Data released by the CDC in February revealed that Black women die of maternal causes at nearly 3 times the rate of white women in America.
For the past 2 years, Bruce McIntyre has been parenting his son Elias as a single father after his partner, Amber Rose Isaac, died in the aftermath of an emergency cesarean section in a New York City hospital. Isaac's death came just days after she took to social media to vent about her encounters with what she called "incompetent doctors" over the course of her pregnancy. McIntyre's story is not so different from that of Omari Maynard—also a single dad raising his son on his own—who lost his partner, Shamony Gibson, 13 days after she gave birth in 2019.
"We had three hospital visits between that two-week time frame," Maynard told ABC News' Robin Roberts in an interview that aired on Good Morning America. "We were disregarded until, you know, she had sharp chest pains one day and couldn't make it up the steps." Since their partners' death, McIntyre and Maynard have been prominent figures in the fight to raise awareness and end the Black maternal health crisis in the United States. Their tales are presented in "Aftershock," a new Hulu documentary that examines the disparities Black women face in giving birth in the U.S.
"As a single parent, you still want to honor your partner the best ways possible," said McIntyre. Maynard agreed, adding: "Losing your partner but then having to turn around and change diapers and still provide, it's overwhelming." According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 800 women died of maternal causes in the U.S. in the year 2020 alone. Even as the country continues to have the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, data released by the CDC in February revealed that Black women die of maternal causes at nearly three times the rate of white women.
The maternal health crisis is worsening in the U.S.— Good Morning America (@GMA) July 19, 2022
Two dads are working to advocate for solutions after losing their partners to childbirth. #AftershockDoc, from @OnyxCollective and @ABC News Studios, is now streaming on @Hulu. https://t.co/9feC3KcquW
As per the CDC, pregnancy-related deaths are "defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of the end of pregnancy from a pregnancy complication, a chain of events initiated by pregnancy, or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy." Maynard revealed that his partner, Gibson, complained of chest pain in the days following their son's birth. After multiple trips to the hospital, she suffered a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in her lungs, which her family claims was treatable. Shawnee Benton, Gibson's mother and a reproductive rights activist, said that she now recognizes the reality of the obstacles her daughter faced as a Black woman giving birth.
'Aftershock,' a new Hulu documentary, explores the high mortality rate among Black expectant mothers. The documentary follows Omari Maynard, who lost his partner from preventable childbirth complications. He joins @KyraPhillips for more. pic.twitter.com/E1dSRLole3— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) July 19, 2022
"I felt guilty but then I realized she's a Black woman and I talk about this all the time. Why would my daughter be exempt?" Benton said. "Our wombs create worlds. If we can't trust and believe that we can birth safely, what are we saying about the planet?" McIntyre's partner, Isaac, displayed high-risk symptoms for several months of her pregnancy that he said were ignored by their doctors. "She was having chest pains, was unable to breathe, barely being able to make it down the block," he said. Meanwhile, the hospital's response was far from helpful, he said. "They're delaying information. They're losing information, losing blood work. Not giving her any type of clear answers," McIntyre claimed.
It's remarkable how @TLewisLee and @PaulaEiselt were strangers before jumping into making "Aftershock," driven by a shared vision and sense of urgency. Here's what they learned about filmmaking and themselves in the process. My latest. https://t.co/6bPaFVszH8— Maya Salam (@Maya__Salam) July 19, 2022
Isaac's family is presently involved in a legal battle with the Bronx hospital where she died, Montefiore Medical Center. Denying any wrongdoing, the hospital said in 2020: "Ninety-four percent of our deliveries are minority mothers, and Montefiore's maternal mortality rate of 0.01 percent is lower than both New York City and national averages. Any maternal death is a tragedy." McIntyre credits a midwife for raising the alarm about Isaac's health and explained that they inspired him to open a birthing center in the Bronx with access to midwifery and doula care.
"Black women hire doulas because they want to make sure that they live," said Tracie Collins, a doula and CEO and founder of the National Black Doulas Association, a nonprofit organization that connects Black birthing families with Black doulas. "It's not a status quo for us." According to Dr. Ashanda Saint Jean, a board-certified OBGYN and chair of OBGYN for the Health Alliance Hospitals and Westchester Center Medical Health Network in New York, doulas are a source of non-medical support for pregnant women before, during and after childbirth.
.@TLewisLee, director of new doc “Aftershock” on Hulu, on why Black women die at such a high rate in pregnancy & after childbirth.— Zerlina on Peacock (@ZerlinaShow) July 19, 2022
When Black women “show up to their health care provider, they are not seen, they’re not heard. They are dismissed when they complain of pain.” pic.twitter.com/3eSbyGaF82
"A doula is a support person who has been trained and educated in labor and delivery," said Saint Jean. "I've had a number of Black patients feel that having a doula is an extra layer of support where they're able to more ask questions about their birthing experience and explore all measures to ensure a healthy outcome." Experts believe that a myriad of factors contributes to the high pregnancy-related death rate among Black women. According to the CDC, one explanation for the disparity is that more Black women of reproductive age have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which raises the risk of pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia and the need for emergency C-sections.
However, studies suggest that socioeconomic circumstances and structural inequalities place Black women at a higher risk for such chronic diseases. A 2013 research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, states that Black women often have inadequate access to care during pregnancy, which can exacerbate their illnesses. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that some physicians purposely dismiss the concerns of Black women having unpleasant symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum until the woman's health drastically worsens, at which time it may be too late to avert a fatal outcome.