Meet the Poet - Ebony Gilbert

Content Note: Contains discussion of a traumatic birth

Birth doula and poet Ebony Gilbert tells us why she writes and about the traumatic birth that led to the poem 'Cornflakes at Half Past Eight', featured in our anthology 'Songs of Love and Strength'. 

My poetry is somewhat bipolar but then so am I, so that makes sense. As a human, apparently I’m “too” sensitive, dramatic and emotional. I’ve learnt that my innate nature means that if I’m not creating, I’m destroying (myself).

Poetry allows me to borrow courage to speak the unspeakable and to create something that has never existed before. It is where my folded-up fear, shame, grief and rage open like backwards origami to let actual humans glimpse my marrow so I feel less alone and more accepted.           

I write because I’ve got no skin and everything hurts.  I write to document my numberless feelings so that they tangibly exist and have a chance of being understood. I write to dive into my subconscious and bring the internal external. I write to make sense of this skin I’m in (which also happens to be the title of my first poetry collection, coming soon I hope!)

‘Cornflakes at half past eight’ depicts part of my emergency cesarean hangover; drugs wearing off, eyes glazed like Crosstowns, milk and grief leaking from my body after I birthed my prem baby.

George was almost dead when he was born. He wasn’t red and squirmy and bellowing. He was limp, white, silent. So I hear. My brain had left the building. He was suspended in the membrane between life and death while I lay separated on the cold steel table of the theatre. I had been cut open and my guts shown to the 17 people in the room whilst my 4 lb baby was taken to NICU without so much as a glance.

On the postnatal ward, I remember the feeling of the coconut water hydrating my parched body to make milk.I remember crying for my baby who was on a different floor of the hospital while I was left on the ward for 17 days with other mums who all had their babies with them. I remember Jen in the next bay being kind. I remember desperately trying to find a breast pump that wasn’t being used in the dark of the night every two hours. I remember being verbally abused by the midwife. I remember my skin pulled tight with the stitches I couldn’t bear to see or hear about.

I was a doula. I was meant to give birth in water in a bubble of safeness and presence. Not to have my womb raided one afternoon at 33 weeks when I went in for a check up. Not to lie stone cold and dead still while my mind joined the strip lights above me.

I remember being told I wasn’t “allowed” to hold/feed/give donated breast milk to my own baby. I remember feeling detached and powerless. But I also remember my heart cracking open when I finally got to hold him and wanting to inhale him, absorb him back into my body. Smelling his brand new breath, a breath that took minutes for him to take.

“No effort to breathe.” said the notes.

“Baby’s heart rate pathological.”

“Crash team called, no response.”

“Crash team called, no response.”

“Crash team called no response.”

Then when we left that building, I held my tiny boy warm and close and placed him directly over my heart, a space he will occupy until the day I die and forever after.

Ps. Me and Jen are still great friends. She held my hand then and continues to do so now. We look a lot better without the hospital gown and the shuffle.              

Still wear massive pants though.


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