On Saturday, Serena Williams lost in the championship round of the women’s single’s final at Wimbledon—her first major final since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, in September via an emergency C-section. But it’s the emotional interview she gave afterward that’s getting a lot of attention.
In the interview, Serena said that the tournament had been “amazing” for her, while tearing up. “I was really happy to get this far. It’s obviously disappointing but I can’t be disappointed. I have so much to look forward to. I’m literally just getting started, so I look forward to it,” she said. While holding back tears, she added, “To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. I tried.”
Her husband, Alexis Ohanian, also shared a message on Instagram afterward, praising his wife for her feat and spelling out just how hard of a road she’s had to recovery after a difficult childbirth. (As SELF reported previously, Williams experienced a life-threatening pulmonary embolism after giving birth.)
“Days after our baby girl was born, I kissed my wife goodbye before surgery and neither of us knew if she would be coming back,” Ohanian wrote next to a photo of Williams playing tennis. “We just wanted her to survive—10 months later, she’s in the #Wimbledon final.” Earlier in the tournament, Ohanian also tweeted that “walking to the mailbox was a painful, exhausting challenge for this woman just 9 months ago. This is already nothing short of remarkable.”
First, Williams had a C-section, and recovery from that isn’t necessarily easy.
Although every patient’s experience is different, a C-section is a major surgery and “the pain afterward can be horrible,” Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells SELF.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may end up staying in the hospital for a few days to recover after a C-section. But as soon as the anesthesia wears off, you’ll be encouraged drink a lot of water and get up and walk as much as you can to help prevent blood clots from forming. You’ll also be permitted to start breastfeeding as soon as you feel ready to do so, and your nurse or lactation consultant will help you figure out comfortable positions. Your doctor will also discuss pain relief options with you (luckily, most painkillers are fine to take while breastfeeding).
Once at home, you will likely be instructed to take it easy and stick to your pain relief plan in the first few weeks and avoid sex for the first six weeks to prevent infection in the area. As you heal, you’ll have to be on the lookout for any signs of infection and to adjust your routine as needed, like not driving until you can comfortably turn around to check your blind spots, for instance, which may take up to two weeks. The incision will likely take at least six weeks (but possibly up to three months) to fully heal.
But Williams’ recovery process was a little bit more complicated considering she also developed blood clots in her legs and her lungs after the C-section, as SELF wrote previously.
For clots in the legs, doctors usually will put a patient on injectable or IV blood thinners (like heparin), and then move them to blood thinners in a pill form (like warfarin or dabigatran), the Mayo Clinic says.
But if you’ve just had surgery like a C-section, you can’t take high doses of blood thinners because they’ll cause more bleeding, Shephal Doshi, M.D., director of cardiac electrophysiology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF. That’s when a filter (like the one that Williams received) is used. It’s inserted into the vena cava (a large vein in your abdomen) to prevent clots that break loose from making their way up to your heart, the Mayo Clinic says.
Recovery from the filter surgery itself isn’t too bad, Dr. Doshi says. But generally people who need a filter are in a pretty serious state to begin with. If you “just” had blood clots in your legs after a C-section, Dr. Doshi explains, your leg will generally be swollen and uncomfortable to walk on for anywhere from a few days to weeks. But if you also had a pulmonary embolism, like Williams did, you’ll also likely be short of breath and get winded really easily for up to several months, he adds.
“To have someone go through all of this and within a year be able to go through such a high level of athletics is very impressive,” Dr. Doshi says. “The average person wouldn’t be able to do these kinds of things so quickly.”
Remember, though: Williams recovery is extraordinary—but she is an elite athlete, and that doesn’t mean you need to push yourself as hard. Take things at your own pace, do what you’re comfortable with, and check in with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your recovery progress.