The Fertility Forum

Thanks to an invitation from Kate Brian I was on the panel at the Fertility Forum at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London yesterday. The event was attended by professionals and the general public with topics that covered a range of fertility issues/ information.

I was on the session titled ‘Living without children’ with Kelly Da Silva (The Dove Cote), Lesley Pyne, Jody Day hosted by Jessica Hepburn – YES pressure, sharing a stage with Jody and Jessica!!!!

My short talk was on the WoC experience and as per usual I was worried about what I had prepared. It can be daunting when you are being provocative so I was surprised to receive an applause after I spoke as well as the warm comments after the session. I am truly looking forward to catching up with the new contacts I made yesterday.

I will be extending my run of controversy in my talk for Fertility Fight Club. If you want to hear more join me there…

International Women’s Day 2019

It was such a pleasure to be invited to talk at a local event celebrating International Women’d day yesterday. It was extra special for me because IWD in 2016 was the first time that I publicly spoke about being childless.

The day was filled with so many wonderful women sharing their stories, taking us on an emotional journey that is hard to describe – it was definitely one of those you had to be there moments.

I was asked to give an update on my journey so far to I titled my talk ‘The power of vulnerability and owning my story’. Even after all this time and the number of interviews I’ve had, I still have those nervous ‘What am I doing’ moments so it was so wonderful to have been received with hugs and tears afterwards. It was lovely to hear the words ‘Your talk was so powerful and moving’.

One thing did make me laugh though, I included a tongue in cheek joke in my talk where I said ‘… and then my miracle happened – I gave birth to my beautiful baby. My beautiful book Dreaming of a life Unlived was born – she’s so much like me!!!

A few ladies came up to me afterwards and congratulated me on having a baby in the end, they were so happy that ‘this’ happy ending came for me. One women asked me where my baby was and oddly looked at me when I told her that “it’s in my bag”. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t get it!!!

One women, who was not going to do the ‘church thing’ (her words) still said that she would pray that I still had hope. I told her that I did have hope…. the hope that I was going to have a fulfilling life without children 🙂

You can listen to the recording here and you can read the script below…

The Power of Vulnerability – Owning My Story

Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”

At IWD in 2016 I took to the public stage, for the first time, and told the world that I was childless

OMG who told me to open my mouth???

For the first time I was allowing myself to be vulnerable and it was the beginning of me shamelessly owning my story

For those of you who don’t know, in 2014 I was unhelpfully diagnosed with ‘Unexplained Infertility’ a diagnosis that I struggled with

No one could have told me that 2 words would turn my world upside down

There were no answers, no closure, no justification – just confusion

It didn’t take long for other emotions to take over… the biggest of which was shame… the shame that I had 2 terminations in my 20s which lead me to blame myself for the situation I was in

Now we all carry baggage – it could be the size of a handbag or in some cases it can be classed as excess baggage that needs to check into the hold!

For me it was time to put my bag down, open it up and start to unpack the stuff that I believed others would judge me for

At that time I was unable to speak about this shame that impacted on my ability to grieve, which meant that I couldn’t talk about my situation  

In my head everyone would tell me that I didn’t deserve to be a mother

After joining GW (an organization supporting women who are childless by circumstance) and doing my grief work, which included

writing a letter to my younger self forgiving her for her past decisions and

writing a letter to my unborn children telling them that they were loved how  much I would have liked to have meet them

I was able to embrace this feeling of shame and reframe what it meant to me

Other women found;

  • Creating a memorial garden to honor their loss – planning something special
  • Creating a shrine somewhere private in their home
  • Spending time in nature
  • Decluttering their living space
  • Becoming part of a community (with others who shared their grief)
  • Seeing a therapist

Helped them to work with their grief

For me it was the first time I felt that I was allowed to forgive myself and it was the first time that I started to own my story, my truth and to just embrace who I am

I felt a sense of pride and strength when I shared my story

Ok so the first time I publically did this I thought that I was going to die – I was hyperventilating in the corner just before I was due to go out and speak

But I did it and

I couldn’t believe the positive responses that I received or how much I felt free

I know that not everyone will speak out in the same way that I have but being vulnerable and  sharing your story with your family or friends can be such an empowering experience

Yes it can be difficult opening up to others esp your family and friends because they don’t want to see us hurt and sometimes there is a judgment in their responses

also the downside of this can be the unhelpful advice and constant ‘don’t give up hope’……

But I persevered and then my miracle happened – I gave birth to my beautiful baby. My beautiful book Dreaming of a life Unlived was born – she’s so much like me!!!

In 2018 Jody Day – founder of GW – asked me a question. She wanted to know why black women were not connecting with her regarding being childless

This question took me by surprise because up until that point I did not consider that my race or culture had anything to do with being childless or my ability to grieve the loss of motherhood

Thinking about Jody’s question and talking to my friends I started to think about my own experiences as a black women

I realised how much of a proud family / a proud race I come from

The stories of how my parents grew up in the Caribbean and their experiences of ‘No blacks, No Irish and No dogs’ when they came to England during the Windrush period, went a long way to framing the way our parents generation functioned during this time – and the messages that they passed on to their children

I realized how much we have and continue to silence ourselves, let alone how society has silenced us

Statements such as ‘what will the neighbors think?’ and ‘don’t bring shame on the family’ told us, as children, that we have to carry ourselves differently from our white friends and show that we were better than they thought we are

I was told as a young woman that I had to work twice as hard as my white friends because I am a woman and because I am black

I somehow felt that I couldn’t show any form of weakness, I had to be strong, I had to be better

So as a race we put on our masks and live our lives keeping our problems in our suitcase

In my guest blog ‘The black woman in the room’ for Gateway Women I reflected on the situations where I felt like the angry black women in the room

The times where I felt that being the black women amongst my peers made me automatically stand out as well as feeling different and be treated differently

In my experience I have found that as a vocal and opinioned black women I would be perceived as ‘aggressive’ or ‘angry’ where my white counterparts were seen as passionate

I also learnt from my black friends that they have experiences where white people would only talk to them when they felt safe to do so or if they fit into that cultural parameter

These experiences are so subtle and very difficult to talk about and be heard or be accepted

Reflecting on my experiences and my friends stories I wonder how safe black women feel to talk to a white people about their problems

There has been occasions when we have tried to explain the racial divide, inequality, unconscious bias and discrimination, to our white colleagues, where these experiences have been dismissed as us being too sensitive or reading to much into what happened on that particular occasion

It can get tricky when you have to deal with white privilege and/ or white fragility – in some ways we have to manage their emotions too

I also found that religion can also play a role in keeping us silent which is something that I have struggled with personally

“Don’t give up Hope”, “It’s GOD’s will”, “GOD knows best”

But what does this have to do with infertility???

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, and studies suggest Black women may be almost twice as likely to experience infertility as white women

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

“There are specific factors that affect Black women disproportionately,” Uterine fibroids and obesity, for example, are conditions that can negatively impact fertility—and Black women suffer from higher rates of both. The actress Gabrielle Union spoke out last year about adenomyosis and how this affected her ability to conceive.

When Black women do seek medical help for fertility issues, failing to see people who look like them in leaflets, on notice boards, or in waiting rooms can further discourage them from pursuing treatment

“For some women, it was their private sense of religion and spirituality that got them through,”

For others, the emphasis that the church puts on reproducing—coupled with a lack of conversation around infertility—made religious settings “painful and complicated”

The stereotype that Black women don’t have fertility issues is real, persistent and harmful

Through my research time and time again I found references to black peoples hyper-sexuality such as the

  • belief that Black women are highly fertile
  • Black people don’t struggle with infertility because Black women and men are baby-making machines,
  • In my 20s I heard that we ‘bred like rabbits’

the report even mentioned where “One of the women was recounting experiences when she was younger, and she hadn’t been sexually active yet, but a doctor assumed she’d had many, many partners and the issues she was seeking treatment for could be a result of that.”

Its almost like we are being shamed into silence which can stop us from owning our stories but without stories how can we challenge beliefs and how do we effect change???

The fixing phenonium that childless women experience can be so crippling

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard…

“you shouldn’t feel like that”,

“but you have a good job”

“have you tried the latest treatment that I read about last week?”

“don’t give up hope, look at Janet Jackson”

“I know someone who was told she had unexplained infertility and she now has 3 children”

“have you thought about adoption?”

The difficulty with these situations is that it can diminish our pain, which can then drive a wedge between family and friends

Our pain is just as valid as it is for others so why shouldn’t our stories be heard? Without our stories our voices are missing from society.

Jody Day mentioned in her TED talk that – “Pronatalism makes us believe that the only way to be an adult is to be a parent, which then makes it hard for us to claim our identity”

To further quote Jody “change happens one story at a time, one women at a time. This starts a chain reaction that breaks the shame and taboos”

We feel less alone, less silenced and less shamed

Owning our stories will bring the richness back into our lives and allow us to reclaim our existence

I have come so far since 2014, having the courage to stand up and speak out has led me to be interviewed on a number of platforms both here and around the world including

                  BBC radio 4s Women’s Hour – Jenny Murray

I am a trained facilitator for the GW Reignite Weekend workshop and ran the first ever WoC Reignite workshop in 2018

I am an ambassador for the We are Worthy summit and took part in Fertility Fest last year

I have lost count of the number of WoC who have contacted me telling me that they have turned away from the GW on-line forum or have walked away from an event because they didn’t see other women that looked like them

These women wanted someone to talk too, someone who looks like them, who will listen and understand

They wanted to thank me for my honesty and authenticity

I hear from white women who want to too want to learn

It has been such a privilege to be accepted in this way and to create a space where not only mine but other women’s stories can be heard

So what’s next?

I am in the process of re-designing the format of the WoC Reignite workshop to better cater for WoC

I am taking part in Fertility Fest 2019 at the Barbican Center;

                  27 April – Fertility Fight Club- There is more to life than children

1 May – Race and Reproduction panel discussion

they say that I am the leading voice on the childless experience of women of colour

I am also doing further research on why WoC do not talk which includes understanding how

Generational Trauma and Post Traumatic Slave Disorder. I am interested on how these impact on our ability to trust others of a different race

Brene Brown talks about the courage to be vulnerable and in her research found that vulnerability makes you beautiful and is the birthplace of joy, belonging and creativity

Brene said, “When we deny the story it defines us. When we own the story we can write a brave new ending

I have now put down my case and am stepping into my brave new ending

I have something to tell you…

A friend of mine recently told me that she is pregnant. The wonderful thing about this was that she took the time to consider my feelings about her news. She has read my book and is sensitive to what I have been through (especially as she has friends in the same situation as me) and told me that she wanted me to know before she started announcing her news to others. She did consider not telling me, to spare me the heartache, but did not feel that this the right thing to do. She wanted me to know. She asked me if there was anything that she could do (to help me with my grief) during this time.

There was a time when the words “I am pregnant” would have left me in floods of tears. Now although I still feel a pang of sadness, it’s so small now that I barely notice it. But what I really appreciated was the care and consideration that was taken towards me and my feelings from someone who really valued me. Its funny, I am more emotional writing this blog (thinking about what my friend did for me) than I was hearing the news but I think it’s because I realise how much this person cares and I am so touched by her actions. Yes she could have hid the news to spare my feelings, something that I have been through before, but she took the time to make sure that I was ok, which meant the world to me.

I cannot sit here and honestly say that I will be ok over the next 7+ months, I just do not know. I wonder how I will feel watching her grow, watching her being excited about the bump, talking about babies first kick and watching others getting excited for her too but for now I will enjoy this moment knowing that I was cared for whilst having the opportunity to congratulate her on her wonderful news.