Serena Williams’ powerful Vogue interview on love & parenting highlights the dangers facing Black mothers
The positive pieces: Serena Williams sounds purposeful, peaceful and in love with life in the February 2018 Vogue cover article. The world’s most dynamic athlete chronicled visions that became her reality. Last September, she and husband Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder, became the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl named Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
Yet, amidst the wonders Williams detailed to writer Rob Haskell of life as a stellar athlete, new wife and mother, the article veers ominously when she discussed the level of self-advocacy she had to perform in communication with medical experts after delivering her daughter.
Despite a smooth pregnancy, Olympia’s drastically dropped heart rate necessitated an emergency C-section. Afterwards, Williams’ breath became short. When combined with Williams’ history of blood clots, that feeling led her to fear a pulmonary embolism, but she says experts did not seem to act as swiftly as they could have. While medical professionals should hear, trust and adequately respond to patient concerns, the narrative Williams detailed—as a celebrity super-athlete—should be a warning to those without her resources, especially Black women.
Apparently, Williams cautiously walked over to alert nurses of her dangerous condition. She did so discreetly to avoid scaring her own mother. “I was like a Doppler? … I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,” she explained. Williams’ sense was spot on. A CT scan revealed that blood clots were settling in her lungs. “I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!”
While Williams’ knowledge of her body and unwillingness to passively rely on medical experts are commendable, they also underscore the reality that medical experts should defer more to patients of color – especially Black women. According to the CDC, Black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers. More than polite conversation and generalized manners, medical experts can fundamentally affirm our humanity by trusting our instincts about the bodies we inhabit.
All told, the article is beautifully written and captures a driven, competitive, smart, business-savvy Black woman who claims what she wants and goes after it.