Read time 3 mins
For the first of our Black History Month blogs we had the privilege to talk to Bristol alumna Sonah Paton, co-founder of Black Mothers Matter. Here, Sonah shares some insights into her own time at university, and the ground-breaking work she is undertaking to address the disproportionately difficult experience of expectant and early Black mothers in the UK.
Sonah, what made you decide to study at Bristol?
My dad had been a doctor at the BRI so I already had a connection with the city. My parents also had high academic standards for me and my two siblings, and Bristol met with their expectations.
What was your experience like at university?
I had a great time at university! I met Yomi and Aisha (the other co-founders of Black Mothers Matter) at an ACS (African & Caribbean Society) event at Freshers Week. There weren’t many Black British women in our cohort so I suppose that drew us together. It was a very white space, and there wasn’t much recognition that my experience would be different from that, but there was a good sense of community within my wider friendship group.
How did Black Mothers Matter start?
It basically started from a chat on WhatsApp! We had all become pregnant during 2019 and had given birth just before or during the first lockdown, so our babies were introduced to each other on Zoom. As well as talking about motherhood in general, we also discussed how lucky we felt that nothing seriously bad had gone wrong for us during our pregnancies and births, especially in the light of the 2019 MBRRACE report which highlighted that Black mothers are four times more likely to die during pregnancy. Between the three of us we have a combination of skills in marketing and medical expertise so we said to ourselves why don’t we take action and do something about these grim statistics.
That is a shocking statistic – why do you think that is the case?
The system was built for white people, for example when babies are assessed to see how much oxygen they are getting the measure is how red/pink they are. This just isn’t a relevant test for a black or brown baby. There’s also NHS advice on nutrition for pregnant women which might not include ingredients that are used in a traditional West African diet such as yam or plantain. Things like that may seem small but they can have huge consequences.
How do you help make a difference to Black mothers?
We have two work streams, one of which directly engages members of the community by pairing women with doulas, providing antenatal support hampers and that kind of thing. The other project addresses systemic issues and includes an anti-racist education and training programme for midwives and maternity assistants. One of our overall goals is to achieve zero disparity based on race by the time our own children are ready to be parents.
What is your opinion of Black History Month?
Black History Month has the potential to be a powerful campaign, but it really depends on the approach people take. For example, at my son’s school they ran a great project about Roy Hackett who was a local man and one of the organisers of the Bristol bus boycott. The content was really relevant and the children learned a lot. We do get lots of enquiries around this time and I sometimes find myself asking, where were you for the other eleven months of the year?! But it can be a positive reminder to celebrate black culture, even if it’s through a small gesture – if you are buying a book, why not choose one by a black author?
That’s a nice idea – do you have a book you could recommend?
I love I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite, a very relevant read.
Thanks so much to Sonah for giving her time to us and sharing the excellent work being undertaken by Black Mothers Matter. If you would like to know more about the organisation, or have other stories you would like to share with us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.