I met Allyson Felix on a cloudy day in June in a studio in West Hollywood. She was there to shoot the photos that accompanied this profile; I stopped a few hours earlier than planned to find a place for our interview, take a look at the photos, and meet everyone. But I was really there to get a sense of how our conversation would go.
Felix, the most awarded track and field athlete in the US history wall at a Nike store, is a private individual. If you're a Felix fan, you probably know now that she has a daughter, especially after her explosive statement on the lack of support from sponsored athletes who decide to become mothers. But you probably did not know she was pregnant until it was over. That was intended; During her pregnancy, Felix was selective about the photos she shared on social media, uploading only old photos that she had shown before her performance, or those strategically placed in a sweatshirt or jumpsuit with bumps. I knew that Felix keeps her private life private, so I wanted to get a sense of how open she would be with me before we sat down to our interview, which by nature would have to become quite personal.
I was in Los Angeles to prepare for a conversation with Felix because I wanted to talk to her about how she wanted to draw attention to the black maternal mortality crisis in our country because of her shocking birth experience (1
The airy, light-flooded studio hummed with activity Everyone on the set was a black woman, from the photographer to the producer to Allyson, it seemed like a good start, but when I introduced myself, Felix was polite and friendly, but not overly exuberant I spoke, responded with a few courtesies, and then looked back in the mirror while a stylist smoothed the wrinkles and adjusted her outfit ls she wanted to concentrate. It looked like she was looking at her wild face. When she was done, she stepped to the seam, looked directly into the camera, and expertly played the role of the model.
That Allyson Felix 33, all with the intensity of a near-world-class athlete makes sense, considering that it's her main job since she became a pro in 2003. Felix was born in Los Angeles and has spent most of her life in athletics – long enough to have participated in four Olympic Games, and hopefully, if this year and next, everything will be fine, five in 2020. She was a top athlete in high school and won five singles titles at the California Interscholastic Federation Athletics Championships. For the 2002-2003 season, she was also named National Girl Track & Field Athlete of the Year by Gatorade. She was so good at college that she refused her NCAA admission at the University of Southern California and became a sponsored Adidas athlete (Adidas has also taken her college tuition). She appeared in Athens in 2004 at her first Olympic Games at the age of 18, winning a silver medal at 200 meters.
In short, Felix has spent years focusing on one thing with the laser – or more precisely, on two things: the 200- and 400-meter races – without missteps. Not even when she injured her ankle in a sports accident a few months before the US Olympics tests in 2016 (she still managed to make the team) or when she was pushed by a Brazilian runner and the baton in the women's qualifying runs lost 4×100-meter relay at the same Olympics (Team USA was allowed to repeat, which ultimately led to the gain of gold). Or as she seemed like a Husskatze to win the gold at the 400 same Olympics but was defeated by a wildly unconventional dive of the Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas at the finish. In the meantime, she kept her composure, remaining pleasant and exceeding expectations: 6 Olympic gold medals, 3 silver medals and 16 World Cup medals. She has never taken a break. Until shortly after spring 2018, when she found out she was pregnant.
For someone who closely follows Felix's career, the first indication that something unusual happened was June 2018. That month, she appeared in two smaller races in Europe that she did not normally attend , However, 2018 was a year without a World Cup, two years before the Olympics. Maybe you did not think anything of it. Then she ran at the first race in Poland on 8 June, a surprisingly slow time. Her 51 second time was only about two seconds slower than her personal best and good enough for second place, but people still wondered what was going on. No one knew that she was pregnant during the eighth week of pregnancy.
Felix kept her entire pregnancy secret from the public, but at the beginning of her first trimester, her training team, including her trainer and colleagues, knew nothing about it. While training for these races, Felix trained exactly as she normally would. "In this first trimester, I was just exhausted, just exhausted," Felix tells me. "But still doing the same job. So I just tried to do that. I felt like I only trained and slept.
A week after the race in Poland came a second disappointing performance, this time in France. Afterwards, Felix and her coach, now aware of her pregnancy, focused on "shutting me off," as she puts it. Your workouts have become less intense. It was something they had planned, even if she had not been pregnant. "Because I never really rested," she explains.
The bulletin boards speculated why Felix had two disappointing races – She was never so good, she never really recovered from that ankle injury, 32 years old – but by this time Felix was amused who was no longer exhausted, and hopefully he did not care about the gossip. "I felt really great – I kept training, I was on the track, I was in the gym," says Felix. Although she did not train for a specific race for the first time in her career, she worked hard on what she called fitness maintaining. "I knew I would return," she says. "So I wanted to be in a good place."
It is important to note that Felix & # 39; s pregnancy was a textbook, according to her report. Sure, she was fortunate not to have experienced any of the morning sicknesses that often plague people in her first trimester (the term, as most pregnant people have previously confirmed, is a cruel misnomer, as there may be morning sickness and nausea) often) at any time of the day), but the rest of her pregnancy was what you would call typical. "I had no problems," she says, which sounds like a threatening premonition of what's to come. Which it is. Not that you knew it, not until it was all over, maybe not until you saw the heavily edited video message from Camryn Grace's birth on November 28, which was posted on Instagram almost a month later .
What Felix said on the same day that the birth announcement, almost a month after her intensive care unit resident's stay, included the following: During a routine 32-week visit, Felix mentioned to her doctor that she had swelling in her feet had noticed. She was busy with her to-do list (as she writes about this experience in her ESPNW essay should she be at a photo shoot later that day), but she did not think too much about it. Until her doctor sent her to the hospital and was told to have a baby that day. It turned out that Allyson Felix, the healthy, physically healthy Olympic athlete who had the opportunity to reserve a private maternity suite in one of the best hospitals in the country, and her unborn baby were dying due to her pregnancy.
The cause was pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy disorder that occurs after 20 weeks of gestation and is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine and can damage organs such as the kidneys or liver. Pre-eclampsia affects black women with a 60% higher rate than white women. If left untreated, complications such as mother's stroke and kidney failure and premature birth or death of the baby can occur. According to the Mayo Clinic one of the most effective ways to treat pre-eclampsia is to give birth to your baby if it is safe to do so. If you have ever been pregnant, preeclampsia is probably one of the reasons why you should look for unexplained body changes in the last trimester, as the symptoms are a fast onset of weight gain. Severe headache, right upper abdominal pain, shortness of breath and nausea or vomiting. Or perhaps you know it from the episode of Downton Abbey, in the early 1900s, when one of the estate's wealthy white daughters dies after childbirth of complications that have arisen due to preeclampsia, which look appropriately old to syndrome , Or maybe you have heard of preeclampsia because several other high profile mothers have shared their experiences that almost died at birth. As Beyoncé revealed in an article from in September 2018 in Vogue she had her life-threatening toxemia (a less common term for preeclampsia ) during her pregnancy with her twins to an emergency caesarean section.
Portions of Felix's experience were frighteningly similar to those of Beyoncé and other contemporary women who almost died of a syndrome that is portrayed in popular culture as a syndrome affecting women before Edward. It also reflects the life-threatening experience of Serena Williams, who told Vogue that after an emergency caesarean section, she practically had to ask her hospital team for a CT scan that uncovered the blood clots she guessed she was there was because she previously had a pulmonary embolus in 2011.
Felix's pre-eclampsia was severe, and after she was admitted and said she had to deliver her baby two months earlier, she had her own caesarean section. "I think I did not really understand the seriousness of everything because everything went so fast," says Felix. "I was still trying to wind my head around everything. I feel like the people around me [recognize the danger]. But for me, I was focused only on what's right now, or the next thing I'm dealing with. "
Fortunately, everything went relatively well; While Camryn was not yet fully developed (a typical pregnancy is 40 weeks, and 37 weeks are the first when most doctors assume a pregnancy is a full pregnancy), Felix had survived and when he was in intensive care Camryn continued accordingly. "I feel very blessed that my situation has gone this way, because it could very easily have been different," says Felix.
I ask Felix if she thought about this result before it happened, especially considering that there have been several revealing investigative reports lately, why black mothers in the US are more likely to get three to four times more likely Pregnancies die as white mothers. And what about the fact that Beyoncé's widely published Vogue essay came out only two months before Camryn's birth?
Well, I felt like I heard it, says Felix. "But I would not say that I was completely familiar with the details. You know, you hear something and you think, Okay . I felt that I took my health for granted. I am a professional athlete, I am healthy. I have the feeling that I have done everything I should do. So it was almost as if I had heard that this is not true for me. "
Even after listening to Serena's story – A Mitolympic, even at the peak of her physical fitness
" I do not know, "she says," It's really strange looking back now. I think Why was not I more aware or more coherent? But I do not know. [With] Serena, I thought Well, she had serious health problems before. And I, I was well aware of that. So I think it was just that, Oh . I think it was more akin. "
It may sound like I'm addressing Felix – How could you? maybe missed that !? – but when she squinted and thought back to the time before anything happened when the only result was a victory, I'm not a bit disbelieving. I just want to know more. I want her to talk about her past self, who slowly began to realize that the things you thought were protecting you from statistics had no impact on a world in which you would automatically be seen as someone else , Knowing the story of Felix is like confirming my own. I, too, was a fortunately unsuspecting pregnant woman, who could also say "I had no problems" and blew through 10-minute medical appointments, which had a full birth plan that focused more on vaginal delivery. Delayed cable clamping and skin-to-skin contact than what I wanted to do when something went wrong. The woman I am now, more than two years after an emergency caesarean section and my own life-threatening birth experience and the subsequent ten-day hospital stay, is much more skeptical about the ability to understand all the variables that occur while playing. & # 39; I am in the study, especially in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the industrialized world.
Camryn was in intensive care for one month. It was during this time that Felix, recovering from her surgery and constantly in the hospital to monitor her daughter's progress, began to process what had just happened to her. How could she from the last refurbishment of the nursery school and the anticipation of her second baby shower in Michigan (she and Ferguson live part-time in Detroit) until the birth of her baby two months earlier so that she and her daughter would not? do not die? "I started figuring out what happened: why did it happen? How could that happen? ", She says. She started asking questions to other people as well. "My doctor came in and made rounds. And [I was] just talking to different people in the hospital. And to look up, to come across the statistics, "says Felix. "Only somewhere along the way, looking for answers from my own situation, did I realize that it was not just me. I realized, oh, wow – black women are definitely at risk.
The reasons why black mothers die at an alarming rate in one of the richest and most developed nations in the world have been fortunately studied length in groundbreaking investigative pieces of such sizes as ProPublica New York Times  and NPR . Of course, there are the usual suspects: Black women are more likely to give birth in poorer quality hospitals, have chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and are uninsured. However, if you read one of these parts, you will understand that there is something else in the game: Black women in the US are more likely to be exposed to explicit or subtle racism in the US, which can be devastating. In addition, the health of black women, like those of all people of skin color, is adversely affected by the daily burden of combating all forms of racism and their effects. As a result, we are susceptible to chronic diseases that can shorten our lives. From micro-enterprises in the workplace to watching news – a consequence of black life, which the researcher Arline Geronimus calls "weathering".
There is also the fact that many of these consequences are not linked to socio-economic factors. This means that a lack of resources or a level of education or access to a high-quality care or the fact that the US Department of Health weekly at least 150- 300 minutes of moderately intensive training recommends that it is not fully explained why black mothers die more often from pregnancy or childbirth than others. These famous, affluent, healthy women like Serena, Beyoncé and Allyson are not necessarily unfortunate anomalies, but survivors of a culture that leaves black women at greater risk for complications and death no matter who they are.
The problem is many of us go in without a clue. Too many of us do not know about weathering, the theory that a lifetime of fighting racism could affect our health. Or because we are black, we have an increased risk of pregnancy and birth complications. Or that in the delivery room the kind of racism that can kill us is unconscious bias, not the kind that could be called hate crimes. If you do not know these things, why would you think that would happen to you? It's hard to wrap your head.
I ask Felix specifically about the last part, whether the fact that she knows now what might have happened to her after she has seen the statistics and asked the questions makes her second best. Guess one of their interactions, or wonder if an undercurrent of prejudice influenced them in any way. She says she did not think so. But she also says that she knows what she now knows about the maternal race disparities in maternal health, and has reviewed her experiences with this lens. "It's definitely real for black women," she says. "And I'm sure that in many situations many, many women have experienced it."
Even though black mothers and pregnant women fight a plague of systemic, unconscious bias that triggers us, no matter who we are or where we decide for the birth, at a disadvantage, the truth is that in many cases resources play a role. As with Felix, my own work experience was unpredictable and luckily also has a happy ending: my daughter was fine (big and healthy), my recovery went exactly as she should have been. But knowing that countless women, many of whom have disappeared in the meantime, had no access to high-quality prenatal and postpartum health care that I or Felix could easily summarize shows just how close the line between life and death is in a country the health care plays an important role privilege and no right. My prolonged hospital stay, which was so claustrophobic and never-ending, was indeed an extremely privileged experience, with someone checking my blood pressure every hour and my health team performing various tests and scans until he discovered that it was a serious culprit bacterial infection retired after my cesarean section. I feel happy, and I would argue that Felix is similarly scary in terms of her experience, especially given that other black women were not so happy.
In any case, it often does not make much sense to speculate on how little discernible yet insidious events can lead to catastrophic results and whether your circumstances save you or not. The best we can do is tell each other about our experiences so that together we can learn that you can be happy and healthy in one day and fight for your life the next day. This is one of the reasons why Felix wants to ensure that all black women are aware of the potential risks of pregnancy. Now, just a few months after her shattering experience, she has become a kind of activist. She worked with ESPNW on this essay of the formerly private woman, which details the intimate experience of birth so that the world can consume her. She works with March of Dimes to help mothers and babies. And in May she testified before the Ways & Means Committee of the House of Representatives, as part of a committee investigating racial disparities in maternal health care and the mortality of black mothers, which several legislators referred to as a crisis , Her goal, she tells me, is to get more attention in the black community. "Of course I would love it if we learn more, understand more and change that," says Felix. "I would like to see a fully educated black woman: Getting pregnant, starting a family. Is well informed about all these risks and well prepared for a doctor's visit. Ask questions. For yourself, if necessary. Have all the tools to face what's coming. And not feeling that they did not see it coming or were in a situation [where] they feel uncomfortable and insecure and have to make hasty decisions.
The fact that Felix lends its voice to this important movement might be surprising to anyone who has followed her over the years, who understands that there is a public and a private Felix and respects that limit. Here is Felix, who suddenly allows us to look into her private life and to know her personal opinions, and to offer the public even more of herself when her professional life has been the subject of cover stories and newspaper articles since her time is number seven in her first nationwide meeting as a high school freshman. It is surprising for Felix himself.
"I am not [usually] the one who curls or expresses feathers," says Felix. "Even though I felt it or went through it, I'm like Well, I'm not the one; Someone will study this topic . And [now] is like No, it's me. If not me, who will do it? "
Felix refers both to her decision to raise awareness of the black mother's mortality and to another topic she has recently talked about: lack of financial security Mother athletes stand above all else in athletics. In May, Felix – who had negotiated with Nike since the end of their previous contract in December 2017 – wrote an essay and appeared in a video for the New York Times in which he implored Nike and the sportswear industry In large part, to pay for the female athletes during their pregnancy and during the recovery for the birth and to change the contracts of the athletes so that they do not perform during pregnancy or in the months of the birth the best possible performance. She was one of several runners, including sprinter Alysia Montaño and marathon runner Kara Goucher, who shared her stories about the financial consequences of her pregnancy. Due to the advocacy of the athletes Nike recently announced that its new contracts for women athletes will include a language that protects their pay during pregnancy.
"It's definitely very scary," says Felix about publicly challenging her sponsor since 2010, especially while negotiating a new contract with them. "But in the end, I kept saying," I'm doing the right thing. "I'm honest, I share my very real experience, and I knew so many women who had gone through the same thing." After seeing the number of people telling me their stories, it was only confirmed once again The athletes, who are still under contract and can not say anything, and they say, "That was my experience." And that really made me feel okay, I knew I was doing the right thing . "
About a month after our conversation and after Felix's appearance at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships as non-dedicated athlete her brother and Agent Wes Felix clarified the current status of the negotiations from Allyson to Nike Felix, he said, had spoken with Nike since her previous contract expired, but "at this point, Allyson has decided that she intends to partner with a brand, vo She believes she puts women at the heart of her business, "Wes SELF said via email. "Allyson has decided to look for a new clothing sponsor." (He clarified his statement that Felix "is doing something relatively unusual, especially in the field of athletics, and wants to split their sponsorship for apparel and footwear.") SELF reached I asked Nike for a comment but did not hear it until the copy deadline ,
With all the talk about motherhood that is so natural and how the maternal instinct is just beginning to apply, that's not the case for many people. In the least. The truth is that no matter how much you prepare yourself, how many books you read about bringing up babies, or how many months or years you have to think about what kind of mother you will be, you are not really ready yet. It is a breathtaking feeling to switch from one day to the next. Motherhood is finding out how to deal with the fact that another living, breathing part of you exists apart from you (this is true regardless of how you become a mother). It's a shock to the mind and body, as if you think somebody has just slammed the door down in the apartment downstairs, but then it turns out that you're actually in the middle of a rushing earthquake affecting your brain and your head Affects body seconds to register.
Indeed, there is a word for the process of becoming mother: Matreszenz, in the 1970s, coined by Dana Raphael, the medical anthropologist, who also gave us the term Doula , Matreszenz is not a word that I knew existed before I became a mother, but when I came across it, I found myself a few months deep in the greatest tectonic shift in my life langsam entdeckte zu sehen, wer ich geworden war, und ich verstand es von Natur aus. Im Nachhinein hatte ich das Glück, dass ich mich so gut vorbereitet fühlte, wie ich konnte – meine Tochter war eine Woche zu spät dran, und der Vorteil von 10 elenden Tagen im Krankenhaus besteht darin, dass Sie Krankenschwestern haben, die Ihnen beibringen, wie man hält und füttert dein Baby. Aber wie wäre es, eine Mutter zu werden, wenn Sie nicht tatsächlich im logistischen Sinne bereit sind? Felix hatte ihr Baby nur wenige Tage bevor sie und Ferguson zur Geburtsstunde gehen sollten; sie hatte gerade ihre erste Babyparty besucht und plante eine weitere; Sie hatte noch so viel zu tun, bevor sie Mutter wurde. „Wir hatten einen Namen. Wir hatten das früh ausgesucht. Aber das war alles, was wir hatten “, sagt sie.
Wie sah dann der Prozess der Mutterwerdung für Felix aus?
Beginnen wir mit den Folgen des körperlichen Schocks, einer wichtigen Überlegung für eine Frau, die dies hat Die meiste Zeit ihres Lebens verbrachte sie damit, ihren Körper für die geringsten geringfügigen Gewinne zu konstruieren, nur Hundertstelsekunden, die den Unterschied zwischen dem ersten und dem letzten Platz ausmachen können. Etwa sechs Wochen nach ihrem Kaiserschnitt kehrte Felix auf die Strecke zurück und schaffte nur einen Spaziergang über eine Strecke, die sie normalerweise in weniger als einer Minute zurücklegen musste Das erste Mal nach der Geburt fühlt sich unglaublich seltsam an, als würde Ihr Becken von seinem normalen Kurs abweichen und Ihr Gehirn Ihren Körper bekämpfen und Sie können physisch nicht so schnell rennen, wie Sie möchten. Felix stimmt zu. „Ich konnte nicht sprinten. Nicht einmal "konnte es nicht gut machen". Aber genau so konnte ich es nicht machen. Etwas, das so natürlich war und an das ich nicht einmal gedacht habe. Jetzt habe ich mich nicht mehr so gefühlt wie ich. “Sie näherte sich schrittweise, ging, joggte und begann ungefähr zwei Monate nach der Geburt mit dem Üben.
Felix sagt, sie trainiere jetzt fünf bis sechs Tage pro Woche auf der Strecke Woche für jeweils bis zu drei Stunden. Sie geht zwei bis drei Tage die Woche ins Fitnessstudio. Manchmal schließen sich Camryn und Ferguson ihr an. Bis vor kurzem hatte sie acht Mal täglich zwischen den Trainingseinheiten gepumpt, zusätzlich zum Stillen, eine beeindruckende Leistung, die Felix, der immer ein hervorragender Protokollant ist, mit den Schultern abschüttelt („Im Krankenhaus [at the NICU]damit fangen sie an. Danach ist es so, als ob du es nicht tun kannst, weißt du? ”). Sie und Ferguson haben ihre Tochter vor kurzem im Schlaf trainiert, und jetzt ist Felix wieder in der Lage, die gesegneten acht oder mehr Stunden Schlaf zu bekommen, die sie als Athletin so dringend braucht. Sie sagt, dass sie sich wieder wie sich selbst fühlt. Die Details mögen spezifisch für ihre Umstände sein, aber die Logistik ist normal für berufstätige Mütter. Prozess, vollständig.
Die inneren Abläufe der Matreszenz, die emotionale und mentale Transformation, Mutter zu werden, sind weniger konkret und auch dann weniger leicht zu kommunizieren, wenn Sie es wollten. Felix wird es wahrscheinlich herausfinden. Aber sie beginnt zu verstehen, wie sie nicht mehr der ist, der sie vor weniger als einem Jahr war.
Nehmen Sie dieses Stück für die Times . Bevor sie Mutter wurde, sagte sie mir, hätte sie es nicht geschrieben. "Vor Jahren gibt es keinen Weg", sagt sie. "Ich hatte einfach das Gefühl, dass es zu viel außerhalb meiner Komfortzone war." Nun ist Felix bereit, etwas zu sagen, und sie schreibt die Mutterschaft dafür zu.
"Es geht nicht um mich", sagt sie. „Jetzt gibt es diese ganze andere Person, die ich zeigen möchte… sei ein Beispiel und bring ihr diese verschiedenen Dinge bei. And I think this is the way.”
I can also sense a shift in the new maternal Felix when I ask her if it was hard to keep her pregnancy a secret. She says no but expresses some regret about how things played out. “I'm a pretty private person anyway, so even if the situation was different, I'm just not one of those people who would be like, ‘Oh. I'm three weeks, four weeks.’ But I think just being able to fully embrace it myself—things like just being out and about. I felt like that was a moment missed for me,” she says.
That’s the thing about Felix’s journey, her process of grappling with what happened to her—it’s not just about becoming someone’s mom; it’s about becoming a different person in another way, choosing an identity that you didn’t even know you wanted in the first place. Like the fact that Felix will now forever be someone who understands what life is like as a NICU mom, what parents are actually going through as they watch their children fight for their lives. "Those are areas that I would've never thought of before,” Felix says. “And being completely thrust into [it, I’m] realizing like, Wow, I'm actually passionate about this.”
And now, she says, she’s less likely to put so much pressure on herself, to strive only for wins and medals (although, of course, with the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, she still plans on making the team and medaling). She says she’s trying to treat herself with more kindness, and trying to accept that finding the old Allyson Felix is a process in itself. “I know I'm not at my best; I'm not like how I usually am,” Felix says of how she feels now that she’s starting to race again, including at that appearance at the USATF Outdoor Championships this past weekend. It was her first competitive event after giving birth to Camryn less than eight months ago; Felix placed an impressive sixth in the final in the 400 meterswith a time of 51.94. The top th ree finishers of any event automatically qualify for the world championships as long as they meet certain other requirements; while Felix didn’t make that cut, she did qualify for the 4 x 400 women’s relay team, which means she has a spot to compete at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, later this year. It will be her ninth world championship appearance if she goes. Felix has expressed some uncertainty about whether she’ll compete in the championships since her focus is on the Olympics, but Wes says that she is "leaning towards joining the team in Doha and attempting to help them win gold in the 4×4."
In any case, Felix is less likely to feel the need to project a tightly controlled image of the perfect athlete, the woman who has it all together. “I’m just trying to be my authentic self. No matter what the consequences are of that. Or how people take that,” she says. For her, that means standing up for what she believes. And opening up to a stranger, even just for an hour, in order to share her story.