While her main claim to fame will always be her performance on the court, Serena Williams recently stepped into the spotlight as a mother — and as an advocate for maternal healthcare. In early 2018, Williams shared her birth story with the world in an op-ed for CNN. Despite her status as a highly paid athlete who can afford the highest-quality healthcare, Williams’ birthing experience didn’t go as smoothly as expected.
After an emergency cesarean section, Williams developed a pulmonary embolism, which she self-identified due to her history with blood clots. At first a nurse questioned Williams’ state of mind due to her pain medications. However, a CT revealed she had correctly identified the issue. Williams continued to cough to the point that she re-opened her wound and ended up undergoing another surgery where a hematoma was discovered. All these complications led to six weeks in bed.
Amid her own health issues, Williams learned that “black women in the United States are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sharing her story, then, was Williams’ attempt to advocate for mothers all around the world. She shed light on the fact that there are many women — of all races and backgrounds — who cannot afford or simply do not receive proper medical care, leading to high rates of newborns and mothers dying during and after childbirth.
Following a predictably triumphant return to the court, Williams invested in Mahmee, a startup focused on maternal and infant health, in July. In a statement, Williams explained her reason for backing the company: “Given the bleak data surrounding maternal death and injury rates, I believe that it is absolutely critical right now to invest in solutions that help protect the lives of moms and babies. Mahmee’s data-driven approach is the right solution to one of the most significant problems in the system: that of fragmented care.”