Serena Williams Recalls 'Terrifying' Birth Complications in 'Being Serena' Premiere

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Serena Williams shows off new wedding ring
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Serena Williams' road to motherhood wasn't easy. 

The 36-year-old tennis champ is the subject of HBO's new documentary series, Being Serena, and she's not holding back. Wednesday's season premiere documented Williams' discovery that she was pregnant before winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the 2017 Australian Open -- and her anxiety leading up to the complicated birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia. 

"For so many years, I defined myself in just one way: by success, by championships, by making history. And then, all of the sudden, my life changed forever," Williams said. "It wasn't part of any plan to have this happen, not while I was still on top. But two years ago, I met this man, almost out of nowhere. We fell in love, and then, this unthinkable surprise. I can't believe how much went wrong on my way to meeting her. I almost died."

"But now, she's the reason why this all means even more than it did before. Still, there's no escaping the fear. The fear that I might not come back as strong as I was. The fear that I can't be both the best mother and the best tennis player in the world," she continued. "I guess my only choice is to live and find out." 

The episode documented Williams' pregnancy, starting with her story of how she found out, just before hitting the court in Melbourne, Australia. According to her husband, Alexis Ohanian, the superstar didn't drop a single set during the Australian Open "because she just wanted to get off the court. She was looking out for the baby," while Venus Williams joked that her sister was able to defeat her "because it was two against one." 

With 87 days until her due date, Williams was shown displaying her trophy in her daughter's nursery "because she should know that having her in my body didn't stop me from winning" -- but after that, the athlete was full of anxiety. 

"Becoming a mom, I definitely feel the pressure, and I feel a little anxiety. Am I going to be a good mom, a strict mom, not strict enough? I don’t really know, so that anxiety has turned into nervousness and fear, and I’m really hesitant," she revealed, as cameras showed her getting an ultrasound 46 days before her due date. "It’s the same attitude I have in tennis. I want to make sure I’m the best and I’m good enough."

Williams stressed that as an elite athlete, she's learned to listen to her body. She was shown receiving acupuncture and cupping leading up to her daughter's birth, but it didn't do much to ease the "fear and hesitation" she felt. Williams checked into the hospital on her due date, but 14 hours later, her chest started to hurt and the baby was in distress. 

"The C-section was low on our wish list because of her history with blood clots. Any surgery that Serena has is potentially life-threatening," Ohanian explained. "But we decided, 'Well, OK, for the safety of Mom, for the safety of the baby, we have to proceed with a C-section." 

"One minute, everything's going according to plan, and then I'm being wheeled off for surgery. I was terrified, and it was a whole new kind of fear," Williams revealed. 

Williams welcomed her daughter on Sept. 1, 2017, but was bedridden for six weeks after her C-section. In a powerful essay for CNN, she detailed her birth complications, writing, "First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism. I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs.”

The tennis pro continued by thanking her medical team, but noted that many other women aren't as lucky. See more on Williams in the video below. 

Being Serena airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. 

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