Errol blogs for Black Maternal Mental Health Week 2022

Errol shares his experience of the challenges that parents from minority ethnic backgrounds face and how health professionals need more cultural awareness in their everyday practice

Errol Murray is a Perinatal Partners Peer Supporter with the Leeds Perinatal Mental Health Service. He blogs here about his and his wife’s experience during the birth of their daughter Rayya #BMMH2002

We would like to share Errol’s blog as it may help educate more people out there, both parents and health professionals, to be more aware of these differences and act much sooner.


“When our daughter Rayya was born at 5 in the morning my wife was exhausted. Her waters had broken 24 hours before, the baby was two weeks early, and an infection had set in.

Breastfeeding was a problem as she was struggling to latch on and feed, so we ended up in hospital for a few days.

The doctors were worried about Rayya’s weight and my wife kept telling the ward doctor that our baby wasn’t particularly engaged, and could she explain what was happening.

Two days later there still didn’t seem to be much happening and my wife was really worried that our baby didn’t seem to be right. Even the ward nurses were expressing concern over her feeding, or lack of.

A doctor checked us out and decided that it was possibly meningitis and that she needed to conduct a lumber puncture – where a needle is inserted into the spine.

My wife became extremely upset.

She was unsure of the diagnosis and we didn’t have the medical knowledge to challenge it. This made her doubt herself and question herself, which made her even more upset.

After three or four days in hospital she had lost all confidence in the doctor and in herself.

She demanded to see a consultant to question whether this procedure was necessary.

We were taken to see the consultant, a man of Indian origin, and before we could even ask about the puncture in the spine, he said ‘I’m not interested in that, this baby has jaundice and needs to go into a lightbox now.’

He recognised the symptoms straight away.

Our daughter was in a lightbox in the ICU for three or four days. It is quite distressing for new parents to see your baby and not be able to have her next to you. She was in an ICU unit with some very sick babies and my wife had to visit to feed her, and sit with her.

Rayya is now absolutely fine, she is fully grown and totally recovered.

There was no impact on her development because the illness was picked up early.

I’m afraid that the first doctor (who was of white Caucasian background) hadn’t picked up that Rayya had yellowed with jaundice, and she read the baby’s lack of feeding as something else.

Maybe the second doctor was more experienced and knew what children with dark skin would look like when they are jaundiced. It might have been a mixture of the consultant’s experience and that he had more understanding of children with dark skin.

I’d like to know how awareness is being raised.

Is more training needed to recognise symptoms within different ethnicities, particularly those with darker skin?

I think it’s starting to happen in meningitis. There are stock images of dark skinned babies with meningitis now being used, but it was 12 years ago that this happened to us, so we hope that things have progressed.

But as well as the issue of recognising illnesses on dark skinned babies, there’s also an issue of confidence. We don’t know what would’ve happened if we hadn’t overcome our self-doubt, made a fuss, and basically demanded to see a consultant.

We are both confident and don’t have problems with confrontation. We don’t have any language barriers either, so we managed to assert our feelings about what we wanted.

I’m not sure that the majority of mothers or fathers from an ethnic minority background in that situation would be able to do that.”