As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.
This is Bruce McIntyre's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.
April 17th of this year, after a frustrating attempt to call our doctor, Amber tweeted:
Four days later, she was dead.
Amber was admitted into Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY on April 21st to give birth to our beautiful son, Elias.
But she never got to meet him, she never got to leave. We looked forward to being a family, to living our lives with our baby boy. And we were robbed of that opportunity. Amber fell victim to the 37.1 mortality statistic black women face in America, in an underlying racial bias of dismissive, unattended disparity that's discussed somewhat, but not enough. There's no doubt in my mind, if Amber was white, she would still be alive today.
Am I OK? No. Will I be? I'm not sure.
I miss her, and I struggle. I get angry, I get sad. I loved that woman. And I lost her at the hands of others; at the hands of negligence. The good news is that the mortality rates for black women are going down, but what does that mean for those who've already experienced the pain?
I was born May 12, 1991 in Auburn, NY. Growing up was not easy for me at all, especially being the first-born. All of the pressure was on me after my father left. I became the man of the house at the age of seven and had to help take care of my younger siblings. We were poor and my mom had to work all day, so I was home taking care of my siblings. We had no car, so we had to walk everywhere or try to get rides from friends. The winters were harsh. There were times my mom was at work and I would have to carry one brother while holding another's hand traveling through six inches of snow to get to my grandmother's house just because she cooked. We were made fun of because of our clothes and haircuts.
I always wanted more for my family. Seeing my mother slave away to a job that didn't appreciate her did something to my soul.
I got locked up and sent to a juvenile center for a few months at 15. The judge knew I had a hard life (jumped by gang members at 10, kicked out of the house, sleeping at friend's houses, hustling for food, etc.) but he also knew I wasn't a bad kid. He told me if he saw me in his court again, he was going to give me 15 years.
And that's all I needed, I never looked back. Instead, I found other avenues to live the right way.
I met Amber through mutual friends in like 2006.
Courtesy of Bruce
When we would see each other, it was more of a "hi" and "bye" thing. I was moving between the Bronx and North Carolina every two-ish years, so we started catching up through Facebook, and would check in with each other occasionally. I tried to be more than friends with her and shoot my shot, but she turned me down. She was focused on herself, her goals, and career at the time. We kept in touch and got to know each other better over time. In 2018, I was heading up to New York from North Carolina for my birthday weekend when Amber invited me to her graduation. I didn't make it because I was still on the road, but the next day we met up and I took her out to celebrate.
We were glued together ever since.
One summer night, we were in Brooklyn on one of our regular date nights, and we stopped into a bookstore. She was looking at a hip-hop baby book and telling me how she couldn't leave without this book. She said, "You know, it's about time for us to have a baby," and she gave me this look. By October 2019, she was pregnant, and due at the end of May.
And everything was great at the beginning. I loved seeing her pregnant. There were no complications.
Elias was on schedule. She was so beautiful.
Once we made it to March, her second trimester, things began to change. It was time to begin having more frequent check-ups, but because of the pandemic, everything was virtual. Virtual visits, virtual appointments. Zoom, telehealth, you name it. She wasn't seen in-person the whole month. She would call and say, "Hey, I need my blood work back, I haven't heard anything..."
It became a daily routine. And no one reached back out to us. We couldn't get an in-person appointment, hospitals were a mess. It just seemed as if we were giving birth during the end of the world.
When we finally received her blood work, we learned that her platelet levels were extremely low. She had developed HELLP syndrome and was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section.
Before she went in, I couldn't hug her, couldn't kiss her. And then...she died. With no one around.
It all happened so fast, so suddenly. Just like that, she was gone.
But we had so many plans.
We were going to get married through the court system, and save for our wedding.
I was even supposed to propose the day of our baby shower, but COVID shut down our event space and the owner ran off with our money. Nothing was going how we hoped. And I never got the chance to propose.
If I'm being honest—a hundred percent honest—I haven't really been able to cope with it. Some days I don't think it's possible. Knowing your twin flame, the one that you were destined to spend the rest of your life with, and that you were supposed to do life with, is suddenly gone, is hard. And knowing how preventable her death was, will always haunt me.
I knew I had to somehow pick myself up and tell our story. I knew there were millions of other black women that needed both of us speak up.
Soon after, I started the SaveARose Foundation in her honor, which has turned out to be one of the most therapeutic aspects of this journey. I've learned the importance of carrying a load. Nothing stops you. I'm constantly doing interviews or having to leave town to advocate. I've been in meetings with Senators, legislators, congressmen/women, city council members, etc. I've told my story to everyone from Essence, to The New York Times, to Good Morning America, to Rickey Smiley.
My goal became bringing change and reshaping the way we view healthcare by any means. Primarily, healthcare for black women.
And I get so much love and support from everyone. Family, friends, the birthing community. My communities and the members of SaveARose, and sometimes even strangers from all over the world. The craziest thing about advocate work, is no one doing it ever expected for them to be the one on the frontline. One day, this heavy baton is suddenly shoved in your face, and you have to pick it up.
As far as our son, Elias...I love that kid. He is Amber's absolute twin, it's so fascinating. He has many characteristics from us both, but he lights up just like Amber did, especially when he smiles. He is just so happy, he's always smiling and laughing. He's been finding his voice so he's been trying to talk and communicate with me. He will make his own little word up and start laughing, and I assume he's trying to tell me some fire jokes so I laugh with him. He doesn't like to be babied, though, and he has this mean side-eye that Amber had.
Me, I have good and bad days. I try to take time to myself by escaping the city to breathe fresh air or I spend my time with Elias. I don't practice self-care as much as I'd like, I've always put others before myself. To see someone else happy because I was able to help them, brings me joy. Steering people away from anxiety and depression feels like I'm saving a life.
And as for Amber...
I honor her every day.
I honor her through co-parenting.
I honor her by waking up every morning and fighting for her.
I honor her by advocating for other families so that this doesn't happen to more mothers, fathers, and children.
I honor Amber through SaveARose.
I honor Amber by taking care of her community.
I honor Amber by working towards bringing a birthing center to the Bronx.
I honor Amber by making her eternal through Art.
I honor Amber by making sure she marks her place on this planet and throughout history.
Bruce has dedicated his life to advocating for the significance of black women's voices in healthcare. He is working to bring a freestanding midwifery-led birthing center that provides wellness and education to the Bronx. Follow both him [bizmacthe3rd] and SaveARose Foundation [savearose.foundation] on Instagram for all of the latest news and updates.
Please send any donations, encouragement, or items for Elias to:
2549 Jerome Avenue
P.O. Box 32
Bronx, NY 10468
Feature image courtesy of Bruce McIntyre