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After an “easy pregnancy,” Serena Williams expected her delivery would follow suit. That was very far from what happened.

In the February Vogue cover story, the new mother remembered the traumatic health scare that left her fighting for her life after she delivered her now four-month-old daughter, Alexis Olympia

Williams underwent an emergency C-section after her baby’s heart rate dropped dangerously low between contractions. The surgery went well and the tennis pro’s husband, Alexis Ohanian, cut the cord. “That was an amazing feeling and then everything went bad,” Williams said.

The next day, Williams felt short of breath and worried her history of blood clots had something to do with it. Fearing another pulmonary embolism, she asked a nurse for a CT scan and an IV of heparin (a blood thinner). The nurse instead suggested an ultrasound, which revealed nothing. When her medical team finally conceded to a CT scan, sure enough, they found several small blood clots in Williams’s lungs.

“I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!” the new mother said.

To make matters worse, her C-section incision split from the coughing spells caused by her pulmonary embolism. Williams underwent another surgery, which then revealed a large hematoma (a solid swelling of clotted blood in tissue) in her abdomen. After one last surgery, Williams was finally sent home on bedrest. She was unable to get out of bed for six weeks, but her husband was more than eager to step up.

“I was happy to change diapers,” Ohanian remembered, “But on top of everything she was going through, the feeling of not being able to help made it even harder.”

Four months after her delivery, Williams is recovering, but has ultimately decided to withdraw from the Australian Open—the tournament she famously won while eight weeks pregnant.  

Williams also opened up about the harsh realities of motherhood, saying, “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.”

It gets easier. We promise, Serena.

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