Serena Williams, in more ways than one, is the epitome of Black female excellence. With her insurmountable tennis record, ability to overcome obstacles, new marriage and recent delivery to her baby Alexis Olympia, the champion has reminded us all what it means to be successful.
However, a recent article in Vogue revealed that no matter how successful and powerful Black women become, they are still faced with doubt and disbelief, especially in the world of medicine.
After giving birth to Alexis in September, Williams noticed alarming sensations in her body. As a professional athlete familiar with the complexities of her body and someone who has a history of blood clots, the new mother immediately knew she was in need of blood thinners.
When Williams brought up her shortness of breath to her doctors and requestd blood thinners, she was not believed by the medical professionals and faced life threatening complications. Williams detailed the scary ordeal in a recent issue of Vogue.
Transcript from Vogue writer Rob Haskell:
"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. (Serena lives in fear of blood clots.) 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 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!'"
Serena Williams, who is undoubtedly extremely familiar with her body's needs, was doubted by the people who should put her well-being above all. The fact that a wealthy, powerful Black woman with her status was not believed by her doctors caused many to raise questions about how Black women are treated (or not treated) in the world of medicine.
Statistically speaking, Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the Center for Disease Control. The factors which cause this alarming gap include differences in socioeconomic status, access to health care, education and insurance coverage.
A less talked about reason why the disparity exists is the implicit bias medical professionals may have toward Black women and how to best handle their treatment.
If Williams' ordeal has taught Black women anything, it's to make sure to remain strong in your beliefs and knowledge when it comes to your own body.
As one woman said on Twitter, "Stand your ground, because you just might save your own life."