Culture

Serena Williams Opens Up about Her Postpartum Nightmare

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Unfortunately, most feminists are too wrapped up in the sex life of comedy stars and the ingénue reporters who pine after them to bother paying attention to Serena Williams’s harrowing postpartum experience published in Vogue.

The day after her emergency C-section, Williams began gasping for air. Realizing this might be the result of having been off her anticoagulant medication for a pre-existing condition, Williams alerted medical staff. They initially ignored her, but her persistence in requesting a CT scan paid off. The star had, indeed, developed a series of blood clots on her lungs that would have killed her if left untreated.

The tennis star’s brush with death mere hours after giving birth sent a shockwave, albeit brief, through the Internet. Over at The Federalist Bethany Mandel opines:

If Serena Williams hadn’t been famous, and especially if she were in an inner-city or rural hospital, she may never have returned home with her daughter. … The childbirth complications Williams experienced, while rare and incredibly serious, should serve as a wakeup call to public health officials and women, in that her wealth and fame almost certainly proved life-saving.

A careful read of Williams’ story proves otherwise. “Wealth and fame” didn’t save this woman for the same reason postpartum deaths can’t be chalked off to issues of race or economics. Wisdom saved Serena Williams’s life. Not the wisdom of doctors, nurses or trained medical professionals who didn’t take her initial complaints seriously; the wisdom of Serena Williams herself:

[Williams] 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!’

As the daughter of a nurse I’ve witnessed far too many people receive medical opinions with blind faith. As a young woman I’ve  been treated as if I’m ignorant of my own medical issues by more than one doctor. When I asked to consult with an anesthesiologist during labor, he was shocked to learn that I wasn’t asking him how an epidural worked; I was interviewing him to make sure he knew what he was doing. “So, I’ll let you think about all that for a while, and if you decide you can let us know,” he finished his routine spiel, ready to walk out the door. “No,” I replied, “I’m getting this epidural now. I needed to know you’d be the right one to do it.” And he did a great job …after he picked his jaw up off the floor.

Ignorance isn’t bliss. In a 2016 report on postpartum mortality rates among American minorities, what is commonly referred to as “racism” in maternity care is more clearly explained:

“Assumptions are made about you when you walk through the door, based on how you walk, how you dress, whether you sound educated or not,” says Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder and executive director of the Brooklyn-based Ancient Song Doula Services. “That affects the level of support you get.”

The real question feminists should be asking is what kind of education women are receiving regarding pregnancy, birth and postpartum care. If the answer is slim to none in most middle-class school districts, I hate to think of what doesn’t exist in poor urban and rural areas. We are failing to educate our girls and raising ignorant women reliant on a system that treats them as such.

And it is killing them.