You people…

Proud to share a guest blog by the amazing Nicola Mahdiyyah Goodall

17th October 2017

Most people who know me now have little idea that much of my younger and childbearing life I was a much more orthodox Muslim which manifested in many ways not least the way I dressed outwardly, easily identifiable as a practising Muslim.

Travelling through four pregnancies and births I did not see one Muslim healthcare professional. I did not see one image of a Muslim parent in a leaflet, magazine or indeed anywhere apart from all around me in my local community in South London. In fact my local community was not very well represented in maternity services at all but that is another blog post.  To not be able to see yourself is unsettling when you are having a baby. We are designed to birth with those around us feeling familiar. It was easy to tell who had thoughts of interest, specific inclusion or not even seem to notice and those with something deeper going on. Things were not as hard as they are now for Muslim women but we had still had the Iran/Iraq war and then 9/11 where everything began to change. I am not sure people outside of our community had really noticed us much before that. Of course there have always been racial stereotypes of every man having multiple wives that he beats daily but not the hard judgement we see around us frequently now.

Over my time in a traditional scarf I have been called a Paki, ninja, black cunt, bomber (of course) and told that I should be ashamed of myself. I have had a door rammed into me, been spat at, returned from a shop to my husband who was headbutted and bleeding with my babies, stones thrown at my car continually and a constant stream of “you people”.

I have had, however, the most incredible experiences with maternity staff. The male midwife on my team with my first baby who was so super cool when I deselected him for the birth because he was a man. The midwife who caught my first daughter accompanied me to the postnatal ward in the early hours to drink tea with me. The Jamaican midwife who caught number two and three daughters was super inclusive respecting our prayers during labour, leaving us in privacy to birth and being hugely evangelical about our placenta burying and calling the adhan in the baby’s ear. She called on us at home for everything respecting our 40 day rest period. I still talk about these women all the time while I am teaching.  They were such good examples of cultural competency and easing the load on a woman who already carried a lot around

“”You people” is a particular embodiment of the problem that is a well-documented set phrase. It is often used in questionnaires used to identify possible racist attitudes as part of training programs designed to combat racism in the workplace or elsewhere.”

Talk:you people – Wiktionary

I also had one of the worst experiences which may seem insignificant to some but to me was a blow to my recently bared and nestling-a-baby chest. For as long as I can remember I attended the WellWoman clinic in Tooting for my healthcare.  I would attend for contraception, smear tests or anything I could access there rather than the GP practise. It felt like a sisterhood. All women staff present for the good of women and the staff were often exceptional including the GP who took me for my 6 week postnatal health check up. She was a retired middle class white woman. A feminist in a tweed suit who had dedicated her life to women’s wellness.  My kind of woman. She was thorough even giving me a breast exam and really connecting with me until we came to the issue of contraception.  Coming from a very broken family I always had a vision of creating a big happy healthy family myself and was on baby number two of a brood. “What contraception will you be using?” she asked me. “Oh, we are planning on natural baby spacing and want a big family so breastfeeding will give me a good gap but it’s really no problem if we conceive again soon” I said merrily. Oh boy – the merriment was over! “You people….” she began and a huge chasm opened up.  She continued to give me a lecture on how she viewed “my people” and that we might have big families, feminism and women and what they had fought for including the right to contraception and a small family. Clearly I waited for her to finish and gave her a vagina monologue right back about my right to have as many children as I want to have, the value of mothers in society and if I was to space them at a few years apart I would spend my entire adult life mothering rather than doing anything other to contribute to the world. What I did not address and forever wish I had was the phrase “you people” and how she spat it out. She spat it out containing her thoughts of Muslims whatever they were – it was heavy with judgement and it hit so hard while in that oxytocin love glow with my new baby. Yet I am certain she had no idea how culturally incompetent she was or that I wept when I recalled my experiences later.

In the twenty years plus I have supported and accompanied women I have experienced so many instances of this. Of race, weight, social class, gender, home address, tattoos, religion, hair, dress, sexual orientation, choices and more. I have gathered the stories and the tears and witnessed the emotional damage this causes and see how all the many layers add up to a crushing weight on women.  It’s not only middle class white women that chip in on this act – I have had several difficult encounters with Muslim male doctors. Whoever might be culturally insensitive needs to heal that wound immediately! Women accessing maternity services are at their most vulnerable. Transforming to mother, aware it may well be the most intimate experience of their life in a public space, concerned for their baby and in their hormonal sensitivity concerned for the state of the world.  

We are all guilty of insensitivity and judgement at times but this must NEVER turn up in our support of women and their families. Once a woman has been in this position you lose her. You lose her trust. She no longer tells you her baby isn’t moving like it was. That her partner is abusing her. That when her waters went there was meconium in them. That she was abused as a child and on and on with the information you need to know and the trust you need to have. Your job becomes harder and the families health is impacted hugely. It is a no win situation.

Come along and explore cultural competency with us.  Find out where YOU rank in the privilege race.

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