2023 3M Truth in Science Award, Small/Medium Newsroom finalist

“God, No, Not Another Case.” COVID-Related Stillbirths Didn’t Have to Happen.

About the Project

Every year, more than 20,000 babies are stillborn, having died in their mothers’ wombs at 20 weeks or more of pregnancy. That shocking figure has surpassed infant mortality every year for the last decade.

But the U.S. stillbirth crisis has largely been neglected by health officials, government agencies and the medical community charged with caring for these mothers and their babies. And a series of government decisions during the pandemic exacerbated an already broken system.

In an unparalleled, in-depth story, ProPublica reporter Duaa Eldeib shattered the silence around stillbirth and uncovered a cascade of failures. She spent months documenting appalling breakdowns in the public health system and how those failures allowed disinformation to take hold among the most vulnerable of people — patients who were pregnant — during the height of the pandemic.

Pregnant people were excluded from initial clinical vaccine trials, which paved the way for misinformation to flourish. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compounded the mistakes with vague early messaging and by waiting eight months to update its guidance and specifically recommend the vaccine to pregnant people.

Once Eldeib learned that unvaccinated people who were pregnant faced a higher risk of stillbirth if they contracted COVID-19, she worked tirelessly to inform the public. She combated misinformation with science, medical expertise and research. Uncovering the depths of the disinformation was so critical that she made science a character in the story. Since the decisions by pharmaceutical companies, government officials and even medical professionals created a void that was filled by disinformation, Eldeib acted with urgency to correct the record.

Despite the fatalistic acceptance that some babies just die, Eldeib’s reporting revealed that many babies could, in fact, be saved.

Eldeib overcame one obstacle after another. She was among the first in the country to report on the role of COVID-19 and misinformation in increasing the risk of stillbirth. She filed more than 50 public records requests and interviewed people across the U.S. and around the world. She pored over reams of academic articles and thousands of pages of medical records.

She approached each interview with compassion, careful not to retraumatize the women she spoke to. She created a callout to reach women who had been ignored by the medical system for far too long. She worked to expand that reach by asking nonprofits to send her request to their members. She reached out to women on social media and on targeted stillbirth forums. Eldeib set up phone calls and zoom meetings and sat at kitchen tables. She gained the trust of doctors, scientists and mothers. After one doctor who tried to sound the alarm on COVID-19-related stillbirths worried about going public, Eldeib convinced her to go on the record. Throughout the story, Eldeib masterfully weaved together vivid writing with meticulous scientific reporting. She explained the unfathomable experience of a stillbirth through extraordinary narratives and powerful science.