South Court Auditorium

11:38 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Rohini. 

It’s so good to be with you again.  We were talking backstage; the last time we were together, it was at the very beginning of COVID.

MS. FELIX:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And we tried to do an Instagram Live, and I couldn’t figure how to work it.  (Laughter.)

MS. FELIX:  We were all trying to figure it out.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But — and so, some time has passed, but your leadership on this issue has remained constant.  In addition to all that you have achieved, in terms of your excellence and how you’ve inspired so many, you have been an extraordinary advocate on this issue.  And I want to thank you, because you really do inspire me and so many —

MS. FELIX:  Wow.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — people around our country.  And so, your daughter, Camryn, is now three.

MS. FELIX:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Will you talk a little bit about the experience you had during your pregnancy and childbirth that led you to really use your voice in such a courageous way on this issue?

MS. FELIX:  Yeah, well, thank you so much.  That means so much to me.  And I’m just so grateful for all the work that you have always done on this topic.

Yes, my daughter just turned three.  But I — when I became pregnant, you know, as an athlete, my health is something that I’m always thinking about.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right.

MS. FELIX:  And I’ve always lived a really healthy lifestyle.  You know, I didn’t even almost think twice about, you know, getting through my pregnancy.

And at 32 weeks, I went into the doctor for a routine appointment.  And right away, there were some concerning things that were happening.  You know, I was spilling protein, my blood pressure was up.  And so I was sent to the hospital for further monitoring.

Once I got there, things started to rapidly kind of shift out of control.  And I was diagnosed with a severe case of preeclampsia.  And it just kind of went downhill from there.

I ended up having an emergency C-section, and my daughter was born two months early.  And I’m so grateful that I was able to, you know, eventually walk out of the hospital.  And even though my daughter, you know, spent time fighting for her own life in the NICU, we all walked out together.

And, you know, as we know, there are so many women who that’s not the story.  And so my eyes were opened.  And now, you know, it’s a passion on my heart to just do more work in this area and raise awareness to what is happening.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, on that point, you — in addition, again, to your professional excellence as an athlete — you served six years during the Obama-Biden administration as an advocate for health and wellness and fitness.  And in that way, you really were, again, such an important advocate on the issues that relate to those areas. 

Can you talk about the work you have been doing as an advocate on this issue of maternal health and what we need to do as a nation to be better on this issue?

MS. FELIX:  Yeah.  Well, I’m so happy that, you know, today is happening and that, you know, funds have been committed to this area. 

I’ve been, you know, raising awareness; I partner with March of Dimes, who’s been doing important work for so long in this space. 

And I feel like really sharing those stories — I remember my time in the hospital and just feeling like I didn’t — I wasn’t prepared for this. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.

MS. FELIX:  You know, I didn’t know what to expect.  And hearing, you know, what other people went through and that hope that they gave me was huge.  But I think also sharing those stories lets women, and especially women of color, know that they are at risk and what they can do to prepare themselves.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, Allyson, let — take us through those moments when you are in those rooms talking with these incredible women.  What are those conversations?  And what do they share with you that the nation needs to know to fully understand and care about this issue?  Can you share with us and share with the nation what — what folks need to understand about this?

MS. FELIX:  Yeah, I think the biggest thing that really touched my heart was this is not an issue that — you know, it doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t matter — you know, I’m — I had great healthcare.  You know, I am very fortunate and very blessed.  But I still found myself in this situation.

Hearing from other women that their pain wasn’t believed; you know, that they had concerns that weren’t heard.  And I think that is so unfortunate.  What is really shocking is that 60 percent of these compl- — 60 percent of this number, you know, can be preventable.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right.

MS. FELIX:  And that’s huge.  But it also, you know, that’s the exciting part — that we can turn this around.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And so, when we think about this, which is we are — we are taking this to the highest ground possible, which is having this conversation on the stage in the White House.

MS. FELIX:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Let’s talk about what the future can look like and what that would mean for women around America.  And we’ve talked about Black maternal mortality, and that Black women are three times more likely than other women to die from childbirth.  Native women are twice as likely.  Women in rural America — 60 percent more likely to have complications because of what we call the “deserts,” the unavailability of appropriate maternal care. 

Let’s talk a little bit about what the world can look like and what the solutions look like.

 MS. FELIX:  Yeah.  I think that a day where you’re not at risk; you know, when you become pregnant, that you are not fearful.  You know, I think about a second pregnancy for myself and what that might look like and being able to reverse some of these issues, or going into a doctor’s office and not having to be intimidated to raise concerns and knowing that right away if I have an issue, that I can be heard as well.

And as you mentioned, the maternal deserts and having that high-quality care for all women, regardless of your, you know, the status of your insurance or where you’re at, that we can all have access to that.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You know, backstage you are I were talking about the importance of everyone knowing they’re not alone.

MS. FELIX:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And for so many women, going through this what should be joyous and beautiful process can also mean feeling alone and — and, in particular, when women are in that — that setting where they’re talking with a physician or talking with a healthcare provider and — and feeling that they’re not being heard or being reluctant to share how they are actually feeling. 
And there’s so much about the work that you have done that is reminding women they are not alone, that this is a story that that, sadly, is a story that many women have in common.  And, therefore, the need for women, that when they’re in that room, to not feel alone and to know their power, and that it is the responsibility of that healthcare professional to hear it, to listen to it, and to act on it.

MS. FELIX:  Yeah.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So can you talk a little bit about how you have talked with women about owning and requiring the system to own its responsibility to these women?

 MS. FELIX:  Yeah, I mean, absolutely, what you said — that it is their responsibility, and until those systems are in place the way that they should be, you know, it does fall on women to advocate for themselves or our partners to be there —

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s right.

MS. FELIX:  — in the room to do so. 
I remember when I was in that — the hospital and being terrified of what was happening; I didn’t even understand really what preeclampsia was.  And, you know, I was really grateful that my partner was able to advocate on my behalf.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.

MS. FELIX:  You know, when things went south and I wasn’t able to make the decisions on behalf of our family, that he could step up and do that. 

 And so I want that for all women, and I want us to — you know, for things to just be different and not to be in a situation that is so terrifying and traumatic.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And a large part of our work is on maternal systems, in terms of the delivery of care for women during pregnancy and childbirth.  But let’s also talk about the need for us to — to stay connected with these women, with their partners, with the parents of the child who is now with us, in terms of issues like childcare —

MS. FELIX:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — and affordable childcare, elder care.  I’ve met so many around the country — mothers and fathers — who are raising young children from infancy on and also taking care of senior relatives, and the need, therefore, to have care and assistance with caring for their children and their senior relatives. 
So let’s talk a little bit about the importance of a nation —

MS. FELIX:  Yeah.  Yeah.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — supporting parents.

 MS. FELIX:  It’s so important.  I know my own experience when I decided to start a family and not being supported, ultimately, by my former sponsor, and just what that looked like and how it made me feel — that I wasn’t valued.

And so many women who came before me who struggled and weren’t celebrated.  And so, it’s so important.  I worked to get child grants, along with Athleta and Women’s Sports Foundation, to be able to support these women. 

You know, I don’t think you should have to choose between your profession and having a family — you know, to be able to do both and be able to do both very well.  And so I’ll continue to push forward on those efforts because it does — it is necessary.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.

MS. FELIX:  And I think that we can do more.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, and people may not know, but you really do walk your talk in every way, because I happen to know how you have supported athletes who are moms who might need some help taking care of childcare.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

MS. FELIX:  Yeah, creating grants, you know, to support women who are competing at the highest level and having to deal with childcare. 

I just remember when I came back — I started competing when my daughter was eight months — and it was so hard to be able to travel and to have a newborn and to deal with all of these logistics and things that people didn’t really think about how it would come together. 
And so I felt like this would be a great way to support, you know, women as they continue to go on with their careers, and to say that you can still have your best performances after you have a family. 

And I’m talking — you know, my sport is running, but this is, you know, in all industries.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right.

MS. FELIX:  You know, women feel this.  And so I think this is a way, you know, I felt like I could do something, but obviously much more to do.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So when we think about — to your point — women in the workforce — right? — because we need to support all moms, all parents.

MS. FELIX:  Yeah.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But when we think about the unique challenges about women in the workforce, let’s talk about that in the context, also, of what we’re doing with Build Back Better, which has passed out of the House or Representatives, we expect that the Senate will pass it. 

But it is about also saying that parents should not have to spend more than 7 percent of their income in childcare.  Because with the demands — right? — with the financial demands of parenting and living —

 MS. FELIX:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — it should not be impossible for a working parent to have that kind of support.  Can you talk a little bit about the experience that you’ve had, and the parents you’ve talked with who need this kind of assistance?

MS. FELIX:  Yeah, it’s really been just amazing to see the individuals, you know, who do need the support and hear their stories, you know, of what their days are like and what the struggles look like — you know, that everyday person who is trying to make it.  And to your point that that’s so necessary, so needed, and has such an impact on their lives, and for them to be able to, you know, to continue making their livelihood.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, as we close out this conversation, let’s think about the basic points that we want policymakers at the local level, at the statewide level, and, of course, we have so many leaders — we had so many of them on the stage — the Congress members, what do we want them to think about in terms of the experience in a way that dictates what they prioritize for public policy?

So starting with the issue of, for example, one of my bills when I was in the Senate saying: Let’s deal with training healthcare professionals, including let’s — let us honor the work of doulas and midwives, and understand how they can actually teach others in the healthcare delivery system, including doctors, because there’s a lot that they know that actually can be shared in a way that enhances the experience that women going through the process have.

 Can you talk a little bit about that?

 MS. FELIX:  Absolutely.  I think that training is absolutely key when you speak about doulas and just their impact in the community, and how they can communicate some of these complex situations to people and the trust that you have.  And so I think that’s huge to be able to prepare people. 

 And I think about, you know, my own experience and going to the doctor and not being told that I was at risk, not having that preparation, or even having my mind go to a place where this is something that I should be thinking about and how can I prepare and plan for if things don’t go exactly right.

     So thinking about that experience of women as they go and interact with their doctors and right from that initial moment, you know, how their care will be given to them.  And to your point of the training the doula and really addressing that implicit bias that we’ve seen for so long.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And on that issue, because we know that for so many women, it — the way — the disparity, in terms of how they’re treated — right? 

I mean, first of all, let’s say that there is a lot in the healthcare system that actually helps and can help all women.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But the way that that is administered can be the issue on whether all women are treated equally.

MS. FELIX:  Yeah.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, it is — sometimes it’s about: Are the resources in the healthcare system?

But on this issue, we also know that it is also about how the resources are used and who receives those resources.

And so, it is important to teach about the biases that may inform the diagnosis and the treatment. 

MS. FELIX:  Yeah. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But also, let’s — you know, let’s think about women in rural America.  And it’s also about the lack of availability.  So much of what we are talking about in terms of the Build Back Better approach is to say: We need to have resources in rural America to assist these mothers and their partners and their husbands to get the resources they need, to get mobile units out there so that they can receive the same kind of treatment. 

How do you think about that?

MS. FELIX:  Yeah, I think those resources are so important because a lot of these issues where we’re seeing women face death are happening postpartum.  And when you talk about these rural areas, they do not have access.  If there is an issue, then having a plan to get back to, you know, a hospital that is equipped to deal with these issues is a whole other concern. 

So, it’s not only, you know, through the pregnancy, but it’s afterwards and really hearing, you know, the issues.  I think a lot of times we run into problems because women are bringing up that something feels wrong afterwards. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  That’s right.

MS. FELIX:  And it’s being dismissed. 

And so, yes, the rural areas, you know, having that access and those resources is huge.  And for all women postpartum, really focusing on, you know, hearing when there is an issue. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s right.  And that’s the point also, which I really appreciate you stressing, which is: We are talking about supporting mothers to mother. 

MS. FELIX:  Yeah. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And that’s about from — it is from the pregnancy through childbirth and then all that comes after.

One of the things I’m particularly excited about is that what we will do is extend support, through Medicaid, to say that postpartum support should not just be 60 days after childbirth.  That’s not going to deal with what we need to actually address.  Let’s do it for a year. 

And it’s about everything from exams to what a mother often may need — in terms of postpartum depression and what we need to do around treating the whole body, which includes from the neck up, and that’s about addressing any health issues that she needs in terms of mental health support.  So critically important. 

MS. FELIX:  I’m so excited about that as well, because I’ve heard far too many heartbreaking stories about losing mothers, mothers who aren’t able to mother their children — things that were preventable.  And that time is crucial. 

So I think that’s going to have such an impact to be able to have that yearlong and, really, to be able to address those issues. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s — “losing mothers” was the phrase you used.  We cannot be a society that is losing mothers. And it’s so preventable. 

MS. FELIX:  Mm-hmm.  Absolutely. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And part of it is being clear that we’re not going to let them feel alone, we’re not going to let them be alone.  And they’re too precious.  You know, I gave a speech earlier.  And when you support mothers, you support children, you support the future of our country.  It’s just that basic. 

MS. FELIX:  Yeah.  It’s so important.  And I think, immediately, you know, we’ll feel the impact of that and see the lives change.  And, yeah, it’s so important. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Allyson.  It’s good to be with you.

MS. FELIX:  Thank you so much.  Thank you for all you’re doing. 

                        END                11:56 A.M. EST

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