In taking a day off to defend my dissertation proposal, I booked with my favorite stylist, Candy (better known as the Loc Doc). We were watching The Tamron Hall Show which triggered a candid reflection on her guest experiences. First, there was Samantha Busch (whose husband makes his coin as a NASCAR driver), who told Tamron about her book, “Fighting Infertility” after experiencing miscarriages and 2nd child conception barriers. Feeling the anxiety from my own fertility story, I looked away from the TV just long enough to catch a glimpse of a young mom under the dryer feeding THE MOST GORGEOUS (and well behaved) chocolate baby girl. I swallow hard as I was quickly reminded of the delicacy and acquired taste of motherhood. For many Black women, it’s not a guaranteed thing and infertility is yet another issue for us to suffer in silence about.
Growing up, the only conversation about reproduction I had was being told not to get pregnant. But honestly, all I ever thought was if losing my virginity (or going through childbirth) was more painful than THIS period, I’d NEVER be giving it up! By 6th grade, I was home a couple days a month with gut-wrenching pain. Having a southern-born grandmother meant solving all my period ailments with heating pads and ginger ale! Although granny’s physician mistrust was real and valid, the suppression and silencing of my pain was a major reproductive disservice. I would soon learn that the pain was caused by Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and fibroid tumors. The pain was happening for valid reasons.
A recent study suggests that Black women may be twice as likely as White women to have fertility problems but are far less likely to seek or receive infertility treatment. I remember being so arrogant and naive about getting pregnant. I had a daughter right after college and got married a few years later so I thought another baby was automatic. I felt excited to plan my pregnancy. I had the house and a great teaching career. I thought all that was missing was a baby to complete our blended family. This was not my truth. It took 5 years, 10 thousand plus dollars in fertility drugs, 2 artificial inseminations, 2 rounds of IVF and 1 veteran OB-Gynie to sit me down with camera scope photographs showing all the receipts as to why I needed to throw in the towel. A few months later, Dr. OG Ob-Gynie performed my hysterectomy at age 36. I wasn’t prepared at all for a hysterectomy or its effects. I was traumatized and overwhelmed with physical and emotional pain, depression and ultimately, with divorce. I felt like less than a woman. At this point, I could no longer conceptualize a fertility journey. In addition, the debt from infertility treatments made surrogacy impossible because the fees were more costly than my house in out-of-pocket expenses.
Tamron’s next guests were Dr. Joia Crear-Perry and her husband Dr. Andrew Perry. This couple stopped the entire beauty shop when she quoted them saying, “We should be able to have babies like White people.” Dr. Crear-Perry is a speaker, trainer, advocate, policy expert, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC). She mentioned how White women have the privilege of using private fertility funding resources like their parents, church community or neighbors while so Black women don’t have that luxury. Infertility treatment requires serious cash, healthcare cultural-responsiveness and community support at every step of the process. Dr. Crear-Perry and her husband say that this is the real reason that Black families are less likely to try IVF and surrogacy. That support can look like advice and tips for hormone dosing or even health insurance customer service hacks for billing. There are not many directions Black women can turn to for this kind of help. Families are even struggling to get fertility appointments as treatment procedures since they are classified as non-emergency and are being cancelled due to COVID-19. Complex and compacted systemic racial and class issues with surrogacy financing, pregnancy hormone management, health care provider mistrust and power imbalance continue to widen the Black infertility gap.
With the support of God, my village and great therapists, my teenage daughter and I are now very happy. We are taking a preventive approach and openly communicating about our sexual health and family history. My daughter will be well aware of her fertility options well before it becomes an issue (if it ever does). We also attend workshops for moms and daughters with Dr. Hareder McDowell (better known as Dr. Mac) of PRETTY, Inc. Dr. Mac’s Chicago non-profit organization offers safe and empowering sexual health and communication workshops for girls and their caregivers. She literally wrote the book about sexual misconceptions received generationally from our mothers as little Black girls. Awareness, accountability and community are needed to address racial, educational and class-related infertility issues that arise for Black women. For more information, check out Dr. Crear-Perry, Dr. Mac and other like-minded organizations focused on financial resources and culturally-responsive approaches engaging Black women facing infertility. Take care, Sis!
Artist: Venise Lashon Keys; Creator of Lashon Fouché Art LLC. Artist, activist, and educator. "Women of Color, Be Unapologetic in All Your Glory". Hand-cut assorted papers. (2021)