A film that documents the ripple effects of two women’s postpartum deaths will be shown at Hofstra University Monday in an event to raise awareness of Black women's maternal health and how they are more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, organizers said.
“It talks about the bias that comes in prenatal care for Black women,” said Shanequa Levin, CEO of the Women’s Diversity Network, who organized the event. “It gives you firsthand experience of what happens when we don't listen to Black women and what's going on in our health care.”
The documentary “Aftershock” premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. It is directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee. The free event at the Leo A. Guthart Cultural Center Theater at Hofstra University starts at 5:30 p.m.
Levin said one aspect of the film that struck her was the depiction of the two surviving men who banded together to advocate for maternal justice.
“A lot of times, you don't hear what happens to the family members after this happens,” Levin said. “It shows the fathers … They are the parent that are left behind. It shows how they were able to form a bond around this and connect and support one another.”
One of them is Bruce McIntyre, whose partner Amber Rose Isaac, of the Bronx, died in 2020 after a Caesarean section. She was 26. McIntyre is one of the panelists who will discuss the topic after the film’s showing Monday.
Another panelist is Shawnee Benton Gibson, the mother of Shamony Gibson, a 30-year-old Brooklynite who died about two weeks after giving birth to her son in 2019.
The panel discussion will be moderated by Martine Hackett, chair of the Department of Population Health at Hofstra University. She also co-founded Birth Justice Warriors, which works to reduce maternal and infant mortality numbers.
Echoing Levin, Hackett said the film followed the family members who continued to speak up, demonstrating an aftershock that came to symbolize more than pain and loss.
“This is exemplified by the family members speaking on this issue,” she said. “It also has spurred advocacy and that's an aftershock as well, right? — the ability to say that this is not acceptable.”
Sixty women died of pregnancy-related causes on Long Island between 2010 and 2019, and 473 died statewide, Newsday previously reported.
“For every maternal death that occurs, there are approximately 100 near-misses,” Hackett said.
Black women are four to five times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white, Hispanic and Asian women, state data showed. In New York in 2018, 51.2% of women who died were Black, even though only 14.3% of births were to Black women.
Experts have noted that underlying health conditions and biases among health care providers are key reasons behind the discrepancy.
“One of them has to do with what are the preexisting conditions that someone comes into pregnancy with,” Hackett said. “Then you have issues around the care within hospital settings. And this has been shown that there is unconscious bias in terms of how Black women are treated as patients during pregnancy as compared to white women.”
To attend the event, people are encouraged to register at womensdiversitynetwork.org. “Aftershock” can also be streamed on Hulu, as well.