Best-selling author and influencer Candice Brathwaite talks to Marie Claire about her experience of having an abortion and feeling discriminated within the UK’s healthcare system
In a world full of filters, we are thankful for Candice Brathwaite and her ever honest and real account of life. The author, influencer and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse, an online initiative that aims to encourage a more accurate representative and diverse depiction of motherhood in the media, uses her voice and social media platforms for positive change.
‘My honesty takes people back a bit,’ Candice, 32, admits as she describes supporting period brand Bodyform’s #wombstories campaign – by sharing her own raw experiences of womanhood – as a ‘no brainer’. While the advert, launched to give a voice to women’s health and tackle menstruation taboos, depicts emotional accounts of periods, endometriosis, miscarriage, infertility, IVF and menopause, Candice shares her experiences of having an abortion in her early twenties and undergoing an emergency C-section with the birth of her first child.
Here, the warm and hilarious social media star – who currently has 198,000 people following her every move on Instagram – gets real on racism in healthcare, protecting her mental health and the legacy she hopes to leave her two young children.
Was there a particular moment in your life when you decided it was time to start revealing your honest family life on social media?
No, I’ve just always not cared about what people think about me. I’m lucky to have had two men make me the woman I am – my grandfather and my dad. They raised me with an energy and attitude to be a disruptor. I don’t feel like I have to pretend on social media, I am just myself.
What are you teaching your children about women’s health, mental health and racism?
My other half is Nigerian, and while he doesn’t uphold traditional West African beliefs, one day my father-in-law came over and asked his granddaughter to take his plate to the kitchen. She said ‘No, I don’t feel like doing that because your legs aren’t broken’.
He was shocked, but my other half explained to him that we support our daughter’s voice and opinion. That support has to start when they are black girls. I need my daughter to understand that I value her voice as much as I value her dad’s voice, and her brother’s. That’s what I’m passing on to her.
Tell us about experiencing racial bias when you gave birth to Esmé six years ago…
I was overdue and brought in to hospital to be induced. I was put on a drip for 19 hours, which meant I wasn’t allowed to drink any liquids, but after this time I was still barely dilated and so agreed to a C-section. I heard the surgeon say, ‘Can we hurry this one along, I was supposed to be home hours ago.’ The silent understanding was that I was being a bit of an annoyance.
Three days after the C-section I keep telling the midwives I didn’t feel well – their reply? ‘Stay off the mummy websites, you’re hyping yourself up.’ One night Esmé fell asleep on me and managed to burst a sepsis filled sack that was under my c-section wound. I was rushed back to hospital, told I was going into septic shock and had to have emergency surgery which resulted in five weeks in intensive care. I was so scared.
Seven years ago there was no data to support how I felt – but now we know that black women in the UK are five times more likely to die during childbirth. I’ll always remember how before my C-section there was a white woman in a bed across from me, and the hospital staff were so careful and mothering towards her. They treated me like an annoying mosquito bite.
What needs to be done to remove racism from our healthcare?
We’ve just got to do better at pulling out racial bias from the roots. For example, if a midwife voices racist views, he or she shouldn’t be allowed to continue practicing. I don’t understand why we have conversations about retraining people. If someone works in healthcare and proves themselves to have bias, and have racist beliefs, they need to be removed, because they will take those thoughts and feelings into the workplace.
I don’t think the NHS is going to do this because they don’t have the time or the financial capacity, specially given Covid-19, but really we need a complete racial overhaul of the British healthcare system.
The campaign pushes back against the timeline of what happens during motherhood – that you have a regular, easy period, then a baby with ease, then your period stops. Was your timeline of womanhood and motherhood as you expected?
No. I decided to have an abortion when I was 22 and for a long time after that abortion I didn’t want children. I didn’t want to be tied down, I wanted to see the world. Children weren’t even in my ‘womb plan’. But now I’m here with a six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son and I love those kids so much.
That said, I hear people say, ‘My kids are my world’ – and I wouldn’t go that far. My kids are my universe: we are completely different planets. My dad dying when I was 20 taught me that at any moment a planet can just implode, and it’s gone. I want my children to know that if I was to implode and be wiped off this earth, they won’t. And they can keep going. I appreciate what they have brought to my life but they were never part of the plan when I was younger.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your life from a parental perspective?
In January the idea was I’d be on a book tour with I Am Not Your Baby Mother for four months, have a break and then be in the Sahara Desert in November. Huge plans this year. But I knew I needed more time with my kids – and didn’t the universe deliver on that one! It has been the delight of my life. It’s been hard. Incredibly hard, but to see my children up close, every day, has been lovely.
What legacy would you like to leave behind to your children?
Long after I’m gone, I’d like my children to say, ‘Mum set us up to say how we feel.’
Finally, how do you keep your mental health in check, when you spend a large proportion of time highlighting concerning black women’s issues?
I have a really great therapist. I have a session once a week. And I’m huge on meditation. I’m also really honest about my limitations and my boundaries on social media. The last time I checked my block list was on about 7,000 people. I don’t hesitate to block trolling people. That is really helpful to my mental health.
Candice Brathwaite is supporting Bodyform’s #WombStories campaign. For more information see bodyform.co.uk/wombstories