By Helen Bezuneh,
Special to the AFRO

At the Congressional Black Caucus’ 52nd Annual Legislative Conference, U.S. representatives and leaders in the fight for Black maternal health spoke at a session focused on the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act. 

The session, titled “Mom’s Can’t Wait: Passing the Momnibus in a Divided Congress,” promoted the passage of the legislation package, which includes 13 individual bills created to address an alarming statistic: the maternal mortality rate doubled between 1999 and 2019, with most deaths among Black women, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The American Psychological Association really supports this bill and recognizes the research and the science that supports it that gives the evidence for each of the items that are covered,” said Dr. Thelma Bryant, president of the American Psychological Association. “Within the past few years we have seen the mental health challenges that Black mothers face…So we have to say that Black moms’ lives matter, that their health matters, that our wellness matters, that our voices matter. We have seen an uptick in people reporting experiences of depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis.”

Bruce McIntyre lost his wife, Amber Rose Isaac, due to medical negligence in 2020, told his tragic story at the event. Isaac lost her life during an unscheduled C-section in the Bronx, leaving McIntyre a single father to his newborn son, Elias.

McIntyre explained how medical staff did not allow him or Isaac’s mother to be with his pregnant partner when they arrived at a hospital to address complications with Isaac’s pregnancy.

“I express my concerns to the receptionist and I tell them that Amber does not need to be by herself, she doesn’t want to be by herself, she’s terrified,” McIntyre said. “That’s when I get looked at as an angry Black man. Security walks up to me and calls me out of my name, they tell me ‘you’re okay Mr. baby daddy, we need you to go sit in the lobby. Matter of fact, we don’t want you in the lobby, we need you to wait outside in your car.’”

After Isaac had to stay at the hospital by herself for the weekend, McIntyre got a call that they were going to start inducing her labor. They discovered she had HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening pregnancy complication, which involves heightened levels of liver enzymes and a low platelet count.

Once they finally let McIntyre be in the room with Isaac, the healthcare professionals told them they had nothing to worry about. McIntyre, however, quickly realized that their attempts at convincing weren’t accurate.

“She wasn’t dilating fast enough for them. [They] used a sense of urgency to push Amber into the arms of irrational decision making by telling us that a C-section, an emergency C-section, is our only way, was our only option at that point,” he said. “Amber was scared out of her mind. She was very much aware of the disparities that came to Black women in these hospitals. She knew that she wasn’t being heard and wasn’t being listened to.”

Moving the audience to tears, McIntyre described the last moments with the mother of his child. 

“My last words to Amber were ‘this is it, after this we can all go home, the three of us are going home.’ So the last words that Amber was saying as they were wheeling her out of the room was ‘all three of us are going home.’ Unfortunately that was the last time I [saw] Amber alive.”

During the procedure, the emergency professionals cut his wife open three times to find the source of internal bleeding. McIntyre described how even after performing an emergency hysterectomy and being sewn back up, the bleeding continued. 

Following his partner’s death, McIntyre founded the SaveARose Foundation, which works to eradicate systemic issues within maternal health care, in honor of Isaac.

Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill), who reintroduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act with Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Sen. Cory Booker a day after this past Mother’s Day, moderated the session, offering her thoughts on COVID-19’s impact on Black maternal health. Adams, Underwood and then-senator Kamala Harris first introduced the act in March 2020 after Adams and Underwood co-founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus in 2019.

“The data has been so clear that the maternal health outcomes during the pandemic, particularly that initial acute COVID stage in the spring and summer of 2020, was devastating, particularly for Black and hispanic moms in this country,” Underwood said. “The pandemic undoubtedly made our maternal health crisis worse both in the number of deaths and the disparities that we see. And the need right now in September of 2023 is clear.”

Dr. Bryant spoke on the importance of protecting the mental health of Black mothers, especially in the shadow of the pandemic.

“One of the protective factors is social support,” she said in regards to mental health troubles during the pandemic. “So when people are not able to connect with their family, their friends, their mental health professionals in person, it took some time for us all to shift to telehealth, there was a sense of being undersupported.” 

“We also have documented in our science what we call the ‘medical bias’, which I would just name as racism, and that continues to show up and impair quality care and access to care,” Bryant added. “These dynamics of the pandemic were happening during a double pandemic with racial hatred and violence and oppression and hashtags and our lives not mattering, not being taken seriously…So the context has to do with both the medical dynamic, the mental health dynamic, and the trauma of racism.”

Dr. Kelly Tice, vice president of the Medical Affairs and Chief Health Equity Office at GuideWell and Florida Blue, voiced her concerns about the mistrust Black mothers rightfully have for healthcare professionals. She also commented on how all political parties should be fighting for Black maternal health. 

“This is a bipartisan issue, period,” she said. “I think the idea that we can be polarized around whether or not a mother survives delivery and the postpartum period, or that a child grows up knowing its mother, is insanity…It’s a life issue. It’s not about how and what and why you believe, it is about the impact on our communities of losses like what have been described here this morning are untenable.”