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  • Writer's pictureAnnabelle Steele

I Am Not Your Baby Mother - A response

I don't think I've ever quite understood the importance of reading the right book at exactly the right time. So, when my mum sent me a copy of this in the post and I started flicking through the pages I had absolutely no idea how much it was going to make me laugh, make me cry, scare the s**t out of me and make me ache with love for my sons.

This is my first longer book response - I often write shorter reviews on my Instagram but by the time I reached Chapter 5 of this book I knew I was connecting to every single word Candice was writing in a way which I needed to express in full.

Firstly, everyone needs to read this now. If you've ever used the term Baby Mother / Baby Mum in front of a Black woman and wondered why she's cringes uncomfortably and silently recoils - read this book.

Read this book if you have heard the statistic that Black woman are 5 times more likely to die in child birth or shortly after child birth but haven't understood the utter fear, horror and anxiety that Black women feel when pregnant. The tears that they refuse to let fall every time they stroke their swelling bellies while smiling in the faces of all those that congratulate them. This book describes exactly why Black mums - to - be often don't want to put faith in the NHS at the very time that they need them the most. This book describes why Black women won't complain through fear of being treated worse.

This is less of a review and more of an opportunity for me to share and respond to what Candice has written - I think what Candice has created with this book is an opportunity to share our stories as Black mothers and Black mothers - to - be without being told we are exaggerating or making it all about race.

In the book Candice talks about the difficulty of naming your child and I have just been through exactly this. Trying to come up with names for two mixed raced twin boys has not been easy because as Candice describes in the book, you don't want something too Black that isn't going to allow them to get their foot in the door at an interview, (Candice explains that this is a real issue with statistics to match). Similarly, you don't want a name that is considered too white. Being a Black girl named Annabelle I have been told multiple times that my name is too white or that I don't look like an Annabelle... but I have never been turned down an interview like some of my friends.

In fact, I once arrived at an interview and the interviewer said "You're Annabelle?" and laughed. I know this is societies problem and not mine but I don't want this for my sons. I want them to be judged on their merit and not their names. So, to everyone that has said "Come on Annabelle, it's just a name, just choose one" unfortunately to Black mothers it is so much more than 'just a name'. Before having my first child we got married and we now share a family name - to not have children before marriage was a partly conscious decision because I didn't want my children being questioned or judged on why their name was double barrelled, in the same way that I was. And there was there was absolutely no way I was going through 9 months of carrying children to not share a surname with them so for me marriage before kids was vital.

Like Candice, when I attend my maternity appointments on my own, they take one look at my belly and ask "Is the dad around?" (usually asked in a way that assumes they think I don't speak English). I want to roll my eyes and kiss my teeth and walk out but, I just politely say he's working - which he is.

I can't blame the professionals though as it has been a long running cliché that Black dads don't stick around. Although my husband is white, they would never assume he is white just by looking at me as that is not what society has led them to accept. And even though my husband is white, I like Candice, have always had this fear that he won't stick around because... well society tells us that Black women don't get men that stick around. Black woman have to be strong enough, to become strong, independent, single mothers at any moment. And although he is an amazing husband and father, as Black women we are told by society to believe that even with a man by our side we have to prove that we can do it alone if need be. WE DON'T NEED A MAN! This is not only exhausting but damaging and unfair!!

Throughout this pregnancy I have been and I am continuing to be treated unfairly because of the colour of my skin. Not only by NHS staff who haven't supported my mental health needs at all but also at one point greatly neglected my physical needs to point where after 8 weeks of waiting for a response to a question I had to put in a complaint. (I NEVER COMPLAIN - THIS SHOWS HOW DESPERATE I WAS) Believe me, I understand they are stretched and overworked and there is a lot going on right now but for 8 weeks I wasn't able to contact anyone that could help. They realised they had failed me and apologised and changed how I was going to be cared for. After complaining, I was immediately treated differently - suddenly everyone was available and emails were answered. This scares the life out of me as I now have to give birth at their hands knowing that they may resent me for complaining. I get upset daily and have to pray that I am treated with the utmost professional care throughout the rest of this pregnancy and through delivery and beyond.

Not only have I been treated differently by NHS staff but also by people around me. When I stated that I was struggling to breathe one day I was told by a colleague "You're talking, so you're breathing, you're fine" The blatant lack of sympathy and the idea that I am a strong, Black women has removed any compassion that was ever there, leaving me quite literally to fend for myself while I am the most vulnerable I have ever been in my adult life.

When people in my workplace have commented on how differently I am being treated in comparison to a pregnant white colleague and friend, I have been forced to put on a brave face and smile and act like I haven't noticed. Although I know full well that I am being treated unfairly. As Black women these things don't go unnoticed but if we mention it we risk being labelled unfairly as 'an angry / intimidating Black woman' with too many emotions and anger issues, so we stay quiet and instead hold it in until we can cry on the journey home from work.

In IANYBM Candice also talks about the fear of sending Black children to the wrong school or raising them in the wrong area. This is something that I have toyed with over the last three years through my first pregnancy and now through this pregnancy. After both growing up a multicultural area, we made the decision to move further away from the city centre when we brought our home. This brought many benefits, but like Candice describes one of the downfalls is the lack of Black and brown faces. There is a constant feeling of being the token Black person and the fear of having to represent all other Black people.

I have fears about how this may impact on my sons, self esteem and confidence and I pray they never have to experience the same type of racism that Candice describes Esme going through in her early school years. As we definitely can't afford to do what Candice and Bode did to protect their child and shield them from what should be a safe space. I don't know how I would handle it if I received the same phone call about my sons in a few years time but it something that forever plays on my mind.

This response to IANYBM has only brushed the surface as I don't want to spoil it for anyone that has not read it. I also don't want to become too consumed in talking about how hard I am finding being a pregnant Black women and what anxieties and tough decisions I know that I am going to inevitably face while raising my sons. As I am not mentally in a place to do that while heavily pregnant. However, I do want to end by saying I fully and whole- heartedly relate to everything that Candice has written and I know other minority mums will. All of these issues should be more spoken about and I thank Candice for sharing her experiences and for providing a platform on which we can discuss and share our genuine experiences without being accused of making it all about race.

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