Allyson Felix is known as one of the great track and field athletes. But in addition to being a seven-time Olympic gold medalist, she’s also a mother to her 3-year-old daughter named Camryn, who came into the world under scary circumstances.
Felix experienced a severe case of preeclampsia during pregnancy, which is a pregnancy complication that can lead to high blood pressure, elevated levels of protein in your urine, and temporary loss of vision. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.
Since inequalities in Black maternal health hit close to home for Felix, the Olympian has partnered with Pampers to help drive systemic change for Black mothers.
“Going through that experience really opened my eyes and it just made me passionate about wanting to raise awareness and just do more work in that space,” she tells ESSENCE.
Pampers has committed $250k to tackling systemic issues in Black Maternal health, and a $100,000 partnership with the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC) is part of the initiative. NBEC is an organization that uses research and strategy, policy and advocacy, as well as strategic communications, to improve the quality of care for Black mothers and reduce Black maternal mortality rates.
Dr. Terri Major-Kincade, Double Board-Certified Neonatologist and Pediatrician, speaker, and author, who specializes in the care of premature infants and their families, says this initiative is helping empower Black women to speak up and advocate for themselves.
“What’s been really exciting about this partnership with Pampers is creating resources and guides to empower Black women to be able to directly say to their providers, ‘Hey, I’m, I’m still having headaches. I’m still having shortness of breath. Do you think I have preeclampsia?’” she says. “And so just really empowering Black women to use their voices and say, ‘I want to be seen.’”
Like many Black women, Felix didn’t know she was at risk of preeclampsia, so her diagnosis came as a shock.
“I think just even knowing that I was at risk, would’ve really changed some things for me,” she says.
She continues, “You know, I had the perfect birth plan. I had everything in my mind, like this is how it’s gonna go and being a professional athlete, I just never imagined finding myself in the situation. I mean, I had a really great pregnancy up until that point. I felt really strong. I was running, I was lifting weights. I was in the gym. And so when I found myself going for a regular appointment and then being diagnosed with preeclampsia, it was just so scary.”
Felix says she didn’t experience many symptoms of preeclampsia aside from swollen feet. For this reason, she thinks it’s vital to pay attention to small things as they could be tied to something bigger. Other symptoms to look out for are pain in the ribs, nausea, shortness of breath, and severe headaches.
If you’d like to support the movement, you can share the #RaiseCareDeliverJoy video during the month of June. When you do, Pampers will donate one additional dollar to the National Birth Equity Collaborative to help support Black moms in getting the care they and their families deserve (up to $10,000) for every share.
Some things they’ll be using the funds raised for include bias training with the March of Dimes, investing over $1 million in educational resources to enable equitable care for parents before, during and after pregnancy, and partnering with Queen Collective and director Haimy Assefa to produce a documentary on the realities of giving birth as a Black person in America.
On that note, we asked Felix what she would change about how the healthcare system treats Black moms, and her response was that she’s like us to be listened to.
“I think so often, our pain is not believed for whatever reason. You might bring up something and it might get dismissed,” Felix says. “I think it can be so intimidating going into a doctor’s office where that doctor is the expert and it’s hard to be persistent if you’re being dismissed over and over. So, I would say that just listening and hearing Black women is so, so important.”