Grieving as a Black Woman

LTLU: ‘Living The Life Unexpected’ – Blog Tour

I remember the first time Jody and I had a conversation about this topic. Jody had asked me why black women were not connecting with her regarding being childless. At the time I couldn’t comprehend why this would be a ‘thing’, I mean what has colour or race got to do with my ability (or inability) to grieve the loss of motherhood??? Well over a year on I can say that I am no longer surprised at Jody’s experience.

Jody’s question was the start of my own awakening around this issue. In the new edition of her book, Living the Life Unexpected I am quoted as saying that ‘If we cannot trust white people to listen to us when we speak about our daily experiences involving cultural issues, how can we trust them with something as vulnerable as our childlessness?‘ I can so hear your “Uhhhhs” right now…. Well the more awakened I’ve became, the more I realise that being black has so many layers that impact on my (our) existence in the white communities we are trying (for the most part) to survive in. From the many conversations that I’ve had with other black women it is evident that we do not feel safe or protected in white spaces. We feel that we cannot fully be ourselves. We are seen as different (even though there is a denial (from white people) around this) and therefore are treated differently. We often face systemic racism and microagressions which leads to us to being stereotyped; ‘the angry black woman’ comes to mind, as well as hearing comments such as “I don’t see your colour” or “I’m not racist, I have black friends” – the list goes on and on and on….

In her book ‘White Spaces Missing Faces’ Catrice Jackson wrote, …”a large number of women of colour in predominately white spaces are surviving at best… WoC know it’s not safe to share her true experiences in white spaces and thus learns how to survive the environment while sacrificing her true value… black women, in particular, have been forced to minimise their existence, silence their voice, watch their tone all of it done for survival. Because of the stereotypes, discrimination and racism that black women face, many of them consciously and unconsciously sacrifice themselves to be accepted. They shift”. So much plays out in our work places, in these white spaces, albeit unconsciously, that there is a sense of us wanting to be our true selves without apology or explanation so is it a surprise that black women do not want to share their private selves in white spaces? Quite simply when we are discussing something sensitive we want to be in a place where we can feel safe to be fully vulnerable.

In the new edition of her book, Jody mentions that ‘For black British and American women, childlessness is often experienced in the context of a complex and traumatic legacy of slavery and disenfranchisement…. ‘ “But slavery ended a long time ago why are we still talking about it???” Yea whenever I bring up this topic with my friends this is one of the reactions that I receive. But without recognising our past and understanding the truth behind this we (both black and white people alike) will not be able to move forward and have the kind of conversations that are needed in order to fully heal our differences. But first we need to see the difference for what it is.

I came across Post traumatic slave syndrome after hearing about Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary’s talk on the subject. “Post traumatic slave syndrome is a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery, a form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalised racism, which continues to perpetuate injury.” Let’s just take a moment here…. how can black people move on from this traumatic experience when we never had the space to process the hurt and mistrust (of white people) that was experienced during slavery? I mean we all found Gateway Women because we were looking for a others who could understand the pain to our childlessness. If you needed to be around women who understood what you were going through how do you think black people have healed from this traumatic past if that pain has never been acknowledged or witnessed by others? So can you understand that the experience therefore lives on in our genetic memory, which essentially means that we are still (somewhat) enslaved? I was brought up hearing statements such as “what will the neighbours think?”, “don’t bring shame on the family”, others were told “don’t talk about your problems outside of the home” – where do you think theses messages came from? Ohhh there’s that light bulb moment! Yep they got passed down from generation to generation – from slavery to our present day – they live in our genetic memory. I believe that if this experience lives on in my genetic memory then it lives on in yours (as a white person) too. Morvia Gorden mentions that “her belief is that black people have inherited internalised oppression from 400 years of slavery as we’ve been taught that white people are better than us. Even though no living white person is responsible for slavery, BAME people still bears the scars if it…” As a 40 something year old I can see how much my race has and continues’ to silence us, let alone how society silences us. The experiences we encounter are so subtle, they are very difficult to talk about and be heard or even accepted.

The Womens Health Mag and Oprah Mag surveyed more than 1,000 women and reported that Infertility affects at least 12 percent of all women up to the age of 44. Yet only about 8 percent of Black women between the ages of 25 and 44 seek medical help to get pregnant, compared to 15 percent of white women. Black women were more than twice as likely as white women to say that they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about their fertility issues with friends, family, a partner, their doctor, or even a support group. The stereotype that Black women don’t have fertility issues is real where 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. Apparently black people ‘bred like rabbits’. If fertility is such a problem for black people then why is this not being addressed by the professionals who are meant to be there to help us???

The Guardian newspaper (June 2019) highlighted the topic of colourism when they wrote that dark skinned women are less likely to be married than lighter skinned women, dark skinned girls are three times more likely to be suspended from school than their light skinned peers and that lighter skinned black people are perceived to be more intelligent educated black people. Arline Geronimus (public health researcher and professor at the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Centre) wrote; “…what I’ve seen over the years of my research and lifetime is that the stressors that impact people of colour are chronic and repeated through their whole life course… and that increases a general health vulnerability which is what cultural weathering is.” Arline used the metaphor of ‘playing the game Jenga’. They pull out one piece at a time, and another piece and another piece, until you sort of collapse. You start losing pieces of your health and well-being, but you still try to go on as long as you can. Arline mentioned there’s a point where enough pieces have been pulled out of you, that you can no longer withstand, and you collapse. Tom Jacobs, a senior staff writer at Pacific Standard, wrote an article at the time when Serena Williams was penalised at the U.S. Open for allegedly cheating and then expressing anger over the accusation. There are reports (of Objectification) that show, at least under certain circumstances, that black women are more likely than whites to be both sexually objectified and perceived as less than fully human. These unconscious biases on the part of whites can, of course, guide their beliefs and behaviours. Another study demonstrated that “Black women were more strongly implicitly associated with animal and object concepts, which indicates their greater dehumanisation compared to white women”. More recently I came across the Honey Pot commercial (Target created ad spots for different black-owned brands as part of their celebrations for Black History Month). White people saw the ad as being divisive and exclusive. Go onto YouTube and search for ‘the science agenda to exterminate blacks’ you will see an array of videos on this topic, which are quite disturbing.

We know that childlessness is not exclusive to race and it’s safe to say that we all agree that colour (or our culture) does not exempt us from pain – let’s face it we all feel and experience grief and loss. But the absence of being able to talk about my experiences as a black woman means that, as I mentioned at the start of my blog, I have to protect my vulnerable side especially if you are unable to show an understanding or acceptance of what I face on a daily basis. As I said if we cannot trust white people to listen to us when we speak about our daily experiences involving cultural issues, how can we trust them with something as vulnerable as our childlessness? Our experiences of race are often dismissed in our everyday interactions where it’s not readily accepted that our unique contextual experiences are intertwined with our daily-lived experiences as black women.

I love that Jody starts the new edition of Living the Life Unexpected with the words “This is a book about hope.” My hope is that we can recognise that everything starts and finishes with race.

My hope is that you can get past your white privilege and white fragility and hear that we need to talk about race, that it is ok to talk about race.

My hope is that my words will be accepted so that we can then start to have conversations where we are able to be openly uncomfortable to hear the truths that have been denied us for so many years.

I am so glad that Jody recognised a truth, from her experience that lead her to ask me why black women are not connecting with her. Jody was willing to not let her ‘privilege’ get in the way of, not only black voices being heard but also opening up a space for black women/ women of colour to reach out and know that they too can get the help and support that they so need. I wrote Dreaming of a Life Unlived to give women the hope that they could have a fulfilling life without children with the hope that other childless women would find their voices. Living the Life Unexpected gives me the hope that women of colour have a voice and a place where they can be heard and understood, where they can feel safe to be present too.

A brand new 2nd edition of Jody’s book, fully revised with fresh perspectives for a new decade, is coming out on 19th March 2020, and I have a free, personally dedicated and signed copy to give away. If you want your name to go into the draw, then comment on this post and I’ll pull out the winning name on Friday 13th March.

Don’t worry if you miss out, there are over 25 copies up for grabs across the rest of the blog tour between now and 20th March, or by signing up for Jody’s free webinar on ‘Coping with Mother’s Day‘ on 14th March for a chance to win.

If you’re in the UK, you can pre-order a copy of the book (paperback or ebook) here.

If you’re outside the UK you can buy it online via Amazon or The Book Depository (which offers free international delivery).

Jody Day’s Living the Life Unexpected Blog Tour

I am so proud to announce that Jody Day is having a ‘Living the Life Unexpected: World Blog tour to celebrate the release of the 2nd edition of her book Living the Life Unexpected, which I was fortunate to have the opportunity to also contribute to. The recent edition has not only helped me to work through my grief but it has reached and touched the hearts of so many other, not just childless women but the people in our lives that have found it difficult to understand the journey that we are on which is why I am so exited that Jody is releasing a new and updated version of her work.

The tour is from the 1-19th March 2020 comprising of a series of guest bloggers including yours truly… yes that’s me :). Visit the Gateway Women website for more details of how the tour will works.

And that’s not even the best part…. one of my lucky blog subscribers also gets a chance to win a free copy. All you have to do is to leave a comment (saying that you’d like to win today’s free copy) on my blog post on the 18th March. I will choose a winner at random and Jody will email you on 20th March with the good news. So mark the date in your diaries and look out for my post…

Now I know that you are all excited to read Jody’s 2nd edition you can pre-order a copy for despatch/collection on 19 March here’s the link for UK bookstores/online retailers

Saying Goodbye

Well the hospital have not called me today so my operation is defiantly going ahead….

I’ve been on this journey for about 2, 2 ½ years and remember bursting into tears when the consultant in front of my told me that my only chose for dealing with my fibroids (and very painfully heavy periods) was to have a hysterectomy. At that time I couldn’t comprehend losing my womb – yes I know it hasn’t served me in the way that it should have and I was angry that it didn’t let me bear the children that I had so longed for but even with all that anger towards her, losing her was just not an option. So I said HELL NO!

2 years on, after having further investigations around why I was becoming so anaemic (due to the heavy bleeding), it was discovered that I had Adenomyosis – a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. It helped to finally understand why I was suffering with my periods to the extent that I was but realising that this condition may have also prevented me from conceiving was a difficult pill to swallow – “if only I’d known sooner maybe I something could have been done to help me conceive a child”. To be honest I do not know what would have been possible only that the feeling of being let down by a system that was meant to help me was overwhelming at that time.

At the end of 2019 and several therapy sessions later, I sat in front of another consultant and pretty much insisted that she perform my hysterectomy. I was at the point where I was fed up of the pain (I was unable to function without painkillers), the anxiety (thoughts of ‘have I leaked???’ running through my mind during every meeting, on the train, at the restaurant and then the embarrassment of having to clean myself up when I had leaked) along with the sleepless nights (I either woke up in pain or had to change) was all too much. I wanted my life back; I needed to take control of this. A friend told me not to think of the hysterectomy as losing my womb but as saying goodbye to the pain. Those words really helped me to look at my situation differently; it helped to face my fears and work through the pain of losing my womb as well as what this step would mean for me.

Being able to work through my thoughts and feelings with my therapist really helped me to stand strong with my decision, especially as there were others who thought that I was crazy for even considering this, drastic no turning back, procedure. The turning point for me on this journey was when I was in Croatia, sitting in a hotel room, looking out over the beautiful city. I took out my journal and wrote a letter to say goodbye to my womb…

After writing this I was able to let go of the feeling betrayed I by my womb. I felt like it had constantly let me down -my womb allowed me to conceive when that was the last thing that I wanted and it wouldn’t let me conceive when it was my hearts desire. 

So as I sit here with 3 hours until I am not allowed to eat anymore (I’m so enjoying the taste of chocolate right now) and 10 hours before I am due to arrive at the hospital I can honesty say that I know I am doing the right thing for me. It has been a long and painful journey up to this point and I am sure that post op tomorrow will bring more challenges than I care to think about right now, but for now I go with the peace that I am re-claiming my joy. Here’s to my new, period-free, existence…

Race and Religion with Ruth Levy Abramson

A few months ago I had a conversation around race and religion with Dr Krista Cooper, Civilla Morgan, podcaster at Childless Not By Choice, and Haneefah Muhammad which I then extended to Ruth Levy Abramson.

I connected with Ruth Levy Abramson recently after reading her article for World Childless week. Her article, Dear Rabbi’s (and other well-meaning religious Jews): Please Stop with the Miracle Baby Stories. They’re not Helping. Thanks, really spoke to me as a black woman and I could see our shared experiences with religion through her words. So I reached out to Ruth who agreed to have a conversation with me about her experience as a childless Jewish woman. Through her writing I could feel Ruth’s hurt and frustrations, some of which I share, and wanted to know what inspired her to write the article as well as what she has learnt on her childless journey. I won’t say anymore here as it’s all in our conversation but I wanted to just leave you these words from Ruth …. “if we change the language we can have a different conversation”….

So here is our ‘different’ conversation… click here to listen

Race and Religion

As many of you know I’m interested in how race, religion, culture play out in our everyday with the emphasis on how much they impact on our ability to grieve the loss of motherhood. As a black woman I have my childhood memories that have influenced my journey into adulthood, not in a negative way, just in a “I never expected that” or “no surprises there” kind of way.

Since that pivotal, in 2018, moment when Jody asked me why black women were not connecting with her there have been a number of conversations that have gone a long way to re-framing my thinking around my experiences today. I have also been blessed with the many women I’ve meet on my journey, all of whom have added and helped me to grow my story in a way that I did not think possible. These moments have lead me to have conversations that I did not think possible. These conversations have allowed me to bring women together to explore aspects of race and religion that other forums would possible not allow us to have. For this reason I started my Women of Colour platform where I can have conversations (with other women) to explore how race and/ or religion has or has not impacted on our ability to grieve the loss of motherhood.

So I invited my friends Dr Krista Cooper, Civilla Morgan, podcaster at Childless Not By Choice, and Haneefah Muhammad to join me for my first conversation on this topic.

I am so grateful that they were open to having such an open and revealing conversation with me, a conversation that enabled me to explore areas of religion that I had not thought about. I won’t say too much more as you can listen in via this link …… but I just wanted to close with these quotes…

“as childless women we can carry the burden of the disappointment of God”

“…it should be about a relationship with God, not religion… just because we are in a relationship it does not mean that it will all work out…”

“the bible holds a gamut of human experiences… use the bible to know that we can survive, not to instruct us how to live…”

“the best thing to do (with our grief) is to hold kindness, compassion and quietness”

These were bits that really stood out for me during our conversation, things that I had not heard or thought about before, but quotes that I will continue to think about and use as they re-frame my thinking. I feel so honored to have been able to gather these women to talk about this topic and so grateful that they said Yes. Thank you to Krista, Civilla and Haneefah and thank you all for listening too – I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did… click here to listen.

Watch out for part two where Ruth Levy Abramson joins me to talk about her experience with the Jewish faith.

Adventist Radio Interview

A few months ago Vanesa Pizzuto, presenter and producer at Adventist radio invited me onto her show, On The Go. Vanesa came across me via Sheridan Voysey, who I shared a platform with at Fertility Fests’ Fertility Fight Club at the Barbican back in April. So yesterday I was welcomed at the Radio station in Watford by Vanesa and her team.

It always surprises me how I feel like every interview is my first. This time I was particularly surprised at how emotional I felt during this one. I do, at times, feel a touch of sadness when I tell my story but at this interview I was reminded of how I felt when I first attended a Gateway Women’s workshop back in December 2014. I was also reminded of how I felt when I first faced the possibility that I was grieving the loss of my dream of becoming a mum and I was reminded of how far I have come since 2014. What a journey!!!

It is so great to be invited onto Christian platforms, Premier Christian Radio being my first, where I can still remain true to who I am. One of the difficulties that I experienced in the church environment (that I was in at the time) was the feeling of not being truly accepted and the many messages of ‘not being good enough’ that I felt on a regular basis. Today I was heard, acknowledged, understood and validated all in a place. This is a feeling that I never thought I would have, I never thought that the ‘Christian world’ would not accept my truth.

So today I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be heard on a platform that could have easily said No (to me) and from a woman who know’s how important it is for our stories to be heard so that other women on a journey similar to mine can hear that they are not alone. So I’m sending a BIG FAT THANK YOU to Vanesa for allowing me to share my story and for her world to know my truth xxx

The F Word

Back in October Vanessa Haye, founder of Femelanin, emailed me the following message “I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind since I saw you perform at the fertility fest… I would love you to do the same for a fertility event I am hosting for black women on Friday 1st November. There is a panel of black women also talking about their own experiences within different aspects of fertility is surrogacy , endo, baby loss etc… and I would love for you to touch on childlessness….” Well how could I say No??? It was the first event that Vanessa had organised/ hosted where she wanted to create this space for black women to share their fertility journey’s. As you all know I am exploring/ talking about why black women/ women of colour do not talk about our problems so the opportunity to be part of a forum dedicated to black women was one that I did not want to miss.

Not only did I get to present the piece I had performed for Fertility Fight club back in April during Fertility Fest at the Barbican but I got to be the other black woman in the room and talk from a place of a common experience and understanding. An aspect of sharing our experiences as black women is that we usually find ourselves having to explain, defend or even water down (if we are able to talk at all) who we are so that white people are comfortable around us. I have been very fortunate in the sense that I have been having some really open conversations with white women who are willing to explore them own ‘stuff’ to hear mine but am painfully aware that we are not all this lucky. In fact there are times that I wonder if I am going too far with what I plan to say (in those white forums) so The F Word was a very different experience for me. On this occasion I got to be with women who already knew where I was coming from, our cultural backgrounds forming a common understanding with no apology needed – a place I never imaged I would ever be in.

All I can say is a big thank you to Vanessa for thinking of me and inviting me to be a part of this wonderful event.

Click here to read Vanessa’s feedback