And become part of a support group for & by Black women. Additionally, you will receive a regular newsletter with memos about upcoming Sisterhood Sessions, and culturally aligned fertility content.
by Roxanne Hartley-Swan
I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion last week, we touched on a lot of topics, from light hearted to more serious. It was a lot of fun relating with you all to the struggles and the joy of our hair. It was evident that through our shared similar yet unique experience of the struggles and the joys of our hair, that there is a real sense of sisterhood among us and that is what this is all about! This week I want to share with you something that really stood out to me from our discussion, and I will try to live by moving forward. Our hair is our power and maybe it is time to unapologetically own it.
It was clear that we are all proud of our roots, our hair and especially the flexibility to fix our crown in a variety of ways. But even with all this pride we face conflict both internal and external when it comes to how we choose to present ourselves as black women in the UK. During our quiz (well done Noni on the win!) We learnt that this problem is not unique to the UK, but how it is being tackled is. The Crown Act that was passed in California in 2020, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for our Natural Hair is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination in the context of employment and education and includes protective hairstyles such as braids, locs, twists and bantu knots.
Whilst this is a massive step forward, it saddens me that in 2020, such a law is necessary. I know I have often felt like the UK was much further head of the US in regards to “race relations’ but sometimes we get a stark reminder that we aren’t much better off, it’s just quieter here. In 2018 a 12-year-old boy was banned from his school because of his dreadlocks and was told he couldn’t return without cutting his hair. In an interview his mother said “we place our trust in schools and teachers to help mould our children’s lives through education, but that should never place restrictions on their identity…”
While most of us are no longer in school, we all shared the sentiment that restricting our identity, our blackness is key to our survival in the workplace, in the UK. It is exhausting to constantly wonder if that colleague was making a misinformed but well-intentioned comment or making a dig. Not to mention the mental gymnastics when deciding if wearing your hair in cornrows to the office will hinder that promotion or result in a loss of respect. Our hair does not diminish us, it does not take away from our capabilities, intelligence, our power. I would even go as far as to say that our hair is our power, however I choose to wear it. Why must we shrink to make the uninformed, the ignorant comfortable?
So the next time Susan from accounting asks you how you could possibly have grown 18 inches of hair in two days, as if she didn’t complete a science GCSE, just as you did. Don’t laugh it off, point out the ridiculousness in her statement. Or when Greg from IT, likens your CROWN to an offensive object, don’t shy away from pointing out his ignorance and disrespect. It is these micro-aggressions that slowly chip away at us and can make us feel that we do not belong, that different is bad, that keep us “in our place”. In the words of one of the sisters, “I love being black.” Enough is enough, it is time to take our power back!
Do you think the UK could benefit from a Crown Act?
How much thought do you put into your hairstyle for work?
Do you struggle with restricting your identity in the workplace?
Do you feel that your hair is a source of power for you?
This month's blogpost expands on the theme of our last session - Our Hair. We shared many tales surrounding our hair and had a fun but at times quite deep discussion that will stick with me for years to come.
I look forward to unpacking our next theme at our next session on the 1st June.
In the meantime feel free to email me below. Take care, Roxanne x
by Roxanne Hartley-Swan
The part that was naive and innocent, a part that was confident and self-assured. I used to believe that if I tried my hardest if I was the best, there would be no reason I couldn’t get everything I wanted. And for over 30 years my life motto — persistence is key, served me well. For my first cycle, I did all the things. I did the research and then did some more for good measure. I created a plan of action that was so thoroughly crafted, it had to succeed. And I was so sure that this would be it. How could it not be, when I had worked so damn hard. It wasn’t enough — it failed. And just like that all the lies we tell ourselves became so glaringly obvious.
My illusion of control shattered. Hard work is NOT all it takes. Perfectionism does not guarantee success and I cannot persevere my way to a baby. I cannot perfectly “do” IVF and win. That choice, the success or failure is completely out of my hands. Life is chaos and the “good” are NOT favoured. I felt that grief and rage in my bones. I wanted to tear it all down. For failing me, for the stupidity of my beliefs, for daring to think I could have what I wanted, for expecting it, for hoping. For being positive and naive in thinking this would be “easy” and straightforward. “You idiot, you absolute idiot” would play over and over in my head. My inner voice is my harshest critic and she was hell-bent on destroying it. And I think “it” was me.
There are days that I see glimpses of the old me. The fire and light, peek through but it doesn’t take long before it is snuffed out by the doubt and uncertainty. The woman who knew that if she tried hard enough she could do anything, who believed hard work and being good was all it took. Who stood firm in who she was and what she wanted. She isn’t here anymore. All those certainties have been replaced by questions. Not just about my infertility and whether or not I’ll ever be a mum but also what I believe to my core. Who am I now and who will I be when this chapter comes to an end? Will I like me? If persistence isn’t key then what is? If it is all chaos, what is the point in even trying? My deck of cards haven’t just been shuffled, they have been thrown into the air, half of them rewritten in another language. I know I must sort it out, but how?
Infertility and Showing Myself Grace
My inner voice (who from here on out will be referred to as Sybil) would have me tear myself to shreds for my unforgivable failure, as though that would somehow fix the issue and I would come out perfectly whipped into shape.I cannot shame, hate or belittle myself into “perfection”. I am not broken, I am human. So I am trying a new thing, something that Sybil is not well versed in — self- compassion. I will treat myself with grace when a pregnancy announcement does not fill me with joy but grief. I will accept the waves of sadness I feel when I see a new mother and her newborn in a pram. I will be patient with myself when I find myself begging and pleading to just let this month be the one. I will forgive myself when I am having a bad day because I am allowed a bad day.
I will be kind to myself when I feel unable to offer support because the weight of my own feelings is too heavy. I will absolve myself of guilt when I don’t respond to that call or attend the event because it feels like a herculean effort. I will reassure myself when I feel lost and aimless, certain that this will never end and I will never find myself again, that this is not forever. A lot of people write about the strength they gained from this “journey”. What they learnt, who they have become. The silver lining. There is a sense of pride from overcoming it and rightfully so. I’m not there yet, and sometimes I question if I ever will be. I feel broken. I don’t know yet what the end of this chapter looks like, how many treatments or cycles I can endure. It is as though I am at the entrance of a long dark tunnel, squinting into the darkness.
Trying to see if there is an end to all this, a happy one — baby or no baby. But I can’t see. And I’m terrified. If you were looking for a story of strength and overcoming, of hope and faith. You won’t find that here, at least not yet. I hope that there are others out there who relate to these words because as much as I hope they help you feel a little less alone, it would help me feel less lonely too. So, if you want a space to silently rage at the injustice of infertility, fight against the voice that tells you what’s the point in waking up tomorrow. Wrestle against the fears that you’ll exit this chapter alone with no friends, no baby and a beaten and bruised marriage. I’ll be here in this corner of the internet, screaming with you. #IVFersUnite.
Every month we highlight a different story from the Sisterhood. If you are keen to share your story, please drop us an email below.
By: Roxanne Hartley-Swan
We have all had encountered that one person who just knew that if we tried this one thing, we would instantly fall pregnant. Job done, problem solved. And whilst on the inside, we cringed and rolled our eyes so hard we wondered if we would ever see straight again. We grinned and bared it because “they are only trying to help” and “we wouldn’t want to cause a scene”. Even the most well-intentioned questions, statements, advice or actions can have a cost and in my opinion, infertility is a time when we need the least amount of withdrawals from the bank. Both figuratively and literally! April’s Sisterhood session focussed on discussing boundaries, how we set, maintain or struggle with them whilst navigating infertility and so this week we want to share some encouragement and tips on how you can better set and maintain boundaries.
Practice makes progress: If you struggle setting boundaries you might not have been allowed to have them growing up or the adults in your life modelled that boundaries were unacceptable. It stands to reason then that setting them now will be an uncomfortable experience. We have all been there, someone makes a comment and we are frozen, only to get home and think of a thousand responses we could have said. If we practice setting boundaries, it can make setting them in real-time easier. Thinking about past situations where you felt a boundary was crossed ask yourself what need was not being met. Once you can identify the need practice asking for it either in writing, in the mirror or both! This practice should help you become better at identifying and communicating your needs. Having some pre-thought out and rehearsed responses will also help you feel more comfortable setting and maintaining those boundaries in the future.
Friend: I know this couple who swears by this new supplement and happened to fall pregnant a month after taking it. You should try it!
You: I appreciate that you are trying to be helpful but I would rather not talk about anecdotal advice or tips.
Set limits: Unfortunately, we can’t all lock ourselves away for the foreseeable future and with the world opening back up it is becoming less and less socially acceptable to apply a blanket decline to all social events. For those unavoidable social events where you know you are going to be around people who consistently overstep your boundaries, try setting a time limit to your interactions with them. Agree ahead of time that you will leave by a certain time. It can be a good idea to have a pre-arranged excuse on hand to help avoid “creating a scene” whilst maintaining the limit you set yourself. You could take it a step further and agree that if certain comments or behaviour occur, you will immediately remove yourself from that environment. Remember you already have your excuse to leave!
Friend: It’s been so long since I have seen you, let’s meet up and go for dinner and drinks next weekend.
You: That sounds lovely but I won’t have time for dinner and drinks, but we can grab coffee at 1 pm on Saturday? (You also agree with your husband or another friend that you have “plans” at 4 pm which gives you a short window to catch up with your friend but an excuse to leave).
Start small: If you really struggle to set boundaries in the moment and often find yourself overextending, practice asking for time in response to people’s requests for your time or effort. It can help to break down the boundary setting into more manageable chunks. In the moment, you only focus on chunk one; you ask for time. Then once you have taken the time to reflect and review what feels comfortable to you, focus on step two; communicating the need or boundary with the person who made the request. Taking this time allows you the space to think about what you can give if anything and why or why not. If you can identify all of these things, you will be in a better position to communicate your needs.
Mom: I am really excited about our annual family trip this summer! We need to book ASAP, I can book for you today and we can sort it out later?
You: Thank you for thinking of me, it sounds like a great trip. I am not sure that will work for me, let me look at my calendar and get back to you.
You via text: Hi Mom, thanks for thinking of me for the family holiday. As you know we are going through IVF which is quite expensive, and it is hard to plan as things are constantly changing. I’m sure you will all have a great time but we will be missing this year.
Mum via text: You can’t miss the family holiday! We will be so upset, surely you can find the money, it only costs £xxx. Come on, for me?
You via text: The holiday sounds amazing but it is not something I can commit to.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Guilt is to be expected when setting boundaries. Just because you feel guilt, shame or fear does not mean that what you are doing is wrong or that those feelings are justified. After a lifetime of being told your boundaries are wrong, rude or disrespectful, it is no surprise that you feel guilt, shame or fear when setting boundaries. We need to remember that it is not inherently rude to say no to people, to disagree or to prioritise yourself. You are not required to answer the phone every time someone calls, or immediately reply to that text. You are not responsible for other people feeling or actions. It is not your job to anticipate their needs but their job to express them just as you are trying to do. If your guilt is coming from trying to manage other people’s emotions or needs, take a breath and remind yourself that:
Explore the discomfort: Think of the discomfort as an alarm bell. Something is not quite right and your body is trying to tell you. It can be hard to identify what you are feeling and why especially if you are out of practice. We do ourselves a disservice by ignoring or avoiding our “negative” emotions. If we take the time to look at it and truly feel it, we allow the opportunity to better understand ourselves and what needs are important to us, where we are neglecting ourselves and where we feel neglected by others. If we are disconnected from our needs, how can we expect that others will know and respect them? Ignoring ourselves in this way can lead to instances of self-betrayal – where we neglect our needs for the comfort of others allowing space for resentment and anger to build in our relationships. If we explore the discomfort, we can improve and deepen our relationships with ourselves and with others. Here are some journal prompts that can help you explore the discomfort and better set boundaries:
This month's blogpost expands on the theme of our last session - Boundaries. We spoke about how we can give ourselves permission to stand firm in our boundaries and remind ourselves that we are worthy of setting and maintaining boundaries that serve us.
I hope you will find this helpful and I am looking forward to unpacking our next theme at our next session on the 4th of May.
In the meantime feel free to email me below.