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Serena Williams opens up her scary birth and postpartum complications

Today's Parent logo Today's Parent 2018-01-10 Jessica Spera

Serena Williams and her baby, Alexis Jr.: Photo: Mario Testino via Vogue.com © Used with permission of / © Rogers Media Inc. 2018. Photo: Mario Testino via Vogue.com

Tennis champ, Serena Williams, and her new husband, Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, welcomed their baby girl, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., on September 1 of last year.

She and Olympia (Serena prefers to call her little girl by her middle name, while Alexis calls her Junior) are on the February cover of Vogue, and in her candid interview, the new mom opened up about her marriage, pregnancy and the intense after-birth experience. The interview starts off at Serena’s home as she discusses her tennis career and her fears about being a great mother.

Although she had what seemed like a flawless pregnancy, she experienced a lot of scary complications for almost two months postpartum.

It all started after Serena’s emergency C-section—Olympia’s heart rate plummeted quite low during Serena’s contractions. After the baby arrived, all seemed to be going well—Alexis even cut the umbilical cord and their baby girl was laid on her mother’s chest. “That was an amazing feeling,” Serena recalls. “And then everything went bad.”

Serena Williams and husband Alexis Ohanian © Used with permission of / © Rogers Media Inc. 2018. Serena Williams and husband Alexis Ohanian 8 reasons why Serena Williams is going to slay motherhood While in recovery the next day, she started to feel short of breath. Due to a previous fall, Serena is prone to blood clots and having experienced them before, she knew exactly what she needed. She left her room so she wouldn’t worry her mother (that’s strength right there!) and told the nearest nurse what was happening—though they didn’t quite believe her. Sure enough, she had small blood clots in her lungs. “I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!” she said.

But it didn’t end there. This was, unfortunately, the start of a six-day ordeal.

Her fresh C-section wound popped open from the intense coughing spells caused by the pulmonary embolism, and when she returned to surgery, they found a large hematoma in her abdomen—the result of the blood thinners she was given to slow the blood clot.

Serena was sent home a week after her surgery, but spent her first six weeks of motherhood bedridden.

“I was happy to change diapers,” Alexis said, “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.”

Poor Serena!

“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, Man, I can’t do this. 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.”

We feel you on that, Serena—it’s totally normal to have emotions that are ALL over the place.

Serena’s mom, Oracene Price, offered her daughter some helpful mom advice.

“Obedience brings protection; that’s what my mom told me…That’s straight from the Bible, and she wrote it down on paper and gave it to me. I was always obedient: Whatever my parents told me to do, I did. There was no discussion. Maybe I had a little rebellious phase in my 20s, when I tried liquor for the first time. Maybe having a baby on the tennis tour is the most rebellious thing I could ever do.”

We think that last part is pretty bad*ss if you ask us. Her obedience, strength and self-discipline is why Serena is the successful, powerful athlete and mama she is today. Her mom reinforces this by saying, “Serena works herself too hard. She’s always been that way, ever since she was a little girl. She’s going to need to learn to slow down. She’s responsible for another life now. You should see how they travel with that baby. They pack everything! It’s a bit extravagant for me. But once she’s back on the tour, she’ll find a balance.”

Speaking of her tour, Serena’s friends in the tennis world—like Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova—have been very supportive through her absence, and have reached out with helpful advice and gifts for Baby Olympia. “I really believe that we have to build each other up and build our tour up,” Serena said. “The women in Billie Jean King’s day supported each other even though they competed fiercely. We’ve got to do that. That’s kind of the mark I want to leave. Play each other hard, but keep growing the sport.”

This is the kind of “girl power” attitude she wishes to teach her daughter.

“I would hate [Olympia] to have to deal with comparisons or expectations. It’s so much work, and I’ve given up so much. I don’t regret it, but… I’d like her to have a normal life. I didn’t have that.” Alexis agrees, saying “She’s obviously going to have a very special life, but there are enough cautionary tales about kids who grow up in the spotlight. How do you make your kid live in reality when your own reality is so…unreal? This kid is going to have more Instagram followers than me in about three weeks.”

Funny he should say that because Alexis Jr. already has an Instagram following of over 207K!

The word “strength” doesn’t even begin to cover what Serena Williams exudes, and we have no doubt that her daughter will inherit this quality from her mother. After all, that’s where the idea for her Greek name came from. Serena googled names that were derived from the word strong before settling on Olympia.

We’re so relieved to hear that Serena is recovering well and that adorable baby Olympia is happy and healthy. Despite everything that’s happened, Serena seems to have found her drive to push for that “undisputed greatest of all time” title in Grand Slam history. She currently holds 23.

“I absolutely want more Grand Slams…It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25…I think sometimes women limit themselves. I’m not sure why we think that way, but I know that we’re sometimes taught to not dream as big as men, not to believe we can be a president or a CEO, when in the same household, a male child is told he can be anything he wants. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”

Read more:

20 celebrity moms reveal what it was really like to give birth

All the sweet celebrity babies born in 2017

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