My dance with Grief

I don’t know exactly when you walked into my life

Maybe you were pushed or did someone drop you off. Maybe you were there all along and I just didn’t notice

All I know is that you weren’t invited

No letter, no call, no “Hello”

I looked up one day and you were there

But for how long?

Who Knows?

It’s funny to know that you were there all along

Silently present, guiding me, waiting for me to notice you

Waiting for me to hear your voice

Waiting for me to feel your touch

I hated your touch, it was cold, distant, unwanted

Somehow you entered through closed doors

Inviting yourself in like an intruder seeking revenge 

You sat down, I got up

We danced

Your led, led me to that dark place, into the deep

I could see clearly despite the absence of light

Dark, alone I could suddenly hear

I heard my heart beating out of tune

I heard you say “I am here and will never leave you”

“I know” I replied

Then I took your hand as we danced

It was awkward at first, stepping on each other’s toes not knowing which way to go

We danced, you held me close

You whispered in my ear, I succumbed to you

We danced until we became one beat

I succumbed as my tears flowed to the beat of our dance

Who Will See My Tears?

As most of you know I recently “crossed The Bridge” (a term for those of us who have attended The Bridge Retreat). One of the sessions on The Bridge was called ‘World Grief’ where we were encouraged to write, draw – essentially do something creative to represent our feelings around something that’s happening in the world. The idea is that we grieve our individual wounds as part of the global collective, if we can move beyond our own pain we can become more connected with the world – To quote The Bride “Healing relationships, healing our world”

So I thought I’d share what I wrote …

Who Will See My Tears?

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe

You are kneeling on my neck

There was a time when I would have stood before you as an enslaved woman who had no control over her destiny

My body stolen, never mine, wondering if this is personal or just business

but I couldn’t speak up, I couldn’t question, I couldn’t refuse, I could not show you my tears

Today I stand before you, childless, my status being met with surprise and disbelief

You see white people think that I come from a long line of strong, virile, hypersexual women that do not have fertility issues

Growing up ‘Baby Mamma’s were disrespected, now as a childless woman I am pitied

But who will see my tears?

I turn to you for help but you do not hear my sorrow, you don’t seem to understand, for heavens sake you don’t even look like me

If a childless woman have no currency in society then what about the black childless women?

Fertility in black women is rarely discussed or acknowledged as a problem

Breeding myths from slavery perpetuate the stereotype that black women do not have problems conceiving

However there are studies that suggest black women may be almost twice as likely to experience infertility as white women

Black women are less likely to seek help to get pregnant than white women

So why won’t you help me?

Why don’t you see my tears?

“While too much fertility is seen as a black woman’s problem that must be curbed through welfare policy, too little fertility is see as a white woman’s problem to be cured through high-tech interventions.”*

For women who look like me not having children has many layers of trauma that is hard to explain

My voice is a voice that is rarely heard

My history reminds me of how silenced I’ve became

My present tells me that nothing has changed

When are you going to take your knee off my neck so that I can breathe?

When will you hear my voice?

When will you see my tears?

When are you going to stop stereotyping me so that I can speak?

When are you going to stop letting your colour-blindness and white privilege stop me from being heard?

 If you don’t see my colour you don’t see my pain,

If you don’t see my colour you don’t see my challenges or the barriers I face

If you don’t see my colour when are you going to see my tears?

You tell me that things have changed, “Slavery ended a long time ago”

So why do I still feel the shackles of your system?

The system that denies my history

The system that silences me with shame

The system that does not see my tears

When we pull down your statues you replace them with walls

You tell us that we are aggressive but yet you continue to unashamedly kill us with little to no consequences

You call me the angry black woman yet when I dare to speak out against you, you show me my faults

Then you wonder why I am angry when you refuse to hear my voice, when you refuse to see my tears

Why do I have to fight to get your knee off my neck?

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe

When are you going to take your knee off my neck so that I can breathe?

When are you going to hear my voice?

When are you going to see my tears?

*Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty: Dorothy Roberts

Crossing The Bridge

I recently attended The Bridge Retreat hosted by Donna Lancaster and Gabi Krueger. At some point earlier in the year, and after hearing others talk about retreats, I had the urge to attend one myself. Apart from anything else this year has been a revealing one, one that has added another layer to the difficulties that I’ve been experiencing over the past 6+ years. From unsuccessfully trying to start a family with my husband, the breakdown of my marriage to constantly being called a bully at work which then lead me to having an identify crisis in 2018. During these times I was grateful for the good stuff in my life as these were the things that I could cling on to, like my connection and work for Gateway Women, that gave me so my joy and kept my grounded however I still found myself feeling more and more misunderstood. I was getting lost in other people’s opinions of me and found myself wondering, “who am I?” I’d hear the attributes that others would attach to ‘someone being a nice person’, ones that they didn’t necessarily attach to me (especially as a female manager or even a black female manager) and I found myself having to cling on to the truth, for myself, that I am a nice person no matter what others said knowing that I was just a different version of myself depending on the person I was around or the situation I was in – which I guess lead me to feel misunderstood, lost and confused.

On Christmas Eve I turn 50 and felt like this was the time for me to get back in touch with me. Pre Covid I had planned to be on my own on a beach somewhere exotic, that then changed to signing up for the residential Bridge Retreat in December, yep after looking into it and talking to Gabi, I felt that The Bridge would be what I was looking for. It was what I needed to get back to me and reconcile these feelings that I was battling with. Covid again changed those plans and the residential retreat moved on-line and instead of December I did it this month.

So November the 20th to 22nd became my 6 days of healing.

I entered into therapy 3 years ago at the breakdown of my marriage, which helped me to process a lot of my anger and grief I had at the time. Being on The Bridge I realised that all the work I had done over the years was through my head. I could already see how much I feel my way through situations and how empathic I’ve become however as much as I was feeling through my body I was processing through my head, from the neck up as Donna would say. I was disconnected. The Bridge helped me to reconcile my head with my body, to listen to my body and to process through my body – body shaking is such a wonderful tool.

The retreat gave me a place to switch off from my life, to stop and to hear. It gave me a place to be seen, heard and accepted. I had the honour of being witnessed and had the honour of being a witnessing others. I went on The Bridge feeling confused, misunderstood and unaccepted. I crossed the Bridge realising that I already know who I am I was just too afraid to be her because of other people’s opinions. For the first time I held my wounded child and gave her the love that she’d been longing for all this time. For the first time I could truly accept and love me. The Bridge gives us the opportunity to see and face the deficiencies that hold us back and in Donna’s words “The Bridge loves people into their healing” and “gives us our life force back”. I can’t say what tomorrow will being, what turning 50 or even what 2021 will bring for me but what I do know is that, thanks to Donna and Gabi, The Bridge has given me the gift of wanting to live the best version of me.

“You have to be willing to be uncomfortable…”

So there have been some interesting conversations on the news this morning where Prince Harry talks about his experience or maybe awaking of his white privilege and unconscious racial bias “life with Meghan made me aware of unconscious racial bias. It’s a conversation that many black people, including myself, have tried to have on countless occasions, a conversation that is, at times, dismissed as “it’s too hard to prove”.

I was grateful that the Full Stop Podcast team faced their fears and were willing to sit with their uncomfortableness and share this conversation with me and my friends earlier this year. If you’ve not heard the interview you can listen here; https://www.thefullstoppod.com/listen

Meet Amy Ashwood Garvey: Black History Month 2020

Amy Ashwood Garvey (1897-1969) is the Jamaican born feminist, playwright, Pan-Africanist activist and ex wife of Marcus Garvey. Amy was a director of the Black Star line Steamship Corporation, and along with her former husband Marcus she founded the Negro World newspaper. She was one of the pioneering Black women journalists and publishers of the 20th century.

Amy founded the precursor organisation to the West African students (WASU) in London in 1924. She organised women’s organisations in West Africa and the Caribbean and became an important figure in the anti-racist movement in England working with Claudia Jones. She also helped to establish the International African Service Bureau and the London Afro-Women’s centre.

I just loved reading about Amy; she was such an inspirational, resilient woman who showed a great passion for women’s rights. Let’s face it, she was a bad-ass woman, I mean she just had to be given that she was operating in a very male (especially a white male) dominated society. Amy

  • opened the Florence Mills Social Club a jazz club on Carnaby Street, which became a gathering spot for supporters of Pan-Africanism
  • was involved in organising the first session of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945 where she was only one of 2 two female presenters
  • gave talks to women’s groups
  • helped to set up the “Afro Peoples Centre” in Ladbroke Grove in 1953
  • co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People In the wake of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots

see bad-ass!!!…

I was particularly intrigued to learn that Ashwood had a relationship with a certain William Tubman the president of Liberia. I smiled when I read this as it reminded me of the time when I met one of the late prime minsters’ of Dominica, Pierre Charles… I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination

Ohhh I almost forgot, she is now one of my NoMo sheros, yep she didn’t have any children.

Well you can research more about Amy Ashwood Garvey at your leisure but for now I will leave you with a few of her quotes…

#blacknomorolemodels

Meet Claudia Jones: Black History Month 2020

So we looked at Black Women in Britain as part of the Great Black Women in History course I’ve been attending, that sadly ended on Wednesday. Now I like to dance and was so trilled to learn about Claudia Jones who is known as the mother of Notting Hill Carnival. #BlackNomoRoleModels #BlackHistoryMonth

I have so many great memories of Notting Hill carnival, I always remember my dad parking at my great aunt’s house and waling, as a family, over to the parade to watch the floats and the dancers in their colorful customs pass before my eyes. As a young child my dad would position my brother and me on each of his shoulders so that we would have a birds eye view of the procession. He proudly got to experience this tradition with his family year after year until I started to share this experience with my friends in my 20s, 30s and 40s. One year my dad purchased a manual ice-cream churn so that he could make ice-cream to sell at the carnival.

I remember having to sit at the churn tuning the handle whilst my dad poured in the ice, ignoring my pleas of “my arm hurts” whilst encouraging me not to stop. I remember the excitement on his face, liking his lips at the thought of tasting his delicious creation that would make its mark at carnival. I remember being on the staff (with his Dominican Nation Overseas Association group) where carnival goes would stop by dubious at the though of peanut butter ice-cream. “Buy one and taste it with your friends” my dad would say. One of the group bravely parted with their money on exchange for the cone that my dad proudly handed over. 2 minute later they were back ordering cones for the rest of the group, I can hear my dad’s laughter now – he knew they’d be back. I have tears as I remember those moments, moments that my children will never have with me.

There was one year that ‘jumped up’ in a Trinidadian band with my friends. Man that was a great year!!! We bought our compulsory T-shirts and customised them around our style and personalities  – I think I created slashes in the back of mine – and we partied, jumping up and around the carnival route. Nope I never got to share the magic of carnival with my own children but I have so many great memories that I created with my friends over the years thanks to Claudia Jones.

About Claudia:

Claudia Jones (21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964) was was a Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist. As a child she migrated with her family to the US, where she became a political activist and black nationalist through Communism, using the false name Jones as “self-protective disinformation”.Due to the political persecution of Communists in the USA, she was deported in 1955 and subsequently resided in the United Kingdom. She founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, West Indian Gazette (WIG), in 1958.

Meet Bell Hooks: Black History Month 2020

So I was browsing through Jody’s Childless and Childfree women role models hall of fame and came across Bell Hooks. #NomoRoleModel #BlackHistoryMonth

Bell Hooks (1952-) is an American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. Her 1984 book ‘From the Margins’ includes an excellent (and much misunderstood) critique of ‘motherhood’ and issues of what has come to be called ‘intersectionality’. She is childfree by choice.

I was introduced to Bell when I found and read her book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”. I can’t remember what led me to her book, it’s likely that it came onto my radar whilst on one of my searches around the history of why black woman don’t talk [outside of the home] about our problems.

In the introduction to her book Ain’t I a Woman, Bell mentioned that “At the time in American history when black women in every area of the country might have joined together to demand social equality for women and a recognition of the impact of sexism on our social status, we were by and large silent. Our silence was not merely a reaction against white women liberationists or a gesture of solidarity with black male patriarchs. It was the silence of the oppressed – that profound silence engendered by resignation and acceptance of one’s lot… Racist, sexist socialisation had conditioned us to devalue our femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification. In other words, we were asked to deny a part of ourselves – and we did… We were a new generation of black women who had been taught to submit, to accept sexual inferiority, and to be silent.”

Bell’s book really helped me to see the depth and heaviness of the many years of oppression that I am unconsciously caring as a black woman. To read that “many people have difficulty appreciating black women as we are because of eagerness to impose an identity upon us based on any number of negative stereotypes” went a long way in helping me to recognise the experiences that I’ve faced over the years, the experiences that have me feeling like, no matter what I do, no matter how careful I am or how considerate I am, I am always seen as ‘wrong’. I am the perpetrator even when I am being oppressed, even when I am hurting. There is such a heaviness and sadness around this experience that it can sometimes be so difficult to put this into words without being seen as the “angry black woman”, when in fact, because of these experiences I am angry.

So I thank you for joining me in celebrating Bell Hooks an exceptional woman who is childfree by choice, who is not afraid to speak her truth and a woman who did not remain silent.

Meet Queen Bilikisu Sungbo: Black History Month 2020

5 weeks ago I started the Great Black Women in History course taught by Black History Studies and what has really struck me from the course is how instrumental black women were in shaping our legacy. Black women were strong and showed great resilience leading and fighting against men in war as resistance warriors standing up for the rights of their people.

Throughout the course I have been struck by how I, as a black woman, am seen because of my history. I am saddened that instead of the incredible strength that my ancestors passed down to me which should be celebrated, this strength, this fighting spirit is instead seen negatively to the point where I am stereotyped as the “angry black woman” because I chose to stand up for my truth, because I want to be heard.

Well today, at the start of Black History Month I have decided to reclaim my ancestors ‘bas-ass’ spirit and celebrate all that they mean to me. So I am going to start with Queen Bilikisu Sungbo. As you will see from her bio she was childless and was known as one of the greatest builders in history who built one of the largest cities the world has seen, during the middle ages, larger than Baghdad, Cairo, Codova and Rome.

You can order the book, The Great and Mighty Wall, and read more about Queen Sungbo and the construction of the earthen wall in Eredo, of South Western Nigeria.

It’s official I am ‘Still Hot’!

This morning I woke up to the following tweet on Twitter…

A few months ago I received an email from journalist Vicky Allan; Jessica Hepburn (Fertility Fest and author of 12 Miles) recommended that she contact me. In her email Vicky said that she “was blown away by my writing, especially my recent post Imitation of Life.” OMG a journalist was ‘blown away by my blogs’ – insert crazy, I’m so excited dancing – ok I am actually doing the crazy, I’m so excited dance right now!!!

Vicky wanted to reflect a wide range of women’s experiences of the perimenopause and menopause and felt that my story was/ is an important story to be heard. I’m still doing the excited dance!!!

So Vicky interviewed me back in August and today shared the cover of the book titled ‘Still Hot!’

I’m pinching myself to know that my story will sit alongside the stories of such amazing high profile women. To think that 6 years ago, at the start of my childless journey, I wouldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through let alone allow anyone into my inner sanctum. What a journey!!!

You can pre-order you copy from Amazon – yes click on the word Amazon

World Childless Week 2020

As I think about World Childless Week starting tomorrow, Monday 14 September, it has dawned on me how far I have come since the start of my childless journey when I was told that I had unexplained infertility back in October 2014. The world of grief that I was then propelled into was, at times, indescribable to the point where I did not know how I would survive. I was so silenced by shame and confused that I could possible be grieving, it felt un-allowed and impossible that this could be true. But with the help of Jody Day’s plan B mentorship programme I came out on the other side knowing that there was the possibility that I could have a fulfilling life without children.

During the programme I decided that my plan B would be to ‘find my voice’ and let me tell you, that seemed so far fetched at the time. Me and my crazy ideas!!! But since then I haven’t stopped talking about how my childless status has impacted my life. That experience helped me to own my story and gave birth to my first book (child); Dreaming of a Life Unlived: Intimate stories and portraits women without children.

Allowing myself to be vulnerable and owing my story has lead to some of the most amazing opportunities, from my interview with Jenni Murray on BBC radio 4s Women’s Hour and other numerous radio interviews, my public speaking opportunities – taking part in Fertility Fest being one of my most memorable

as well as my contributions to books such as Living the Life Unexpected by Jody Day and Motherhood Missed by Lois Tonkin.

Oh and not forgetting being a trained facilitator of the Gateway Women’s’ Reignite Weekend workshops. What a journey!!! And to think before 2014 I found it hard to share anything so personal about myself with pretty much anyone – my inner critic was always there whispering the words “they will not like you if they knew what you’ve done”. I’m glad she’s been replaced with a new cheerleader, one that shouts, “I AM WORTH and I AM ENOUGH

During this journey I have come across so many women, especially black and Asian women who have been silenced by the cultural parameters that tells us not to bring shame on the family, not to talk about our problems outside of our home. Women who were grateful that they found someone who they could talk to who looked like them, someone would understand. I’ve been to honour to be in a position to listen and support them on their own childless journeys.

So as one of 23 World Childless Week Champions from around the world, I am proud to announce not only the start of World Childless Week tomorrow but I will be presenting my childless circle interviews with Meriel Whale for Diversity day on Tuesday 16th. The interviews will be live at 7.30pm.

#worldchildlessweek