Grieving father fundraises to lift burden, advocate for Black maternal health after fiancé’s death

Jose Perez, a Bed-Stuy father whose fiancee died in childbirth, creates an online fundraiser in her honor.
Jose Perez, a Bed-Stuy father whose fiancé died in childbirth, has launched an online fundraiser in her honor.
Photo courtesy of Jose Perez

A Bed-Stuy father whose fiancé died while giving birth at Woodhull Hospital is fundraising to help his family financially — and to honor his late loved one’s legacy by supporting Black maternal health initiatives.

Jose Perez, who lost his partner last November, launched a campaign called “Justice for Christine Fields” earlier this month and has since raised $1,020 toward a $10,000 goal. He said proceeds will be split between making up for Perez’s lost wages since becoming a full-time caregiver, therapy for the children as they struggle with losing their mom and supporting the family’s efforts in fighting the systems that led to Fields’ death. 

Perez spent the weeks following Fields’ death calling out the health organization for mishandling his wife’s birth plan and neglecting his family in their time of grieving. He says the already emotional experience was only made harder when the hospital pushed back against Perez’ custody of his newborn. Since Fields died before the couple could fill out a birth certificate, Perez alleges that the hospital kept the infant in their custody for 11 days.

“There was no reason for them to keep the baby,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “They had multiple birth plans from Christine that stated that I was the baby’s father.”

Despite a detailed birth plan, Fields had to undergo surgery. She passed shortly afterward.
Despite a detailed birth plan, Christine Fields had to undergo surgery. She died shortly after. Photo courtesy of Jose Perez

A judge granted Perez custody of the infant after a brief court session, but his fight for normalcy was far from over. 

“Because our lease was in Christine’s name, our landlord illegally locked me and our children out of the apartment and we are currently fighting eviction in housing court,” Perez wrote on the online fundraiser.

Perez and his children have been out of their home since Feb. 16, and have been staying with family. Perez’s job allowed him to take leave for as long as he needed, giving him time to work through everything — but that decision created a financial strain for him. 

“I spent thousands on Christine’s funeral, which was for our wedding. Our wedding was planned for this year,” he said. “I’m just surviving off of what I have left.”

The pair was set to get married this year. Perez is struggling to care for their children without proper financial support.
The pair was set to get married this year. Now, Perez says he is struggling to care for their children without proper financial support. Photo courtesy of Jose Perez

“I’ve been trying to advocate for Christine. I’ve been trying to spread awareness,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “I’m trying to do everything I can do so this doesn’t continue to happen. I’m trying to voice my opinion.”

After Fields’ died, Perez said the hospital neglected to give an official cause of death, as previously reported. Investigators with the New York State Department of Health later found that it was a lapse in communication from Field’s surgical team that caused her death, as reported by the New York Times.

Family members spent the months following his fiancé’s passing advocating for Black maternal health and laws like the Grieving Families Act to help other families. Perez often shares photos of him and his daughter attending events that spread awareness on deaths like Field’s, and a recent TikTok he posted of Fields on her way to Woodhull Hospital has garnered more than 75,000 views.

According to the latest data from the city’s Department of Health, the Maternal Mortality Rate in New York City, at roughly 51 pregnancy-associated deaths per 100,000 live births, remains much higher than the rate across the U.S. — an estimated 32.9 deaths per 100,000 births (though the way the Maternal Mortality Rate is calculated in the U.S. is currently under dispute, and may be as low as 10.4 deaths per 100,000.) Black birthing people in New York City are four times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than their white counterparts — in 2020, of 51 people who died from a “pregnancy-associated” cause, 23 were Black and just eight where white. 

The same year, Brooklyn had the second-highest pregnancy rate of the five boroughs – and the second-highest number of pregnancy-associated deaths. East New York and Brownsville reported among the highest infant mortality rates in the city. Per the city’s Summary of Vital Statistics, infant mortality is greatly influenced by the prenatal care and overall health of the mother before birth — as well as the care the newborn receives and factors like safe sleep and breastfeeding. 

“I want justice for Christine. When I say justice, I mean I want to be able to change what goes on,” Perez said. “Doctors should not be able to kill people and just get away with it. Christine should be here.”

NYC Health + Hospitals, the health care system which runs Woodhull Hospital, did not respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Kirstyn Brendlen