In an emotional essay for Elle, Serena Williams is opening up about her entire pregnancy and birth experience. One point she discusses is extremely common for pregnant people but rarely talked about—not bonding with your baby right away.
There's certainly a stigma associated with this feeling (and many others) pregnant people have while carrying their babies, and yet it's incredibly normal. This is why it's so important to listen to women like Serena Williams, who has a huge platform to share her experiences.
Williams says she loved being pregnant. "I settled into a whole new way of being. I was relaxed not playing: my life was just sitting at home, and it was wonderful," she writes.
Despite having a wonderful pregnancy and enjoying the experience, she admits she didn't feel that instantaneous attachment to her daughter, Olympia, while she was in utero.
"I was nervous about meeting my baby," she explains. "Throughout my pregnancy, I’d never felt a connection with her. While I loved being pregnant, I didn’t have that amazing Oh my God, this is my baby moment, ever. It’s something people don’t usually talk about, because we’re supposed to be in love from the first second."
It's so true. And the thing is, you can love being pregnant and you can even love your baby and still not feel that intense connection you think you're supposed to feel. Some people do, but many don't. And that's okay. It doesn't make you any less of a good mother. For some pregnant people, that feeling takes time. Sometimes it doesn't even arrive until the baby does—or even a while after that.
"Yes, I was a lioness who would protect her baby at any cost, but I wasn’t gushing over her," she says. "I kept waiting to feel like I knew her during pregnancy, but the feeling never came. Some of my mom friends told me they didn’t feel the connection in the womb either, which made me feel better, but still, I longed for it."
Like every pregnancy is different, every pregnancy experience is also different. I had prenatal depression while pregnant with my youngest daughter, and while I knew I loved her with my whole heart and soul, I also didn't feel the connection I felt while pregnant with my oldest. I hadn't even delivered her yet and I was already wracked with mom guilt over the two vastly different pregnancy experiences! Never once did I consider the fact that it was beyond my control, or the fact that I was much, much sicker during my second pregnancy could have easily contributed to my lack of connection to her. I wish I hadn't been so hard on myself back then, but hindsight is 20/20 I suppose.
"When I finally saw her—and I just knew it was going to be a girl, that was one thing I knew about her before we even had it confirmed—I loved her right away," she says. "It wasn’t exactly instantaneous, but it was there, and from that seed, it grew. I couldn’t stop staring at her, my Olympia."
Williams also writes about the birth trauma she suffered after Olympia's delivery. After a pleasant and uncomplicated pregnancy, she was hardly expecting for her life to be in danger while giving birth—especially because her labor went well.
Serena Williams was diagnosed with a blood clot disorder in 2010 after discovering she had blood clots in her lungs that could have killed her had they not been caught in time. During her labor and delivery, she says she asked the nurses about being on a heparin drip (heparin is an anticoagulant that is used to decrease the clotting ability of the blood and help prevent harmful clots from forming in blood vessels). They didn't have her on heparin in case it made her C-section wound bleed more than it should. Williams knew that was true, but she also knew she needed to be on it.
"No one was really listening to what I was saying," she says.
She was in excruciating pain and developed a serious cough—she coughed so hard her stitches burst and she had to have surgery to repair the wound. All the while, she kept trying to advocate for herself and her life—yet no one was honoring her wishes. One nurse, she says, even called her "crazy" for requesting a CAT scan and the heparin drip again. After the CAT scan revealed a life-threatening embolism in her lungs and she underwent multiple surgeries, she was finally reunited with Olympia and her husband, Alexis Ohanian and able to recover at home.
Related: This is motherhood: Jamie Jones wants BIPOC moms to get the birth support they need
"In the U.S., Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts," she writes. "Many of these deaths are considered by experts to be preventable. Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me; I know those statistics would be different if the medical establishment listened to every Black woman’s experience."
While advocating for yourself and your health is something every woman should feel comfortable doing, Williams' experience shouldn't have resulted in her essentially saving her own life because she wasn't being heard.
Hopefully other mamas hear her story—about her pregnancy and her traumatic delivery—and feel validated. We're grateful Serena Williams was generous enough to share her story, in her own words.