Extract from I Am Not Your Baby Mother, by Candice Brathwaite (+ BOOK GIVEAWAY)
In the lead up to Mothers’ Day, Hysterical Women will be sharing your experiences of motherhood and parenting – including racial inequalities in maternity care, struggles with endometriosis and fertility, and mothers being dismissed as ‘neurotic’ when seeking help for their own or their children’s health. If you’d like to share your own story, please see our submission guidelines.
We’ve also teamed up with Quercus Books to celebrate the paperback publication of Candice Brathwaite’s groundbreaking book on black British motherhood, I Am Not Your Baby Mother, on 4 March. I raced through the hardback copy that I was given for Christmas, and would absolutely recommend it as essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like for black women raising children in the UK. Thanks to Quercus, one lucky Hysterical Women reader can win a paperback copy by entering the giveaway below, or you can pre-order now from the Hysterical Women store on Bookshop.
I was particularly struck by chapter 5, Black Girls Don’t Cry, on Candice’s birth and postnatal experience, and the fact that black women in the UK are five times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or childbirth (see my interview with FivexMore co-founder Tinuke for more information on this). An extract of this chapter is published below, with permission.
In this passage, Candice has been taken back into hospital in septic shock just days after giving birth. In the days after her daughter’s arrival, she’d complained to midwives of feeling seriously unwell – sweating through to the mattress, dizziness, and a raised lump forming around her C-section wound. Despite this, Candice was dismissed, told her symptoms were normal, and even began to doubt herself – up until a pus-filled sack above the wound burst and began to infect her bloodstream.
The doctor was rough, and when she tugged the tubes from my sides, it felt as if a snake were trying to escape my ribcage.
‘Oh, come on now,’ she hissed when she noticed I was crying. ‘You’ve just had a baby.’ As if she hadn’t been harsh enough already, she then sprayed the open wounds with what I can only describe as some version of anti-freeze, adding stingingly to my pain.
And, at that moment, it all became clear – just how bad the treatment had been from beginning to end. How I had not been cared for, let alone listened to. How there was this general expectation – even from healthcare providers who looked like me – for me to be strong and silent, or grin and bear it. The huffs and puffs from midwives had not been my imagination. Unwarranted comments like, ‘Hurry this one along’, were not one-offs. Feeling unwell and not having my symptoms taken seriously was not a one-off experience.
In 2018, some five years after Esmé was born, a report was published which helped me make sense of my experience. The MBRRACE-UK report (which is used as a tool to gather data, learn lessons and inform maternity care in the UK and Ireland) exposed the horrific statistic that, in the UK, black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than any other race. A bit like when the raised lump on my lower abdomen finally burst open, this report was proof that it wasn’t all in my head and, like many other black women who felt as though they had been treated unfairly in pregnancy and childbirth, I clung to this reveal as if it were a Bible.
But another similarity between this report and the Bible is that not all are willing to believe its content. Most healthcare professionals I have spoken to since have consistently tried to put this shocking statistic down to the fact that pregnant black women are more likely to fall prey to pregnancy-related illnesses which then lead to death. Whilst I’m not educated to speak on the science behind our bodies, I am experienced enough to attest to the fact that this is not the only reason.
In my opinion, a lot of this comes down to both conscious or unconscious bias, which is in part supported by the fact that the NHS is a product of a society governed by white supremacy which is willing to uphold racist values as long as nobody blows the whistle.
The day before I was discharged, the room once again filled with medical professionals. This time it was to offer an apology. Whilst they couldn’t be sure as to why my wound became infected, they readily admitted to there being a long list of ‘inconsistencies’ and behaviour from staff which ‘fell far below’ the NHS standard. Sheepishly, the same doctor who had broken my waters now handed Bode some pamphlets that showed us how to make a formal complaint through the NHS PALS service. I can’t remember what Bode told them, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t printable, so that’s perhaps for the best.
Almost a month later, as I finally went back to a baby girl who didn’t know me, I could find no words for how I had been treated or how I was feeling and, not unexpectedly, this went on to impact my mental health. But, as with most things that we truly need, the words would find me. When I think back to how I was treated, it makes me shiver. I came this close to not being a mother to Esmé.
And with superstars like Beyoncé and Serena Williams also expressing their experience of such mistreatment – albeit in America – I think it’s pertinent to note that money doesn’t erase your blackness. There are stereotypical tropes in place that continue to be perpetuated and silence those being targeted.
I’ve written countless articles and have spoken on almost as many podcasts, panels and even the national evening news, in an attempt to keep such an urgent problem like black babies having a 121% increased risk of being stillborn at the forefront of people’s minds.
In mid-2019, I heavily promoted a petition which I and others were hoping would prompt the government to investigate and address why black mothers don’t seem to receive the same level of care as their white counterparts. And whilst the campaign was shared by a collective social media following of over eight MILLION people, the petition was closed due to the recent general election with a measly thirty thousand signatures. It needed at least 100,000 signatures to be considered for debate, and the numbers spoke for themselves.
Black mothers’ lives still don’t matter. But at least I’m still alive to tell you that.
To celebrate the paperback publication of I Am Not Your Baby Mother on 4 March, Quercus Books are giving away a copy to one lucky Hysterical Women reader. Simply follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (or all three!) and enter your details below to be in with a chance of winning. You must enter your username for at least one social platform, and you must be based in the UK to win. I will contact the winner by email after midday on 1 March and arrange for your copy to be sent to you.
Alternatively, you can pre-order a copy from Bookshop*.
Enter by midday on 1 March to win a copy:
*Affiliate link – Hysterical Women is not for profit; the commission I receive from any sales helps to fund paid guest posts by writers from marginalised and under-represented backgrounds.