*Content Warning* - this article makes reference to suicide.
Pregnant whilst Black
In the UK, studies show that black women experience greater risk and neglect during pregnancy and childbirth than their counterparts. Mercedes Gale was one of these women. In 2017, she sustained long-term pelvic girdle pain (PGP) during her pregnancy with son Amari, and became disabled as a result.
"I was bound to get PGP during pregnancy, because I was overweight,” says Mercedes. “However, I received a complete lack of care for my pain. Medical staff would assume that the pain ‘wasn’t as bad as I was making out’ and it wasn’t until I attempted suicide that the doctors heard my cry for help and started to listen to me.”
According to the NHS, it's estimated that PGP affects up to 1 in 5 pregnant women. However, early diagnosis could help minimise pain and avoid long-term discomfort. Mercedes tells us that losing weight should help ease her pain in future, but initial failure from health practitioners diagnosing her in time, has led to other factors.
“I now have arthritis because of the severity of the pressure on my legs,” says Mercedes. “That will never go away. Being disabled is hard. Mostly because unless you're in a wheelchair, people are reluctant to believe that you're struggling. Isn't it bad enough that I have this disability, but now you deny me the help that I need because you can't see it?”
A 2019 report published by MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK), found that black women in the United Kingdom are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth compared to their white counterparts, even though they account for just 4 percent of those giving birth. For women of mixed ethnicity the risk is threefold, and for Asian women, it’s double.
School teacher to MumpreneurBefore her pregnancy, Mercedes was a primary school teacher who loved what she did. But, following her pregnancy-related disability, she was unable to return to this. Knowing she still needed an income, Mercedes started planning and styling family events on the side, which later turned into two businesses.
“I'm proud of 4YaParty and 4YaGifts,” says Mercedes, “and the change that these small businesses are bringing about in the wedding and events industry. It has proved that a disability can't stop me from fulfilling my dreams. I’m also proud of my 3-year-old son, Amari. He is my everything and my motivation. Disability or not, I wouldn't change him for the world. My advice to anyone with a disability is very simple: "F*ck that label. You are ABLE to do anything you believe in."
Then and now
Rounding up the interview, Mercedes reflects on her childhood growing up, and her relationship with her body pre-pregnancy.
“I have always been overweight, but I was flexible with no illnesses or health issues,” says Mercedes. “I was a dancer and a netball player. I wasn't scared to wuk up (dance) at the odd club either. It's hard knowing that I've lost that part of me. Losing netball was the hardest blow, because that team was my little family for a long time.”
Since then, Mercedes has continued to receive a lot of support, and is now working to change societal narratives through her companies.
“I have grown up with my family always telling me how beautiful I am, so thankfully, I haven’t been negatively impacted by social media posts on achieving ‘snapbacks’ after pregnancy, or feeling as though I need to fit in with unrealistic expectations. Instead, it’s made me want to change media portrayals, so that we already fit in. I do this through styled shoots in my work, and ensure I feature plus size women, LGBTQ+ couples, people of colour and the older generation, because that's what the real world looks like.”
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