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Olympic runner Allyson Felix shares how her difficult pregnancy with daughter Camryn opened her eyes to healthcare inequalities for mothers of color  

By Alyssa Johnson
February 26, 2021 01:50 PM
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Allyson Felix
Credit: Allyson Felix

Being one of the best Olympic runners in the world requires intense training, strength and staying in top physical shape. So when six-time gold medalist Allyson Felix found herself dealing with birth complications during her first pregnancy, she couldn't believe it.

Felix, 35, says if she had more knowledge about the high maternal mortality rate of Black women in America, she could have been more prepared for unexpected scares she had during her first pregnancy with daughter Camryn.

"I just never really felt like it would happen to me," Felix tells PEOPLE. "I think had I had more of an education and had a better understanding, I felt like I could have been more proactive where I could have asked more questions. I think a lot of women feel intimidated in a doctor's office, and then so many other issues."

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Allyson Felix
Credit: Allyson Felix

This is why Felix is now partnering with March of Dimes and RB's Enfa portfolio of brands "Better Starts for All" program. The organization aims to give support and education to expecting mothers throughout the country.

"This is an amazing program that provides access to a variety of prenatal care interventions to communities," says Felix. "I just think that's so amazing because it's astonishing how many women live without access to maternal care, or a limited access. To be able to offer these services to the community — and these are services that are in-person and virtual as well — I believe that it's really going to make a difference."

Some of the services in the program include mobile health clinics which have the ability to travel and serve communities that are often underfunded, online group sessions that aim to give support to first-time moms, and community coalitions in Ohio and Washington, D.C.

Allyson Felix family
Credit: Allyson Felix/Instagram

"Motherhood is already filled with so many unknowns and add a pandemic to that and it's just really scary," she says. "I always encourage women, and especially women of color, to speak up for themselves and not to be intimidated to ask all the questions. Now to be able to take advantage of this program and these services, I think that is going to aid in the process of education in some of the unknowns that someone might face when going into a doctor's office."

Felix is no stranger to advocating for mothers, especially Black mothers who face more disparities in healthcare, as she testified in front of the House of Representatives in 2019 about the crisis of the Black maternal mortality rate.

After suffering from preeclampsia, Felix had to undergo an emergency c-section at only 32 weeks pregnant. The doctors told her she and her daughter would have died had she not been able to deliver that exact day.

Allyson Felix
Credit: Allyson Felix

"My daughter was born prematurely; her life started in the NICU," Felix says. "I'm so grateful for how everything turned out for her, for the care that we got, but it was that experience that really opened my eyes to this whole other world of what women are going through and the risk associated to that, especially for Black women. Once my eyes were open to that, I definitely wanted to get involved and see what I could do."

As the four-time Olympian prepares for the upcoming Tokyo Games, she shares that watching her daughter grow the past few years has been the most rewarding part of her newfound role as a mother.

"There's so many things that I just love, like watching my daughter grow, " she says. "I think it's amazing, everything I go through and experience. I can't wait to tell her about overcoming, just the journey and the process. Seeing her personality come out and seeing the changes and the growth every day, it just brings so much joy to my life."