy and the wedding behind her, it’s time to shift focus to her day job. She knows that she’s hurtling toward immortality, and she doesn’t take it lightly."

She also doesn't take the idea of having another L.O. lightly. Serena and Alexis do want to expand their family, but they're in "no rush." And it sounds like she's excited to get back to the court. “I think having a baby might help," she told Vogue. "When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born. Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”