Another book ticked off my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and one that Ali kindly passed to me in July last year (she read it for her book group and you can see her review here).

This is the twelfth book I’ve completed from my 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 13) and once again also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 total. I do really want to read some Virago books for All Virago/All August so I’d better keep reading along!

Candice Braithwaite – “I Am Not Your Baby Mother: What It’s Like to be a Black British Mother”

(16 July 2021 – from Ali)

I personally don’t want to reclaim the term baby mother. It can stay on the shelf, thanks. I want black women, black women who happen to be mothers, to be given space to share their multifaceted, motherhood journeys – irrespective of their family make-up, current financial situation or number of past lovers – with pride. I want black women to know that their version of motherhood is as righteous and as sacred as any other and deserves to be as protected as any other woman’s. (pp. 4-5)

That’s not too much to ask, right? I mean, I’m a White woman and not a mother (not from choice) and I can see that’s something that should be standard. But clearly it’s not.

Braithwaite’s content creation started with a blog and Instragram account and a campaign called Make Motherhood Diverse. I’d twigged that bridal magazines and ads were pretty fully White but hadn’t gathered the lack of representation in baby and mum blogs and Instagram accounts: here Braithwaite tells it how it is and demonstrates how she is an agent for change.

Because the author started as a blogger she has a very accessible and readable style. This means that even quite distressing content can be read and absorbed and it continues to be a compulsive read (it’s also a fairly short book, coming in at just under 230 pages). She cleverly structures it around the stages of pregnancy, birth and childhood, weaving in her personal memoir and sometimes horrific experiences among more general stats and stories. I’ve seen the stats about the higher mortality rates among Black mothers and infants before but this really brings it home; like Kendi’s wife in “How to Raise an Anti-Racist“, Braithwaite has serious complications around the birth of her first child which are negated and downplayed until it’s almost too late.

She consistently turns stereotypes on their head, from the baby mother with no father in the picture to her care-provider in her own youth being her grandfather. She looks at the ways women feel they have to compete to have the right equipment, examining her own need for the trendy buggy that leaves her facing microaggressions on a doorstep a long way from home, and the ways the teachers at her daughter’s school once they’ve moved out of London downplay a racist incident and seem to feel more compassion for the child who was racist. She opens up about the desire of Black families to place their children in private schools to combat the disadvantage they experience in state schools (I had no idea of the private school thing; there’s always something to learn) and worries about her son growing up in London, hence that move, and talks openly about mental health issues and how Black communities are affected by them but also push back on talk and treatment.

It’s all blisteringly honest and she’s unsparing in her call for action at the end. While she’s been burned making comments on social media to call unthinking racism out in publications that only feature White mothers and is honest about her own ignorance of the struggles mothers of other races, other types of families or who live with disabilities faced until she started campaigning, she urges readers to fight for true representation and to try to get people talking about the issues she highlights: “What will you do when nobody is watching?” (p. 227).

One thing you could do is look up the statistics for maternal mortality in your NHS region and see how they break those down. On a quick search, I could only find stats for the West Midlands that divided ethnicity by people born in the UK and people born in the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, which isn’t really the point, is it? Something to look at more deeply and get going on.

This was book number 12 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 6/28 – 22 to go!