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Manchester’s minority ethnic women to tell ‘untold stories’ of childbirth

Oral history project will preserve experiences, traditions and cultural practices of black and Asian mothers

From left, Imani Chimo, Naomi Pemberton and Anita Mbabazi are behind the oral history project. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The experiences, cultural practices and traditions of black and Asian women during pregnancy and childbirth are to be preserved in an archive in Manchester as part of an oral history project.

Holding Her Space, a community organisation that supports new mothers and mothers-to-be from minority ethnic backgrounds, has launched the intergenerational project to create culturally competent resources and provide education using creative arts.

The project, Untold Stories of the Village, is being funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It will document the generational stories of childbirth of women from African, Caribbean and south Asian communities, and store it in the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Centre. The hope is that these stories will be stored in the archive for the next 50 to 100 years.

Naomi Pemberton, the founder and director of Holding Her Space, said: “We have been working in the community for a few years now, specifically with black and Asian women to provide better access, better experiences and better outcomes for them. Through that journey, we’ve had so many stories shared to us from previous births, even from our mum’s mum’s generation of how things used to be. So we thought it would be a really good idea, because we’ve never seen it done before.

“We’ve had a catalogue of experiences from our community that not only highlights some of the challenges and the traumas that the women have faced, but also some of the cultural practices and traditions that we’ve lost along the way that could potentially be supporting and helping us.”

Pemberton pointed to the fact that black women were still four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women. The mortality rates for mixed ethnicity women and Asian women are twice and almost twice as high respectively as white women. Another study has found that the stillbirth rate of black babies in England and Wales is almost twice that of white babies.

Pemberton said there was a large amount of negative association around pregnancy for women of colour, particularly black women. “There’s this highlighted negative tone to pregnancy, so women go into itfearing it instead of celebrating their journey,” she said.

“[The project is about] shifting from that negative dialogue around what pregnancy looks like for black women and bringing more lightness to it, without pushing away the issues, but celebrating the cultural and traditional aspects of it as well.”

As well as preserving oral histories, the project will produce a documentary, a live theatre production, an arts exhibition and a book.skip past newsletter promotion

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Laila Benhaida, the community archivist at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Centre, has provided training sessions to the project leads and volunteers. “During the training session, we discussed the importance of capturing traditionally marginalised stories and why oral history work is a great way to record histories that are not found in the usual official records,” she said.

“The project staff and volunteers carry a wealth of varied experience and passion for Untold Stories of the Village and we are very excited to be supporting such an inspiring group of women.”

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