“Aftershock” Discussion: Taking Action for Black Reproductive Health

Written by Stephanie Ornelas

“I can drive and be sad at the same time.”

These powerful words spoken by Shawnee Benton Gibson at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival struck a chord with viewers who were curious about how to balance grief with work after the sudden death of her young daughter, Shmoney Gibson. Theme for the Sundance Film Festival premiere after the shockChamonix tragically died 13 days after giving birth to her son.

We are continuing our series on reproductive health and rights, and are eagerly awaiting aftershocks Released on Hulu on July 19 (read the full synopsis here), we’re looking back at when Gibson, Chamonix partner Omari Maynard, directors Paula Esselt and Tonya Lewis Lee got together for a Q&A session after the Sundance Film Festival premiere back in January . They are joined by Bruce McIntyre, the partner of 26-year-old Amber Rose Isaac who died of an emergency c-section. Together, they have worked to raise awareness of the fact that a disproportionate number of black women are being failed each year by the maternal health system in the United States.

Magnified discussion between two women - one an Arabic and Arabic translator dressed in grey, the other working in the middle in black - and a group of five people sitting at a long table.  Of these five people, two at the end are men and the three in the middle are women.
Shawnee Benton Gibson, Omari Maynard, Bruce McIntyre, and directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee gather for a question-and-answer session after the Aftershock premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

When you talk about infant health, you are talking about women’s health. And we discovered [through making the film] He tells me that the women were not feeling well. “I was talking to a group of women one day and just heard stories about a friend, sister, and cousin who died of complications from childbirth.”

Prior to the film’s production, Esselt realized that what she had experienced in the maternal health care system was endemic to black women, who were deeply affected.

“I knew that as an artist, if I wanted to help shine a light on the story and the work that was getting done, focusing on black women was the only way to do it. It just doesn’t work any other way.”

What is really interesting is how each family member talks about the process of balancing grief while bringing about change. When a major tragedy occurs, it is not uncommon for those affected to demand justice immediately – and these sentiments can be amplified when it comes to an issue of human rights, politics, and systemic change. It’s something many of us go through as we process tragedy in Ovaldi, Texas.

During the discussion, Benton, McIntyre, and Maynard talked about how to find time to grieve while still raising awareness of the audience before them now.

Benton, who has more than two decades of professional experience in the areas of women’s health, birth equality, social justice, grief, loss and trauma, says.

“I don’t have time for tears. There are a thousand people in this space. I want to talk about what’s going on and why Chamonix died. I don’t have to give up on my goal because I lost my daughter. It would be an insult to her memory. We have a whole community that takes care of me and covers me, that makes me pump the brakes when I need to.” to remain still.”

Benton acknowledges that it is important to take responsibility for your grief during the process: “The work must continue because I am a conduit. I am not The person, i a Someone on this journey and I must be responsible and accountable for my grief and my leadership.”

While Maynard expresses that there are certainly (and understandably) times when he doesn’t feel like going to rallies or activist meetings, being in this space gives him the energy he sometimes lacks.

“There are definitely moments where I feel like I don’t have the bandwidth to grieve and be in a place where I can carry people. Because I’m at this point. But once you get there, it’s a whole experience because you’re nourished by other people’s energy and you’re in a place where you realize this is a collaborative thing. It’s not something we’re trying to tackle as individuals. So if we create a space where I can lift you up and work backwards, it makes movement more palatable.”

Echoing Maynard’s words, McIntyre explains how he was instantly affected by the act after Isaac’s death, but his desire to spread awareness doesn’t stop him from feeling all he needs to feel when he’s in those intense moments of grief. “I jumped into work the next day after Amber died. I left the hospital right away and jumped on the computer and started studying and calling. I didn’t necessarily take the time to stop and grieve because I felt like I was running out of time.”

“I felt like I needed to do something in the moment, instead of waiting. I had a mission and a goal and I wanted to make it happen. Within that, I found that talking to parents like Omari – and others who have experienced this kind of loss – gave me the energy and fire to really continue” .

McIntyre continues: “Of course when I feel like I need to take time to myself and grieve, I do it without apology. I feel what I need to feel any moment I’m in. I don’t hide and I don’t have anything. It’s very healing for me. And being surrounded by society And with love and the people who are also in this fight with me brings solace.”

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