As women in today’s society, we are pretty much expected to (re)produce. And yes, this applies to having babies. You may be familiar with the general less than ideal state of women’s reproductive wellness in this country, but what happens when race, gender, and fertility collide? While there are a host of systemic barriers and racial inequities at play, I’ll focus on three: knowledge, access, and stigma.
Knowledge. Growing up, I thought people either had babies or they didn’t. In fact, I never overheard any conversations about reproductive wellness in general, and I was definitely unaware that some women experienced challenges with having children. I incorrectly assumed that some women just opted out of the whole kid thing and chalked up their childfree life to a decision they made long ago. But now I know better. My story is not unusual. I cannot begin to count how many friends I’ve chatted with who echo the same narrative about how they thought people ended up with children or ended up childfree. . Conversations about fertility were not happening in our families or our social circles growing up.
Access. The financial component of fertility treatment can be a barrier for women of color. Even if we are at the top of our professional fields, we are more likely to be underpaid than other groups. Additionally, we may not have insurance plans that cover expenses related to fertility treatment. On top of that, where do we even begin this process? If you’ve never had these conversations before, do you even know how to ask for additional help to navigate this journey?
Stigma. It’s common to feel considerable shame when it comes to fertility challenges, regardless of race. But in communities of color where family is viewed as one of the most important things, remaining childfree may not seem like an option. I am constantly asked “when are you going to have a baby?” or “are you pregnant yet?” by people in my circle if any stretch of time passes between me interacting with people. (I am choosing the childfree route for right now). But what if I was experiencing fertility challenges? What if my inner self wanted to scream at the insensitivity of others who fail to acknowledge that sometimes the whole “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage” is not so linear as people believe?
This has been a silent struggle for far too long. Women of color have been left out of fertility conversations for far too long. I am here to remind you that even though it may feel uncomfortable, it is okay. It is okay if you don’t know where to start. It is okay if you feel like you’re the only one going through this. It is okay if you don’t have the financial means to engage in expensive treatments. It is okay if you don’t want to tell your family because you think they wouldn’t understand or would judge you in some way. It is okay if you feel it conflicts with your religious or spiritual beliefs. It is okay if none of this makes sense to you. IT IS OKAY to be where you are.
Navigating through your fertility journey can be challenging but you don’t have to do it alone. Join me every second Thursday of the month at our Fertility Support Group for Womxn of Color. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Dr. Qu'Nesha Sawyer