African-American tennis ace Serena Williams’ beautiful February 2018 Vogue magazine cover inspired lots of oohs and aaahs — but the story that accompanied it has caused a stir:
(Serena’s daughter) Olympia was born by emergency C-section after her heart rate dove dangerously low during contractions. The surgery went off without a hitch. (But) 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. 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 and intravenous 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!’”
Women on Twitter rallied together to highlight that Williams’ post-partum experience is not uncommon for women, especially Black women.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blacks have been three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than whites for decades.
Given this known and dangerous racial disparity, doctors and nurses would do well to listen to Black women when they express pain and discomfort. If doctors don’t even listen to a famous multi-millionaire, imagine what the everyday Black mother endures.
Vouge Data Editor Elaine Filadelpho wrote, “It’s appalling & terrifying what Serena Williams went through post-delivery. I tweetstormed the other day about how women’s pain (esp for birth) isn’t taken seriously – and that’s so compounded for black women. listen. to. women.”