Black Mothers Matter: Racial Bias in Childbirth — Amber Rose Isaac

This is the story of Amber Rose Isaac, a Black 26-year-old soon to be first-time mother. As told to Marissa Ware, as part of the Brave Voices Podcast. Edited for length and clarity.

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Amber would always talk to me about maternal mortality and she would tell me these stories and I would tell her, “This isn’t going to happen to us.” It did.

My name is Bruce McIntyre, I am the partner to Amber Rose Isaac and I live in the Bronx, New York.

Amber was an innovator, a game changer, who was going to change the world one way or another. She wanted to start an early-life program or open up a school to help underprivileged families and their children. She was phenomenal. We had a lot of big plans and they cut her [life] short for no reason.

Amber was facing incompetence very early on. With our OB-GYN, it started from the very first appointment. The OB-GYN seemed really distraught about our marital status. She asked if Amber and I were married. We told her no, but we have plans. After that, the OB-GYN was kind of just like giving us faces or huffing and I feel like after that she was less attentive to Amber.

OB-GYN’s tried to tell Amber about her body instead of taking the time to figure out what was really going on with Amber. As we’re coming into March, we’re not getting any response. Amber is reaching out constantly about blood work or paperwork that she needs. Nobody is really reaching back out to her.

I’m getting aggravated. You know, I’m constantly telling Amber like, “We should do this with your mom. Let’s file another complaint. Let’s have your mom [a long-time hospital employee] reach out.” I feel like that was a constant thing.

Amber was tired of it. She wasn’t being seen. Coming into her third [trimester], she should have been seen every two weeks coming into every week, but she wasn’t being seen at all. We were facing so much neglect that we decided that we were going to hire midwives.

When we got updated blood work back for our midwife, our midwife let us know, “Hey, we can’t accept you because you’re high risk” and made us aware that Amber’s platelet levels were dropping at a staggering rate. Her blood was unable to clot. Her OB-GYN and other doctors were signing off on her paperwork and they’re not telling us that her platelet levels are dropping like this, we had to find out through a midwife.

We go to get blood work done…I believe it was April 11th to see what was going on, but we’re not hearing anything back for the results. They finally scheduled a day for her to come in on April 17th. Amber was in there for over an hour and she’s calling me complaining like, “Hey, they don’t have my paperwork here, they don’t have my blood work here.”

They had told Amber they didn’t have any blood work. The people at the lab were trying to call the doctor, but the doctor’s not answering. The doctors are blaming the lab, the lab is blaming the doctors. That’s when Amber made that tweet that she wanted to write a tell-all about the incompetence and the negligence that she was dealing with from the medical system, the healthcare system.

They called us the next morning, like 8:30 in the morning saying that she needs to come in. The day that they induced her labor was the same day they found out that she had HELLP Syndrome — causing her platelet levels to be so low.

Amber is very scared because she knew that they were neglecting her and that they just weren’t paying attention to her. She really didn’t want to go by herself. She didn’t trust them. She’s asking me to come up with her or to have her mom or somebody, but because of COVID19 hospital policy at the time, birth companions were not permitted.

Her COVID19 test came back negative twice, but the head surgeon told Amber, we’re still going to treat you as if you were a COVID patient. They couldn’t find out why her platelets were dropping. Her platelet levels were very low, very, very, very low, whenever we were in the hospital, and instead of bringing her platelets up, they were testing her for COVID.

Doctors came back like 30 minutes later, rushing a C-section. They were pushing it with a sense of urgency… telling her that they wanted to get the baby out before she became sick.

I was just standing there waiting for Amber and there were these double doors that I was looking through. I didn’t know if Amber was in there or not, but I see them rushing my baby out. He’s covered in blood and I’m just thinking, “Wow. He’s here.” Then right after that, I hear the intercoms go off and the announcers calling for all medical emergency staff to attend to Amber’s room. They had to say that she was a non-COVID patient three times before people really started rushing to her aid.

I’m hearing people at the front desk shout, “Hey, where is this at? This hasn’t arrived from the blood bank yet? Where is this?” They’re having to go to the other side of the hospital to get blood to rush blood. They told me that they had everything ready in her room, they told me that everyone that I would want to be in that room with Amber was going to be in that room. They weren’t prepared.

They’re working on Amber for maybe two and a half hours and I’m asking them, “Hey, have you guys at least closed her back up from the C-section?” They ended up cutting her some more. Mind you, her platelet levels are very low. Her blood is water-like. Her blood is not clotting.

We’re still waiting around for updates. We see Black doctors leaving Amber’s room shaking their head and looking at me like they want to come tell me something, but they can’t. Then you have white doctors leaving her room coming up to me, patting me on my shoulder, “Oh, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be okay.”

If Amber would have received standard care, she would be here. Simple as that. What she had was 100% preventable, 100% treatable if caught early on. If Amber was a white woman, they would have definitely paid more attention to her. If this would have happened to a white woman, all hell would have broken loose. It would have been a state of emergency if it was a white woman.

When it comes to Black mothers, Indigenous mothers, Brown mothers, they’re not being heard at all. I’ve heard Amber voice her concerns so many times. I’ve had to speak up. Amber’s mother has had to speak up. Amber left her own testimony before she passed. Black women just aren’t being paid attention to. They’re not being listened to.

Honoring Amber’s legacy, Bruce founded the SaveARose Foundation to raise awareness of maternal mortality amongst Black and minority women in the United States. The foundation has held rallies, conducted media interviews and participated in panel discussions to raise awareness. The foundation is currently awaiting approval to become a registered 501c3 non-profit, and will accept donations once granted. To support the Save A Rose Foundation and stay up to date with upcoming events, follow @savearose.foundation on Instagram.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Women and Newborns

Article 5 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter:

5. Everyone has the right to equality, freedom from discrimination and equitable care.

No one is allowed to discriminate against you or your newborn because of something they think or do not like about either one of you. Equality requires that pregnant women have the same protections under the law as they would when they are not pregnant, including the right to make decisions about what happens to their body.

Legal authority

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Article 24 (1), 26
International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, Article 2, 10 (3)
Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990, Article 2
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979, Article 1, 12, 14(2)(b)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006, Articles 5, 6, 7
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990, Article 14
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Art. 2, Art. 5
International Labor Organization, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (№169), Art. 3

Regional legal authority

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1998,
Article 2 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990,
Article 3 American Convention on Human Rights, 1969,
Article 1 Convention of Belem do Para, 1994,
Article 6 European Convention on Human Rights, 1950, Article 14

Learn more about the universal rights of women and newborns at https://www.whiteribbonalliance.org/rmcresources

Inspiring and convening advocates to uphold the right of all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

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