Sadly, her story is not unique, and it's a problem that is far-too-often overlooked.
It's all over the news - new mother and elite athlete Serena Williams has shared the trauma that accompanied the birth of her baby girl. Sadly, her story is not unique, and it's a problem that is far-too-often overlooked.


Serena Williams recently shared in a telling interview with Vogue Magazine that the postpartum days after giving birth to her daughter were traumatic, and if not for her self-advocacy, she could have easily died.

Williams shared that after she gave birth, in an emergency Cesarean section, no less, she developed a pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a blood clot in the lung. If large enough, it's life-threatening, and particularly scary because there are often no symptoms.

The thing is, Williams knew what a PE was because in 2011, she had one and was off the courts for nearly a year. At the time, she said she was thankful and lucky to be alive. She was familiar with what a PE was and she knew what protocol and management for one would be. And that's what saved her life.

Related: Experts Concerned About Postpartum Mortality Rates In Black Women

Even though she had just given birth in an emergency situation. Even though she'd been treated for pulmonary embolism just a few years ago. Even though she was affluent and educated and had what would be considered top-of-the-line care? She still had to fight for treatment.

She had identified the symptoms she experienced postpartum as those she'd suffered from her PE years before. She told her clinicians what was happening, but a nurse dismissed her concerns as confusion due to pain medicine. No one considered that maternal mortality rates for African-American women are alarming, particularly in this country, and despite the fact that she was an educated, affluent woman who had excellent health care, her very valid (and life-threatening concerns!) were dismissed until she continued to push and receive the care she needed.

Why is this important? Why is it important that Williams shares her story? What can we learn about the near miss-diagnosis and what it could have meant if she didn't advocate for herself?

It's important because it shows that not even wealth, education and affluence make a difference when it comes to clinicians taking concerns of patients seriously. More studies show that black women have significantly higher maternal mortality rates, and as such, you'd think clinicians would be extra cautious knowing risk rates. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case. Additionally, it highlights that often providers overlook the issues that young, healthy new mothers have, and in doing so, see maternal deaths happen due to the missing of symptoms.

And mostly, it shows how important it is that we know rates. We know risks. We know what to look for and what to be concerned about. No, we're not doctors, and in the age of Dr. Google and 'degrees' from WebMD, we need to be careful with presenting just anything to our clinicians with concern.

But there also needs to be a switch in the curve of patient/clinician relationship. No longer are the days where peer-reviewed research and statistics are privy only to those who went to medical school. We now live in a world where we can share birth stories with other mothers all over the world, and can learn and grow from each one. We don't have to be afraid of every possibility, but we are now able to be empowered in knowing them.

And in the US, where the maternal death rate among first world countries is ranked the worst, it's especially important for women of color to be empowered and listened to, particularly because they are three to four times as likely to die during or after pregnancy as a white woman is.

Related: Texas Lawmakers Failed To Protect Women From High Maternal Mortality Rates

Doctors needs to start listening to their patients, and mothers need to start sharing their stories. Not everyone has the platform to share a birth story (with a positive outcome) that Williams does, but we can share stories in our own communities on a smaller scale, we can share our stories online, and we can be part of the conversation. When we look out for our all our sisters in all areas - healthcare, education, opportunity - we look out for generations of women to come.

Empower your sisters to seek and demand the best health care, despite race, socioeconomic status or anything else that would prevent them from being heard. The time to end these horrific maternal mortality rates is now, and it starts by sharing our stories.