Allyson Felix shared the story of the two most terrifying days of her life, revealing she had a severe case of preeclampsia that led to her emergency C-section childbirth at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.
Felix testified Thursday at the House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee hearing on overcoming racial disparities and social determinants in the maternal mortality crisis.
Her full testimony in text is here and via video is here.
“My doctors told me that not only was my baby at risk, but I was at risk, too,” said Felix, the most decorated female Olympic track and field athlete with nine medals and six golds. “All I cared about in that moment was my daughter surviving and didn’t fully understand my life was threatened, too. Mothers don’t die from childbirth, right? Not in 2019, not professional athletes, not at one of the best hospitals in the country, and certainly not to women who have a birthing plan and a birthing suite lined up. I thought maternal health was solely about fitness, resources and care. If that was true, then why was this happening to me? I was doing everything right. My husband arrived and our doctor told us I would need to be on bedrest for the rest of my pregnancy, which meant staying in the hospital so I could be closely monitored, but not to worry because I was in good hands. The thought of staying in the bed for the next eight weeks was awful, but it would be OK because my baby would be okay. Just as we started settling into our new home, our doctor rushed back into the room and said things were actually getting worse. I had a severe case of preeclampsia, and if the doctors didn’t act fast, this could prove fatal. I called my family and asked them to fly in. I asked my doctor if he could wait until my family was here, he said that he would try, but no promises. Ten hours later, I was being taken in for an emergency C-section at 32 weeks. I kissed my husband goodbye not knowing what would happen next.”
Felix’s daughter, Camryn, was born — 3 pounds, 7 ounces — and spent her first month in the NICU. Camryn is healthy, growing and expected to accompany her mom to her first track meets later this season.
“I learned that my story was not so uncommon, there were others like me — just like me,” Felix said. “They faced death like me too, and as I started to talk to more of those women and hear about their experiences, I learned that black women are nearly four times more likely to die from childbirth than white mothers are in the United States and that we suffer severe complications twice as often.”
She urged the committee to provide women of color more support during their pregnancies, noting “racial bias within our healthcare system that is troubling and will be difficult to tackle.”
“Racial bias is difficult, because it’s not as easy to spot as outright racism, but examples can be just as devastating,” Felix said. “To me there is no more important issue than what we’re talking about today.”
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