February 2, 2023

Fathers Who Lost Partners to Pregnancy-Related Deaths Are Dedicating Their Lives to Birth Justice

Travis P Ball, Getty Images
Bruce McIntyre III (left) and Omari Maynard (right) speak onstage at the "Aftershock" premiere.

In honor of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac, their surviving partners spoke during Boston Medical Center's Vital Village Networks National Community Leadership Summit about Black fatherhood and advocacy.

After the birth of her second child, Khari, 30-year-old Shamony Gibson started experiencing sharp chest pains and felt short of breath. She went to the hospital, but her complaints were continuously dismissed by medical professionals. Soon after, she died from a pulmonary embolism, blood clots that had traveled to her lungs — one of the most common causes of pregnancy- and postpartum-related deaths in the U.S.

Amber Rose Isaac was 26 years old when she died giving birth to her son, Elias, in an emergency C-section. It had only been four days since she tweeted, “Can’t wait to write a tell all about my experience during my last two trimesters dealing with incompetent doctors.”

Black maternal mortality in pregnancy and postpartum has long been a crisis in the U.S. Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre III, Shamony and Amber’s respective partners and the fathers of their children, are determined to do something about it.

Maynard reached out to McIntyre weeks after learning Amber Rose’s story. Together, the two men are dedicating their lives to seeking justice for Black mothers across the country, in memory of Amber and Shamony.


The two men feature in the documentary Aftershock, and together they spoke at Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village Networks Annual National Community Leadership Summit in the fall.

The maternal mortality crisis among Black women

Most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. But among the average 700 pregnancy-related deaths each year in the U.S., there are major inequities. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women—even when accounting for income and education levels.

Systemic racism plays a major role in these disparities. Shamony tragically died even after seeking help for her postpartum symptoms—and pulmonary embolisms are relatively common, accounting for 11% of maternal deaths, two-thirds of which occur after delivery. Amber Rose and her partner McIntyre spoke about feeling neglected and ignored by her pregnancy care team, particularly amid the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic where the healthcare system was eschewing in-person appointments.

“She was treated very unfairly,” McIntyre said to New York’s The City. “And she died because of that.”

Creating community around fathers and maternal loss

Maynard and McIntyre both reoriented their lives to focus on birth justice, through legislation, community advocacy, art and creativity, and healthcare transformation, particularly around expanding doula support, building Black-owned birthing centers, and passing certified professional midwifery bills. One of their aims is to build a community around fathers and fatherhood, directly challenging traditional views of masculinity and stereotypes about Black fathers, specifically. Their work and advocacy is making room for the diverse and shared experiences, voices and narratives of fathers of color and extended family members and friends to be heard, and increasing understanding of the ripple effects of the Black maternal mortality crisis.

“I think the importance about speaking to these fathers is knowing that they have a voice and knowing there is power within being vulnerable with one another,” McIntyre said during the Vital Village summit. “Often men feel like they can’t speak up because they don’t have a voice, or as men we are taught to be tough.”

Maynard agreed, saying that being able to lean on community in the wake of Shamony’s tragic death, to speak about his emotions, was vital.

“Men, specifically Black men, don’t get the opportunity to do that,” he said. “There are stigmas around it, but to be totally honest, I’m more of a man than I’ve ever been in my life because of this.”

Focusing on partners as pregnancy advocates

Maynard and McIntyre also see this community around Black fatherhood can be fuel to advocate for their birthing partners. They see fathers, and all partners to Black birthing people, as their partner’s greatest advocate, speaking out for their needs and concerns.

Maynard is working to create the OpWell App, which stands for the Obsidian Perinatal Wellness app.

“It’s an app for men or birthing partners to help assist their partners during the gestation process and postpartum period,” he explained. “There are health reminders like, rub your partner’s feet, make breakfast, tell them you love them. Then, there’s making sure you have a connection to your partner’s provider.”


A post shared by Omari Maynard (@m_u_z)

He hopes that during OBGYN appointments, partners can input notes, keep track of records, and call out any red flags, and that information can transmit directly to their birthing partner’s care team.

“We’re communicating with each other through technology to make sure we’re all taking those red flags into importance, making sure we’re doing the optimal things to ensure our partners are healthy and doing well in the process,” Maynard said.

Estefany Flores-Godaire, CNM, is the director of Boston Medical Center’s CenteringPregnancy program. CenteringPregnancy aims to improve birth equity by having group prenatal care visits, focused on building community and support around birthing parents. While the group is for the birthing person, Flores-Godaire pushes for the safe involvement of partners, after speaking with the birthing patient about privacy, disclosure, and safety around any intimate partner violence concerns, she emphasizes.

“At my first visit, I really make an effort to engage the partners or support persons to really keep an eye on their birthing partner,” Flores-Godaire, says, “A lot is changing for the birthing person, and their partner knows them at baseline. They’re not just a labor support person, at the end, they can be mindful of these changes in mood or health all along — I tell them, ‘you’re going to be the one to notice it first.'”

When thinking of partners’, specifically Black fathers, involvement, Maynard is quick to dispel stereotypes. While he aims to push for increased involvement in the birthing and postpartum process, Black fathers are far from absent in general.

“I don’t think that we understand how much Black men are embedded in our family’s lives,” he says. “This information on the CDC states that Black men are involved with their children way more than any other race in the United States. I just want to put that out there to make sure that we all are on the same page with that.”

Remembering the real women behind the statistics

During this discussion at BMC’s Vital Village Networks sponsored summit, Maynard cited many alarming statistics about the Black maternal mortality crisis. In his local Bronx, New York, he said, Black women are eight times more likely to die a pregnancy-related death than white women, and 80% of the deaths are preventable. But it’s not the numbers he and McIntyre hope the world remembers, as we work toward racial birth justice and health equity overall.

“I think the importance about speaking to these fathers is knowing that they have a voice and knowing there is power within being vulnerable with one another,” McIntyre said during the Vital Village summit. “Often men feel like they can’t speak up because they don’t have a voice, or as men we are taught to be tough.”

Maynard, an artist, has been working to tell the individual women’s stories through his art and outreach. He hopes that people think of the person, the human, the parent, and the partner behind each of these numbers. They aren’t just the tragedies that happened to them.

“When you start talking about the numbers, you’re talking about Shamony Gibson and Amber, this one is Demi Dominiquez, this one is Jenayah Nelums, and so forth and so on,” Maynard said. “These are the beautiful women that they were, these are the things they were doing, these are the things they were interested in, the music they loved, the children they had, and the family members they had to leave behind. It tells a different story.”

To honor the life of Shamony Gibson, read more about the ARIAH Foundation.

To honor the life of Amber Rose Isaac, read more about the Save a Rose Foundation.

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About the Author

Caitlin White

Caitlin White is the Senior Content Manager at Boston Medical Center.

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