Editor’s Note: At POPSUGAR, we recognize that people of many genders and identities give birth, not just women. For this particular story, we interviewed sources that generally referred to women giving birth.
In 2018, Allyson Felix was pregnant with her first child. Her healthy lifestyle and trouble-free pregnancy so far led her to believe that her birth would go according to plan. But at 32 weeks, the most decorated track and field athlete in US history was diagnosed with “a severe case of preeclampsia.” She underwent an emergency C-section and her daughter Camryn spent her first month in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
According to the Mayo Clinic, preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication that can lead to high blood pressure and organ damage, likely caused by several factors, including problems with placental blood flow. Left untreated, preeclampsia can be deadly for both the baby and the birthing person.
Fortunately, over three years later, mother and daughter are both healthy and thriving. Felix is about to wrap up her final track season at the World Championships, which start this week, and Camryn is a fixture on the sidelines of her mother’s practice sessions and races. But Felix’ birth experience stayed with her. “I didn’t know I was in danger [for pregnancy complications]’ she tells POPSUGAR in an interview in partnership with Pampers’ ‘Raise Care, Deliver Joy’ campaign. “And I felt like I was being pushed into a situation that I wasn’t prepared for.”
The experience opened Felix’s eyes to the health crisis affecting black mothers in the United States, and one that isn’t unique to them. Serena Williams had a life-threatening birth experience with blood clots that was prolonged when medical staff wouldn’t listen to her request for a CT scan. “Delivering my baby, it turns out, was a test of how loud and how many times I had to shout before finally being heard,” Williams wrote in an April essay in Elle.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), blacks are three times more likely to die in childbirth from pregnancy-related causes than whites, although it accounts for about 60 percent of cases Everyone Pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Additional CDC research finds that the stark racial differences persist over time and across age groups and education levels.
“I thought that was my job: to share my story and help other women understand some things they might be looking for.”
The differences are caused by “variations in the quality of health care, underlying chronic medical conditions, structural racism, and implicit biases,” says the CDC. Terri Major-Kincade, MD, a dual-certified neonatologist, pediatrician and spokesperson for Pampers, puts it even further: “Most of these issues are related to the quality of care that we receive, and if I say the Quality of care, I don’t mean listening [the patient].” She adds, “I see it pretty much every day . . . You might have a black woman, a white woman, two women asking the same question: “I’m worried that something is wrong. Can you check this? Should I really go home?’ [For] a person, we can arrange other tests. The other is labeled angry, difficult. That often happens to women of color. Major-Kincade believes that physicians individually try to do their job as best they can, “but we’re in systems that are riddled with prejudice,” she tells POPSUGAR.
Part of Felix’s work now is to encourage other black pregnant women to speak up for themselves in the doctor’s office. “The most important thing is not to be intimidated,” she says, while acknowledging how difficult that can be in a doctor’s office. “Just [don’t] let it go, whether you’re speaking up or someone else is in place. I know it myself, it really was my partner, my family, who had to stand up for me because I couldn’t. And just being prepared for that is really great.” Having these conversations with a partner or trusted friend or family member before labor begins, and ideally early in the pregnancy, helps ensure that the pregnant person’s needs are a priority even then , if you are unable to stand up for yourself.
The burden of changing a biased system also rests on the healthcare organization, says Dr. Major Kincade. But in the meantime, it’s important to be a self-advocate in the doctor’s office. “I encourage people when they meet your provider, [to] say, “Hey, I’m a black woman in the United States. I’ve seen Allyson’s story. I am very worried that I will be a statistic. What are you doing to make sure I’m treated fairly?’” she says. “And if we find that we’re standing in front of someone who’s offended because we’re using our voice, then we know, ‘Okay, fine, I have to find another provider.'”
Felix felt overwhelmed by her difficult birth experience and she was compelled to share it to raise awareness. “When I went through it, I didn’t realize I was in danger,” she says. “I thought that was my job: to share my story and help other women understand some things they might be looking for.” If something doesn’t feel right, “don’t let anyone dismiss you,” she insists. Utilize other resources, like doulas and midwives, adds Dr. Added Major Kincade. And if you’re trying to conceive, “don’t shy away from the experience just because you’re at risk,” says Felix. “Know that you can experience the full joy of pregnancy and parenthood.”
Being a mom to Camryn is “the most special and best job I’ve ever had,” she says now. “I just enjoy watching her grow… I’m having the best time.”
https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/allyson-felix-advocates-for-black-maternal-health-48885428 Allyson Felix Advocates For Black Maternal Health