Would you know what to say to a woman with four or five, or even ten or more children?
Finding the courage to speak up about something isn’t easy. Today’s post is from Rosie Brown, mum of five, who's expecting number six. She's an aspiring midwife and her open letter to women and midwives is about having a large family and some of the comments she’s received from medical professionals.
'Dear Ladies and Gents,
Would you take a moment to listen? I promise you will be a blessing to others like me.
I'm an aspiring midwife and now I guess I am a 'Grand Multigravida' too.
I've had something on my weighing on my heart for a while and it's been stirred by the opening scenes of One Born Every Minute series 11.
There's a lady expecting her 6th baby and the midwife says something along the lines of "haven't you worked out what's causing it?"
Future and current midwives. We might laugh it off and make a funny come back like we don't care, but do you know how exhausting this is?
Every day, every week when we are out with our children, here is what we encounter, from complete strangers.
"Don't you know what causes that?"
"Don't you own a TV?"
"Aren't you a glutton for punishment."
"Wow, how old are you?"
"Do they all have the same dad ?"
"Don't you know what birth control is?"
"Are you done?'
And then to have your midwife or health care assistant do the same when you are vulnerable can be overwhelming.
We sit on a ward listening to midwives go to other couples with 1 or 2, even 3 kids, and there are sweet and reassuring comments.
And then it's our turn.
For whatever reason, parents with big families don't get reassured.
Last week I was in A&E and a health care assistant was taking me for a test, and do you know how relieved I was when he said "Oh how lovely! Your house must be full of fun! Did you always want a big family?"
Us proud mums will probably answer willingly all the above as we chat about our kids, but this question was the correct one to ask.
Personally, we are Byzantine Catholic and my husband is training to be a priest and yes we did always want a big family, and I'm happy to tell you that. But 'Are you done?'.... that's an immediate judgement and I suddenly feel like as you check my cervix I have to justify my entire life, my religion and my sanity.
Please take a moment when encountering a big family to think about your words.
Just because this is our 6th or 10th baby, doesn't mean we aren't every bit as delighted and excited as if it was our first baby. Whether you agree or not, we come for support. Not to be shamed.
Thank you for listening if you made it this far :)'
I personally don’t believe any midwife will mean to be unkind but in our society, we tend to comment on mothers and their choices. Especially if there’s something unusual about them.
Seeing things from a woman’s point of view amidst busy practice and the rocky terrain of trying to keep humour and connection front and center is hard.
I think Rosie’s post contains valuable insight. Especially about the healthcare assistant with the kind and thoughtful comment, this is a great example of being with woman, understanding what it must be like to lead her life and talking with her accordingly.
As Rosie says, thanks so much for reading this!
And thanks to Rosie for writing it, it's brave and how gorgeous is her family?!
Do you have anything to add – have you cared for a woman with a big family? How did you talk about it? Or are you from a big family, is there anything else we should know?
You know those books that you read and feel yourself being changed? I think it's called 'internalisation'.
This is one of those. Especially if you're white.
Reni Eddo-Lodge is a journalist and author who wrote the book 'Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race'.
Her work focuses on racism and feminism. I think it's the exhaustion in her tone that gets me.
Did you know:
A slogan put about by the Conservative government was 'if you want a n**** as your neighbour, vote labour' - this was 1985
Children of colour get marked down in school
But when their work is assessed independently under a white British sounding name, they get the grades they deserve
Bristol was a slave port and the UK has a lot of its wealth from black slavery
Black and ethnic minority women are three times more likely to die during childbearing.
It's a hard one. If you're white, you might be thinking 'well I'm not racist'.
I believe you. But we live in a society that's got racism baked into it. Not our fault. Still our responsibility.
Reverse racism hits the news sometimes. White people being at a disadvantage because people from a black or ethnic minority group are discriminating against them.
The problem is that reverse racism doesn't happen in a way that takes meaningful power away from white people.
White people might find themselves in a single situation - say working for an ethnic minority family who pass them over for a promotion in favour of someone from their own background - but that white person will have more many opportunities over the course of their lifetime based on their ethnicity.
Ethnic minority groups literally do not have enough people in positions of power to even begin to level the playing field.
I think it's so important for midwives and students to be aware of the tension and inequality that black and ethnic minority people face.
I'm not saying white people don't have adversity or don't work hard. I had my first job at age 12 and I've worked ever since then. My family was often financially insecure when me and my siblings were growing up. I've faced sexism as well, in a workplace that still thought the men were more likely to be correct than the women.
It's just that there's a huge bias that black and ethnic minority people have to fight against all the time. You can't really fight against sexism without understanding racism. You miss so much of the picture.
The problem is to understand race as a white person, you need to put your own way of seeing the world on hold. This is pretty much impossible. The only way to do it is to think of a time when you've been so frustrated that someone couldn't see the inequality in a situation.
For instance, many women will have had a conversation with someone who doesn't see the point of International Women's Day as there's no International Men's Day.
I've been in a situation where I've been frustrated to tears trying to get a guy to understand why International Women's Day is important.
The risk of FGM, pay differences, the tension women face balancing having children and a career etc. It falls on deaf ears. It's like it doesn't even exist.
This is what black and ethnic minority people are trying to tell us. There's a whole existence in parallel with ours as white people. We're blind to it.
It's not for me to tell anyone what to do but I'd encourage you to read Reni Eddo-Lodge's book, listen to her podcast, or listen to Sprogcast, the episode with Doula Mars Lord.
Listening and understanding is only fair.
But also, if like me, the best bit of midwifery or caring for others is the privilege of understanding their stories: there is so much more to learn.
So many more ways of existing in the world to get to know.
I find this exciting.
Now I'd love to hear from you.
Please comment, especially if you're from a black or minority ethnic group, especially if you think I've left anything out!
Or if you're white - do you already know this?
p.s. I don't feel wise enough to write this. But I have a platform and I'm white. Even if I get it wrong I need to be trying. Feel free to correct me and please know - if I have made mistakes or caused offence, this is due to my ignorance, not malice. I'll keep learning, I'm sorry I and others haven't noticed in a meaningful way until now and I'm LISTENING.
I was not at all experienced when I first cared for a family whose baby had died.
I can remember crying my eyes out in the middle of labour ward because it was just too painful. Luckily, I had an amazing manager who gave me continuity with the family in question and I was able to follow them for 3 days worth of shifts. Their little boy had been stillborn after a complicated labour.
Did you know I'm the middle of the final edit for my midwifery novel?
I'm beyond excited about it of course. But in a way, I don't want to finish the work and leave this world I'm living in. My early morning writing sessions hanging out with my main character, Chloe the student midwife, are the best thing about life at the moment.
I'll be honest - writing my second midwifery novel isn't going well today. But instead of having a self-induced meltdown, I'm sat here writing this with a liquorice, fennel, thyme and orange peel blend tea. This has been inspired by today's interview with independent midwife Joy Horner (and replaces my 'rocket fuel' coffee that I usually have, so is a bigger deal than it might sound). It helps no end to realise there are wise women like Joy out there. I bet you'll find her just as uplifting as I do.(more…)
Here I am at Kingston and St Georges midwifery conference, 2018. Today there will be ten talks and events exploring the concept 'I Have a Voice' and I’ll be reporting on each of them in ‘Notes of Midwifery Voices’.