The Pulitzer Board announced Monday that ProPublica’s “Stillbirths” series by reporter Duaa Eldeib was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the explanatory reporting category. The designation is ProPublica’s 16th Pulitzer finalist in 15 years.
The series examines the lack of comprehensive attention and action that has contributed to a stillbirth crisis in the U.S. Eldeib shattered the silence around the more than 20,000 stillbirths that occur every year and uncovered a cascade of failures that have contributed to the U.S. lagging other developed nations in reducing its stillbirth rate.
To tell these stories in such breathtaking detail, Eldeib broke down the CDC’s own data in ways even the agency had not done. And when the federal data wasn’t sufficient, she went to individual states and filed more than 50 public records requests. In conjunction with the data analysis, she interviewed more than 150 people in the U.S. and around the world. Eldeib also pored over reams of academic articles and thousands of pages of medical records, which she was only able to get after earning the trust of the women she interviewed.
Perhaps most challenging was persuading women to share their stories, to reveal the most intimate — and heartbreaking — moments of their lives. Eldeib accomplished this with a rare combination of sensitivity and directness, explaining how important their stories were to sparking change.
Eldeib’s stories uncovered not only the heartbreak but the systemic failures. She reported on how there has been no national campaign to reduce the risk of stillbirth or adequately raise awareness about it. In addition, the federal government does not pay for fetal autopsies, despite calls from many experts that they can be critical to determining the cause of a stillbirth.
She didn’t simply write that racial disparities exist, she explained why Black mothers are more than two times more likely to have a stillbirth than white mothers. Once Eldeib learned that unvaccinated people who were pregnant faced a higher risk of stillbirth if they contracted COVID-19, she worked with urgency to inform the public. She used data and science to counter the disinformation that had flourished after pregnant people were excluded from initial clinical vaccine trials and the CDC dragged out recommending the vaccine for them. Eldeib and Adriana Gallardo also wrote a guide this month to help fill the void of information on stillbirths.
After Eldeib’s stories were published, one U.S. senator called the number of stillbirths that occur in this country “shocking.” Another said “we should be doing everything we can to prevent Americans from experiencing stillbirth,” but the reporting and data “clearly show that we are not living up to that promise in our nation.” The National Institutes of Health released a report that mirrored the investigation’s findings, calling the rate “unacceptably high” and issuing a series of recommendations to reduce it.
One mother said that, after reading the story, her friend went to the hospital and had an early delivery. Her baby is alive today. She wrote, “Please know your reporting will save lives.” A father told Eldeib, “Journalism is the key to unlock this epidemic.” Another mother, whose son was stillborn, echoed a sentiment that many shared on social media: “I have been waiting for an in-depth stillbirth piece like this for over 3 years. Many others have been waiting for a lifetime. Thank you, Duaa Eldeib and ProPublica.”