Then one night she was woken up by such a horrible smell that it was “as if the Hulk had taken a poop and forgot to rinse”. She felt something wet and sticky ooze down her legs and shouted for her husband to call an ambulance. By the time they got to the hospital, she had gone into septic shock. It took him almost a month to recover. “When I finally returned to a little girl who didn’t know me, I couldn’t find a word about how I was treated or how I was feeling and, not surprisingly, it had an impact on my mental health. ”
This is not the kind of story you usually find from perfect mummy influencers on Instagram. But as Brathwaite’s new book, I am not your little mom, Makes it clear, she’s not your average mummy influencer.
Since Esmé’s troubled entry into the world, Brathwaite, 32, a former receptionist and marketing assistant in south London, has garnered thousands of direct and often hilarious Instagram followers with six-year-old son Esmé Richard Jr, now two years old, and her Nigerian husband, Bodé (aka Papa B), in their colorful house in Milton Keynes. The pictures can’t help highlight how white and bourgeois the overall picture of British motherhood is – all “horizontal striped T-shirts and shiny breasts,” as she says.
But I am not your little mom is also an attempt to go beyond Instagram and offer a sustained commentary on what it means to be a British British mother and how a lack of awareness of the racial dimension of motherhood can have deadly consequences.
In 2018, she learned that black British mothers in the UK are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. According to the Office for National Statistics, black babies have a 121% increased risk of being stillborn and a 50% increased risk of dying within 28 days of birth compared to white babies. Brathwaite has since received apologies from hospital staff for the long list of “inconsistencies” and disdainful behavior that “fell well below” the NHS standard, but his experience of feeling “invisible” or, at best, a aggressive nuisance is clearly not isolated.
She remains angry. “My therapist says that when babies are born, they have these tiny synapses where they look for their mom and if they cannot feel you, they separate and never come back together, so Esme will always nitpick for me. It makes me so angry because this separation could have been avoided. However, she said, she now has a goal: “I’m at the forefront of a discussion that hopefully will save the lives of women.” ”
Partly remembered, partly manifest, Brathwaite’s book was written to help “black British mothers feel validated and encouraged to take up space”. In recent years, social media stars with handles like “Vegan Earth Mother” or “Slummy Mummy” have helped create a “beige” image of motherhood, says Brathwaite, a land of “bright women” who seem unusually happy “spend their days breastfeeding or mashing organic vegetables in ice cream tubs.”
It does not just mean beige “in terms of complexion, but of personality, performance, content being deployed”. When she started her blog in 2016, “there was no other version. If you weren’t white and bourgeois with this certain group of mom’s friends, it’s like you’re sitting on the outskirts watching. ”
The title of the book is an attempt to dismantle (not recover) the term “baby mother” – which dates back to the 1960s and is often attributed to single black mothers. It is not just written from the perspective of a black woman but of a working class person with an unconventional education. Brathwaite is the eldest of three children raised by her maternal grandparents (who came here from Barbados as part of the Windrush generation), although it was her beloved grandfather – blinded with one eye after an assault and who can no longer work – who did most of the babysitting and household chores.
Her parents separated because of her father’s infidelity, which then aggravated her mother’s mental health problems. Brathwaite stayed close to his father until he was 21, when he suddenly died of the common flu. He went to the hospital, fought to be seen, and then, suffering from sepsis, stopped his heart. All of this makes the Covid-19 crisis particularly disappointing for her, she says. “The fact that the news is pouring into my iPad made me realize that black people really need to work on protecting themselves, because we just see these black bodies piling up.” Her hope is that data on BAME’s deaths during the pandemic will ultimately create a domino effect as health inequalities become impossible to ignore.
But I am not your little mom resonates beyond race – and should echo any alienated mother through stereotypical images of motherhood. When Brathwaite became a mother, she was more worried about paying the electricity bill than whether her child’s food was organic. “If my child does not cry from hunger, I win. The time to make stories is in itself a privilege. ”
While the lack of diversity in the images of motherhood may sound like neglect or complacency, you don’t have to scratch too deeply to detect uglier impulses. We discuss why Michelle Obama managed to project an image of middle-class black motherhood, but Meghan Markle was attacked on everything, the way she rocked her bump at the time she left her son to a nanny. “What made Britain spin around a loop was seeing Meghan’s mom at this wedding. It was like, “Woah, she’s a black and black lady with locals” … people are outraged that she brought a spoonful of melanin to the royal family! ”
Brathwaite also experienced direct hostility from the mumosphere. Last year it emerged that she was among those attacked by a secret account created by midwife and reigning queen of mumfluencers, Clemmie Hooper (AKA Mother of Daughters). Hooper accused Brathwaite – whom she previously invited to her podcast – of being an aggressive and militant race (Hooper has since apologized).
“It really hit me from behind,” recalls Brathwaite. “I was like, ‘Wow girl, come together, not everyone is your friend. “But what she decided to do actually helped me show people the many things that black women face, not just online but in the office and on the street. Of all the social media apps, she has the most confidence in Instagram, which she says has the best processes for protecting users.
Brathwaite and her husband, who works in the tool rental industry, now live in a house purchased in part through endorsements and sponsorships. But even if she is reluctant to consider herself a role model, the responsibility of speaking to low-income mothers is clearly on her mind. “When we tell people to slack off their spending, for example, Primark or H&M, we have to be aware that someone’s” fast fashion “is someone else’s” high end “. ”
However, she is not afraid of her own material aspirations. She studies idols like Serena Williams, Beyoncé and Michelle Obama and is fluent in the language of influence and markets. “I always said,” I’m just here to stack my chips, I don’t know what you’re on, “she laughs.
“As this pandemic has shown, anyone’s financial situation can change at any time. Simply because we [may attempt to] buying our way out of our darkness doesn’t mean it’s a solid thing… using the extreme example of police brutality, no racist cop asks to see your bank balance before shooting you. No one says, “What are you worth, where do you eat, where does your child go to school?” ”
Financial security for blacks may well be “comfort coverage,” she said, but “it is coverage that I cannot afford to let go of, because I have nothing else.”
Still, she insists that she doesn’t want to be the product forever. She created the Make Motherhood Diverse platform to highlight images of motherhood beyond white people, the middle class and able-bodied people – and she hopes that soon black paternity will come to the fore. She is “very determined” by showing her husband in a domestic setting, sharing “sweet moments” with their son. “I want everyone to know – but especially the black community – I’m with a guy who really supports my public career. It’s not something typical. Being with him makes me laugh because I realize that I just ended up with my grandpa – it’s really, really funny. ”
A week after our intervention, America is in crisis after the murder of George Floyd. Brathwaite publishes extensively on racial injustice and has gained 20,000 followers over the weekend. When I catch up with her by email, her anger over blacks “killed for nothing more than being black” is tinged with a sense of hope: “I think it’s a turning point. There is something about this murder that made the whole world sit down and listen. When asked if she will join the protests in the UK, she says she thinks she will: “It will be the first time I have been absent since the lockout, but if there is at a time when adventure is worth the risk, it is now.
• I am not your little mom by Candice Brathwaite is published by Quercus (£ 16.99). To order a copy, visit guardianbookshop.com. UK free p & p over £ 15