Days before 26-year-old Amber Isaac lost her life giving birth at a hospital in the Bronx (where black women are 8-12x more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications), she tweeted about the negligent care she was receiving as a high-risk, pregnant, BIPOC patient during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the day she was induced and later rushed into an emergency c-section, she was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening pregnancy complication that causes dangerously low platelet levels.
Her death was preventable, and yet Isaac’s partner Bruce McIntyre and their newborn son Elias left Montefiore Medical Center without her; she was buried on McIntyre’s birthday, May 12th. In the face of unimaginable tragedy, McIntyre sprang to action, fighting for birth justice in Amber’s name so that no other family or father would have to experience the loss he and his family have been grieving. One of his first speaking appearances was for Mama Glow Webinar, SAY HER NAME: Black Maternal Mortality & Honoring Lives Lost, on May 19th, where Bruce and Charles Johnson both spoke about their experiences.
Ahead of Father’s Day, we talked to Bruce about how he and Elias are doing together as they navigate life without Amber, Bruce’s intentions for spreading Amber’s legacy as a father and maternal health advocate, and the good he hopes will come from his family’s tragic experience.
Please join us in lifting Bruce on this first Father’s Day with his son Elias, and without his beloved partner. Read his words, learn their story, and say Amber Rose Isaac’s name.
You and Elias have been together for just over a month now. How has your life changed now that he’s a part of it?
It’s changed for the better. He’s keeping our families together. He’s bringing us joy because this is a very hard time for all of us. I feel like honestly all of us would be in a hole if it wasn’t for Elias. But Elias has been wonderful since he got home. He’s not too fussy, he’s sleeping well, eating well, growing constantly… And he’s very alert. You know, so having him home, not much has really changed. I feel like this is something that we were all prepared for and, you know, we are very big on family as well. So it’s very good that the families coming together for him. And that I know that he has a support system behind him as well. His grandmother has been wonderful help – Amber’s mother, Anita, she has been wonderful. She actually came to stay with us whenever Amber was, you know, getting close to her due date. She was going to help Amber out while I was working and so you know after Amber passed, she ended up staying with me and Elias. And she’s been just great help, you know, making sure that he’s eating right, making sure his health is okay because, you know, the first couple of weeks were a little hard for me. Him being premature, you know you have to be extra sensitive with him. So I was very grateful to have her around to help me out with that. But, you know, other than that, he’s been amazing.
Is there a favorite moment or memory you and Elias have shared so far on this journey together that you’ll want to remind him of when he’s older?
His smile. Oh my God, his smile, and the way he looks at you and the way he smiles is just, it reminds you so much of Amber. And I really feel like that’s what’s been keeping a lot of us going. Because we see so much of her in him. And having that piece of her gives us a lot of relief. But I feel like he has been giving me so much motivation to fight. You know, I’m fighting for him. I’m fighting for Amber. Growing up, I just want him to know that him and his mother are changing the world. I want his mother’s legacy to spread throughout history, and I want him to know that his mother was a superhero.
What are some of the qualities in Amber that you hope your son will have when he grows up?
Amber was very loving, very thoughtful, very humble. You know, those are traits that we wanted to share with Elias. We just want Elias to grow to be an amazing person. His mother was a leader and innovator, and I want him to carry those same traits as her. Just very loving and caring, that’s how I want Elias to grow up. And passionate.
Think back to that moment when Amber told you she was pregnant. How did it feel finding out you were going to be a father?
Oh my God, we were so excited, because this wasn’t something that just happened, you know. We actually started planning in August. It was actually August 11 when we first had this discussion. We actually rekindled one of our previous dates, and we ended up going to Prospect Park to Smorgasburg. Ate all the foods there and went to the Prospect Zoo. And leaving the zoo, I believe we were heading down Flatbush and there was this bookstore on Flatbush and she wanted to go see if they had any books on herbs, because she was into making her own concoctions. So we ended up going into that bookstore, and in that bookstore there was this hip-hop baby book. It had like baby Biggie, baby Tupac, little baby Kendrick. And she looked at me with this glow and this big smile and she was like, “I’m not leaving without this book.” She was like “We are taking this book home right now for our future baby.” And, you know, she looked at me and gave me this smile she was like “Oh, it’s about time we started a family.”
So we planned it out all throughout August, and then we found out that she was pregnant September 27. She had taken two pregnancy tests, they both came back positive. And she came running into the room smiling, jumping up and down, and just very excited to be pregnant. She just couldn’t wait to tell her family, she couldn’t wait to tell people. But of course we would plan everything out, so she wanted to plan how we were going to tell the family. We were originally trying to break the ice for Thanksgiving, but we didn’t make it to Thanksgiving. The family ended up finding out like late October, because she just had this glow – she was just glowing, like very vibrant. And, you know, Amber enjoyed her wine, and she’s a pescetarian so all she ate was like seafood. So when her family started noticing she was not eating any more seafood or drinking wine, they found out she was pregnant.
It’s been so inspiring watching you step into the role of advocate. What are some of your goals as you continue advocating for maternal health?
Me and Amber were very big into helping people. We wanted to help people in any way that we could. So, my new mission now with maternal health is here in the Bronx, it’s very tough for mothers, and I want to step into this role educating mothers, because these hospitals aren’t educating enough. They’re kind of just half-assing work with black minority women. So I’ve been working with this group of midwives from Birth From the Earth. They were actually going to be our midwives before all of this, so after Amber passed, they reached out to me to share their condolences and have been very supportive of me. They actually showed up to my press conference – they delivered a birth in Brooklyn, drove all the way to the Bronx to be at my press conference, stayed the whole press conference, and left to deliver more babies. They have been truly amazing. So, when Amber passed, I was actually thinking about, you know, starting up a birthing center or something for her, so we can have more attentive care for these women. Because I know that’s something that Amber would have wanted, and I don’t want any families or fathers to endure the pain that I’ve been going through.
And so, when I was speaking to the midwives, they were actually like “Oh, well we’ve been working on bringing a birthing center to the Bronx for the past year.” But they’re having complications with certain things, so that’s where I’m stepping in because I’m bringing awareness to this as well. I’m trying to help them bring a birthing center to the Bronx because it’s well needed. The Bronx hospitals, they have very high c-section rates. There’s one hospital in particular that cut down their c-section rates and that’s only due to them having 70% of midwives and doulas attend their deliveries. So that’s the only reason why they have a very low c-section rate. And thinking about that it’s like, why don’t we just have those women in a birthing center where they can give them more attentive care? They can focus on birth, education, and wellness, focus on workshops, serve in the communities. So that’s the main goal right now, besides starting up the foundation. I’m still trying to put everything in place for the foundation. All of this is still pretty fresh to me, but I’ve been in business development for quite some time now. So I’m trying to figure out all the means of running a successful and proper foundation… You know, everybody’s asking me “Why didn’t you really take the time to like properly grieve?” I’m grieving in my own way. I’m seeking spiritual guidance, grief therapy, things to keep my mental state intact. But I feel like this is something that I can’t wait on. The longer I wait, the more lives are in danger. And that’s not sitting well with me, and I know Amber wouldn’t want me just sitting around, I know she would want me to do something about this and take action. And I know she would do the same for me.
You’ve been through so much in such a short period of time. We recognize that there’s still much to process and move through, but what are some of the things you learned in the aftermath of this devastating experience?
I’ve just learned a lot about maternal health. As a man, you don’t really educate yourself too much on maternal health. You know, you put your trust into these doctors. These doctors have worked their whole life to follow their goals and their careers, so you put your trust into them. But now I’m starting to realize that we have to put trust in ourselves in our community. Because, thinking about it, the state or the city should be funding a birthing center when it’s well needed, especially in an area like the Bronx. And the fact that they haven’t and that it’s taking a community to come out of their own pockets to try to help open, that truly speaks volumes to me. A lot of this stuff has been very eye opening to me. I’m learning so much on maternal health, I’m learning so much on ways that we can help mothers. I’m speaking to midwives and doulas, OB/GYN doctors who are all educating me on certain symptoms or what could have been done. So I want to share everything that I’ve been learning with these women so they can educate themselves when they’re going in, so they know what signs to look out for, so they know what questions to ask these doctors. Because these doctors are emotionally manipulating women, and they’re pushing the sense of urgency to direct and guide where they want this to go. And it may not be in the mother’s favor.
I’m just wanting to educate mothers and families and even fathers, because I think it’s time for fathers to start paying attention more to maternal health. Because when our women speak to us about their bodies, we don’t fully understand because we’re men. We hear them, we have an understanding, but we don’t fully understand what’s going on in their body. And I think that’s something that we need to be more attentive to, because it could literally save the life of your spouse. It could save misery and breakups within the family, avoid depression and anxiety. So, I want to be able to spread this awareness so these families aren’t going through what we’re going through and, you know, fathers can keep their mental state intact because this does a lot to people. And even after evaluation processes for depression and anxiety, they’re throwing drugs at you like Xanax, which are highly addictive and it’s hard to understand why they throw drugs at you, knowing that you have to take care of your family, you have to take care of your children. You can’t do that when you’re doped up. So that’s literally ruining communities. So we’re trying to find other ways for men to cope with this pain, instead of turning towards drugs. And also focus on postpartum depression as well for women. Because yet again, as a man you don’t really understand postpartum depression for women, and how it affects their mood and their bodies. You know, looking at my mother now, I feel like she needed that help from postpartum depression. So now I’m understanding why my mother was the way she was because she didn’t receive the help. This is stuff that we need to be educating people on, because it has effects even after birth. It has lifelong effects. I’ve heard stories of men having to take their spouses to mental institutions because they don’t know what’s going on with them, not realizing that this is a branch off postpartum.
You have so many beautiful plans already underway to spread and celebrate Amber’s legacy with social activism and change. How do you intend to honor her legacy in your parenting of Elias? What will you teach Elias about his mother?
Everything, everything. She was a very influential woman. She actually helped me out a lot, because I was struggling with depression and anxiety since 2014, and Amber actually helped me overcome that – her strength and her being there and being attentive and being caring and loving. These are all things that I want to show Elias and that I’m going to be able to show Elias because he’s going to realize the effects that Amber has made from this. That she wasn’t just a normal person. That she was a phenomenal woman. She loved the community, she loved people. She had such a love for children, she was so wonderful with children. Her whole career worked around children. Her last position was a teacher – she was a teacher for early life.
I want him to be able to see everything that’s going on because of her… We’re working on a documentary, so I want to be able to capture everything that that I’m doing right now. The whole movement that transpired you know due to [Elias] and Amber. I want him to grow up and be able to see all of this, because I believe you know this movement sparked because of what Amber represented. She was just a great person, and great people are remembered, and I want his mother to go down in history. I want to be able to show you Elias “Hey, Elias, your mom changed this legislation. There is a law now because of your mother.” You know, things like that. “There’s a birthing center here, because of your mother.” I want him to be able to see his mother’s name everywhere, I want him to be able to feel her presence.
I have tons of videos and pictures that I’m going to be showing him. You know, it’s crazy because about three months ago, she received this package. And she was so excited to show me what it was. She hid it from me, and she was like, “I don’t know if I want to give it to you for your birthday or for Father’s Day.” And unfortunately, I had to bury her on my birthday, May 12. But about three days later, you know her mother and her aunt were cleaning my apartment, and they had found her gift to me. And as soon as I found it, I broke down. So, it was actually an illustrated book for me and Elias for Father’s Day. It’s called “When Elias Grows Up,” and it’s pictures and illustrations and everything. For me, she says they’re tasks for me – to make sure that Elias grows up being whatever he wants to be. There’s stories in there of him running for president, or being a basketball player, a scientists, all of those things – whatever he desires to be. So that right there just tells you how thoughtful she was and how amazing she was… I think Elias is not going to have a problem seeing any of this. He is going to see all of this, and what change is mother has brought.
What is your wish for fathers this Father’s Day?
I wish that fathers would not take their families for granted. To spend that extra hour, to spend that time to do more for their families. Amber was very big on bringing the family together for events, so I feel like that’s something I want for fathers as well. Bring the families together, spend that quality time, spend that extra time, because you’ll never know how much time you have. I want fathers to be more involved. More involved with pregnancies, with children, to stop relying so much on the mothers and help. And there are good fathers out there that are hoping, but then again there are fathers out there who don’t want to change a diaper or don’t want to call for appointments don’t want to take their children to doctor’s appointments -they want the wife to do it. I feel like all of that needs to change. Yeah, all of that needs to change. I feel like they need to be more involved and do more for their wives and their children.
How can people continue to support you, Elias, and your family?
Spread awareness about the birthing center. That’s really all I could ask for because that’s so important, especially as a community. If they want to help our community and save our community, this is how they can help us. They can contribute into the birthing center or share awareness of the birthing center, share the importance of having a birthing center. I feel like that’s the only way that that me and Elias can be really supported because Elias going to grow up wanting to save people as well. And this is the start of it. This is how we can save lives. So that’s, that’s really all I could ask for, because I’m very passionate about this.
Also the community needs to educate themselves on maternal health. Pay attention to the statistics, ask those questions, be more involved,. Help mothers that are struggling, because a lot of these mothers have government aid, like Medicaid, and they are excluded from some of the best services that they would need. So you know, right now we’re trying to find a creative way to offset the cost of insurance premiums. I know the ladies over at Birth From the Earth are putting together a scholarship program that covers the cost of whatever insurance doesn’t cover. And Save A Rose is also trying to do the same thing as well, as a part of our foundation. We’re all just trying to come up with a creative way to accept all insurance because we don’t want to turn anybody away at the door. These are lives at stake. So, I really just want the attention to be on bringing a birthing center to the Bronx.