Shortly after Serena Williams gave birth to daughter Olympia in September, she sat in her hospital bed doing her makeup so she could take pictures with her beautiful newborn.
But something was wrong. As she stood up, Williams — who has a history of blood clots — couldn’t breathe and asked the nurse for an oxygen mask. She was still struggling to draw a deep breath when the situation worsened. The stitches from her C-section broke.
Doctors ran a battery of tests on the tennis superstar, but they were unable to find the culprit. That’s when Williams spoke up. She was convinced she was suffering from a pulmonary embolism — she was hospitalized for the complication in 2011 — and told doctors to perform a CT scan with dye.
Things turned even more bleak when her suspicions were confirmed.
“I was terrified that she might die,” says her now-husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. “But I was grateful that she had the wherewithal to speak up because she knew her body better than any of us.”
These frightening moments all unfold on “Being Serena,” a revealing five-part docuseries that debuts Wednesday on HBO. The special was supposed to chronicle her journey from pregnancy through delivery and her eventual and triumphant return to the tennis court. But in that moment, the sport seemed like an afterthought.
The 36-year-old was wheeled back into surgery to repair the stitches and doctors also installed mesh to keep any blood clots from traveling to her heart and lungs. After five long days, Ohanian finally drove Williams and their new baby home.
The series — which begins while she is heavily pregnant and will follow her through May as she plays her first match at the French Open — is so intimate and raw, it almost feels like you’re peering into the window of her house.
The cameras follow a makeup-free Williams everywhere, from her local gym to her Florida home. There, she and Ohanian set up their daughter’s room, decorating it with the Australian Open trophy Williams won while pregnant.
And they’re in the delivery room as Olympia, now 7 months, arrives into the world, screaming, with her arms spread wide.
“This feels unprecedented. Very few female athletes have a child and come back to compete, much less at her age and her level,” Mike Antinoro, an executive producer for the series, tells The Post.
Still, producers stumbled into a lot more real-life drama than they had expected with “Being Serena.”
“[The pulmonary embolism] was definitely not something we would have wanted to plan for,” says Antinoro, a top production executive at a division of IMG, which represents Williams. “We went from thinking, ‘It could be a long time before she gets on the court’ to ‘Will she play tennis anymore?’”
Throughout it all, Williams and her family remained willing subjects.
“Her family could have shut it down,” Antinoro says. “But we were there. And the fact that she let us tell that story humanizes her even more.”
Luckily, the health scare doesn’t hijack the documentary’s many humorous and tender moments. And, amazingly, she returns to the sport just six months after welcoming baby Olympia.
At one point, Ohanian mentions that someone suggested little Olympia might win Wimbledon in 15 or 20 years. Williams cracks, “Not if I’m still on tour.”
And in a particularly poignant scene, her colorful and sometimes controversial father, Richard Williams, who was so instrumental in her development as a tennis player, meets his granddaughter.
‘I’m an athlete. He’s a business guy. I’m black. He’s white. We’re total opposites. I don’t know why we’re such a good fit.’
As he walks into the hospital room with a giant smile, he asks to take a picture of the pair, telling his daughter, “Thank you. You are magic.”
Viewers will also be taken with Ohanaian — a tall, handsome, self-described nerd who first met Williams in 2015 near the pool at the hotel Rome Cavalieri.
He appears love struck whenever he’s near Williams, whom he married in a star-studded New Orleans ceremony in November, two months after the birth of Olympia.
“There are few people who have reached her heights. Who have that genuine passion. Who have that genuine heart. And It’s probably a big part of why I love her as much as I do,” he says.
For her part, Williams says she never expected to get married or a have a baby. “Alexis and I are completely opposite,” she says. “I’m an athlete. He’s a business guy. I’m black. He’s white. We’re total opposites. I don’t know why we’re such a good fit. I think we just complement each other. I think we understand hard work in different ways.”
Last week, their affection was on display during a New York City press event for her new fashion line, Serena, which drops May 30.
Ohanian politely interrupted Williams as she was giving an interview to The Post about the collection.
“This is beautiful. I want to say, hey, I’m so proud of you. This is so cool. I’m going to take a few photos that I am going to save for us,” he told her before planting a kiss on her lips.
Antinoro says Ohanian was central to the HBO project: “He was very much on board and very protective of her and the family. He was great.”
Beyond the sweeping themes of love and family, the series also reveals some fascinating tidbits.
In one early scene in which a pregnant Williams discusses her birth plan with her doula, we learn the American tennis legend speaks fluent French.
“These little subtleties come out, and you think you know her because you’ve been watching her on the court all these years,” says Antinoro. “But you really get to meet her in a lot of different ways.”
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