As an African American woman who was born here in America but grew up in Nigeria, I grew up in a family that values education and career aspiration. Therefore, I truly missed seeing any other types of struggles in life except for just financial struggles that my own immediate family faced growing up. I learned quickly how important it was for me to always be strong, no matter what challenges come my way. Even as a child, when I was dealing with depression and anxiety from being separated from my parents while they worked to join my sister and me in America, I still had a hard time talking about my depression and anxiety and hid it as much as I could from my family. This is the prime example of how many black women grow up in their household. We are taught to be strong, and personal challenges are rarely discussed in terms of your feelings and emotions of what you are feeling in your mind.
Welcome to the world of a black woman growing up, and imagine now entering into something as difficult as infertility or loss.
When I was diagnosed with infertility, I truly felt alone and had so much shame that my body would fail me like this. Within the African culture, women are always seen as being able to have children for their husbands. I knew no one in my family that had struggled with trying to conceive. I noticed how in tune I was with my body even before I was diagnosed with infertility, but I felt like I was shut down by the doctors many times when I would state that I knew something was off with my body. They would tell me to get on “birth control” due to my irregular periods. I was not diagnosed with PCOS until I was 27 years old. For months, I begged my OBGYN to do bloodwork, and she never felt it was needed. It took me a while to realize that this was the start of my experiencing racism in medical care. I realized it is very common for black women to be ignored.
As I went through processing my own feelings about the possibility that it may take a very long time for me to conceive or not at all, I felt very stuck and alone.
When I would talk to family members about the infertility diagnosis, I would get the same comments that “I am strong and will get through it,” and, “It will happen when it is the right time.” When I started to look at different support group applications to download on the phone and even private Facebook groups, I would see how white women would talk to one another. I rarely would see black women engaged in many of the discussions. Again, it made me feel that even if black women may be going through this too, they didn’t talk about it. I did not feel as connected to many of the women because, again, how could I share these feelings with other white women who may not understand the feeling of being alone as a “black woman”? All we could relate to is feeling “alone” in this journey of uncertainty.
When I finally conceived through IVF during the spike of COVID, I experienced more grief and pain due to miscarriage.
Again, I experienced racism in medical care where the doctor felt that I should just “let nature run its course.” He felt that I could go through the pain and handle it and I would not need a pill. He questioned me when I said nothing was happening, that I was not bleeding. He told me that I should be soon, but after three more weeks of nothing, I truly could not bear carrying our baby for more than four more weeks knowing that she was gone. I felt neglected. It made me sick to realize that as a black woman, we are seen as “strong,” that we can handle it all. But, why wasn’t I listened to when I said I was emotionally drained and I really needed intervention?
I remember going through the next steps after the miscarriage, which was additional testing, including genetic testing. Reviewing the results with a genetic counselor I had to hear further risk of certain medical diagnoses that black women usually have.
Now that I am pregnant after loss, I had to remember my risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
These are two diagnoses that black women are higher at risk for. Many people do not understand the extra weight black women have to carry. Many white women do not have to live in fear of being neglected in medical care and having to really look into all their risks that they may not even have or if they do, it is not based on their race. This is our reality. This is our life. So, when I read stories in the infertility community explaining the pain women feel, a lot of what I have listed is missing in the majority of the storytelling that is told by white women of their own experiences. We deal with much more than the pain of infertility, but also the pain of feeling lost and neglected even in medical care. So how are we able to share our stories with all of these feelings, especially in a community that mainly shows white women as going through infertility and loss as the main voices? Representation matters, so I tell my story in hopes that another black woman feels less alone.
I asked other black women in the infertility and loss community to also share quotes about their experiences.
“A doctor said to me, ‘You shouldn’t be in pain. It’s not normal.’ This is when I had specified I had pain, even after my period. I had never heard those words before. My fertility doctor proceeded with trying to get to the bottom of my symptoms but then found out much later that I had endometriosis, which ended up damaging my tubes. It made me wonder why this wasn’t done sooner? Black women are not taken seriously. We are told that our pain is normal and not given the same care as white women. This is not a myth, these are facts because I have lived it.”
“As a black woman going through infertility/loss, I felt alone. I had seen a few celebrities speak out but wanted to find people that looked like me. I found a few Instagram pages of black women sharing their stories which helped in my healing process but realized quickly that there were not as many black women sharing as our white counterparts.”
“I wanted the validation to not feel alone by watching & more importantly understand someone else that looked like me. This was an eye-opener to me, even if you don’t share to the world, I wondered how many people actually spoke to their feelings & families with what they were facing to break the stigma within the Black Community.”
“Being a Christian afro-Latina dealing with infertility, it was really taboo to talk about for a very long time. When I started speaking about it, I gained confidence, but in a world where most doctors are white, it was hard to find a doctor who would take me seriously and listen to my concerns. I saw six doctors before finding the right one.”
“It was isolating looking for resources and seeing primarily white women in promotional materials or sharing their experiences on whatever platform. Not only did I find myself facing devastation of pregnancy loss and infertility, I found myself swimming in shame because the narrative as I saw was that this doesn’t happen to black women.”
“As a black woman, I really feel like my concerns and worries are sometimes ignored. When I was 17 weeks pregnant, my MFM doctor told me I need to abort my baby and that’s the only option I had. However, I never heard him speak to other patients that way. I tried to advocate for my child and I, was completely ignored. I truly believe that if I was a different race I will be treated differently.”