I never thought I’d read a book about motherhood in 2020. When Candice Brathwaite’s debut book I Am Not Your Baby Mother was published, I knew I needed it to read it. This Sunday Times Bestseller is an honest and insightful discussion about life as a black mother today.
Brathwaite is a ‘Mummy’ influencer and the founder of online initiative Make Motherhood Diverse. I Am Not Your Baby Mother shows a different side to overwhelmingly white portrayals of maternity that we are often bombarded with. She talks candidly about abortion, finances, abuse, mental health, racism, navigating the online Mummy blogger space and the challenges of raising black children in certain environments.
Brathwaite’s humour and honesty make I Am Not Your Baby Mother an addictive read. The first couple of chapters outline Brathwaite’s childhood. She introduces us to her family, fondly reflecting on growing up in South London and being brought up by her Barbadian grandparents. I loved reading about her relationships with her father, grandfather and mother. Brathwaite also shares the perceptions she had of black motherhood growing up, as well as her biggest worries and fears about becoming a parent. As the book progresses, we see how those perceptions and fears develop as Brathwaite gets older.
“To help illustrate how much black women take on, I use my pyramid analogy… At the top of the pyramid are white men – obviously. Just below them are white women. Below them falls every other race apart from black, and at the very bottom of it, we have black men. And black women? We aren’t actually on the pyramid at all… We are the invisible pillars entrenched in the bitter soil helping the pyramid to stay upright.” – Quote from Chapter Six of IANYBM
I recognised and related to many of Brathwaite’s experiences growing up as a black British Caribbean girl in London. For example, we both love the popular British TV show Desmond’s. I also felt a striking, almost triggering, familiarity when she discussed the shamefully normalised sexual harassment and abuse of young back girls. The rampant sexualisation of black girls has been a massive problem in our communities for so long so I’m glad Brathwaite didn’t hold back when speaking about this.
I like how the author approaches the topic of single parenthood in black communities. She discusses it with a level of care and nuance that I rarely see, and in a way that doesn’t unfairly judge and solely blame black mothers. Two chapters I found particularly impactful were ‘Black Girls Don’t Cry’ (Five) and ‘(Senti)mental Tings’ (Six). Chapter Five details Brathwaite’s first childbirth experience and the trauma and complications it entailed, while Chapter Six discusses how this experience impacted Brathwaite’s mental health as a new Mum. Reading about Brathwaite’s childbirth experience was upsetting and eye-opening. It reveals the rampant racism within the National Health Service and the shocking lack of maternal care provided to black women. According to a 2018 report by MBRRACE UK, Black women are five times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy and childbirth. I’m nowhere near ready to start a family yet and that statistic terrifies me. Reading about Brathwaite’s traumatic experience shed some light on exactly why black women are at higher risk of maternal death.
“…at that moment, it all became clear – just how bad the treatment had been from beginning to end. How I had not been cared for, let alone listened to. How there was this general expectation – even from healthcare providers who looked like me – for me to be strong and silent, or grin and bear it. The huffs and puffs from midwives had not been my imagination. Unwarranted comments like, ‘Hurry this one along’, were not one-offs. Feeling unwell and not having my symptoms taken seriously was not a one-off experience.” – Quote from Chapter Five of IANYBM
Brathwaite is a gifted writer and masterful storyteller. Her prose is clear and emotive. I Am Not Your Baby Mother is pure excellence from beginning to end, but the two aforementioned chapters and ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ (Eight) completely wowed me. In Chapter Eight, Brathwaite shares her daughter’s first experience of racism at school and what it’s really like trying to raise black children in a white environment. This chapter made me feel all kinds of emotions, from fury to heartbreak to relief. I felt a deep sadness and empathy as Brathwaite recounted the first time she was publicly ostracised simply for being black. I know how painful it is to hear cruel things being said about your skin and features at a young age, especially when it comes from a fellow black person. Finally, the concluding chapter focuses on Brathwaite’s present life, and more specifically, her eventful path to Mummy blogger success.
I’ve never been pregnant or birthed a child, but some of Brathwaite’s experiences strongly resonated with me. I’m certain that parts of her story will resonate with mothers across the board. You don’t have to be a parent or a black to fully appreciate the brilliance of I Am Not Your Baby Mother. Everyone should read it to better understand what black mothers go through.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother is a phenomenal piece of literature. Brathwaite gives us unwavering and unapologetic realness rather than a rosy, picture-perfect version of motherhood. I read this book twice. When I finished reading it the first time, I immediately returned to the beginning and started to read it again. The author’s raw honesty, humour, intelligence and endearing voice made it impossible for me to look up from the page, let alone put the book down. I Am Not Your Baby Mother is entertaining, moving, shocking and inspiring all at once. I’m now officially a Candice Brathwaite stan.
My rating: 10/10
I Am Not Your Baby Mother is out now and published by Quercus.
*Disclaimer: The author kindly gifted me a copy of I Am Not Your Baby Mother. This review contains my honest thoughts and opinions about the book.