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And we recognize the need for more conversation around infertility in the African American community.
Originally published in the Chicago Tribune | June 29, 2019 | Written by DANIELLE BRAFF
Tiffany Harper, a 36-year-old attorney in Chicago, suffered in silence for five years.
Expecting to get pregnant as soon as she got married, she was confused when her pregnancy tests continued to be negative.
Harper knows her way around most issues. But, she said, “I didn’t know other black women who were getting (infertility) treatments — the only women who talked openly about it were white women,” Harper said. “There’s a silence about it that makes it really isolating.”
Black women are almost twice as likely to experience infertility than white women, studies suggest, but they seek medical help for it half as much. About 15 percent of white women between 25 and 44 seek infertility treatment, compared with 8 percent of black women.
And while as a society, we’ve become more open about infertility — with celebs like Chrissy Teigen, Nicole Kidman and Emma Thompson opening up about their struggles — in the black community, even with Tyra Banks, Michelle Obama and Gabrielle Union sharing their struggles, it’s been largely a silent issue.
A University of Michigan study focusing on black women and infertility found that nearly all of the women dealt with their infertility in silence. Thirty-two percent of them said they felt they weren’t complete as women because they didn’t have biological children.
“African American women may face the stereotype of being more fertile than other women,” said Janelle Luk, medical director and co-founder of Generation Next Fertility in New York. “Although a completely incorrect assumption, this brings on stigma to infertile women. It may lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame, despite it sometimes being out of a woman’s control.”
Since slavery, there’s been the suggestion that black women are naturally fertile, said Chiquita Lockley, filmmaker of the forthcoming documentary “Eggs Over Easy: Black Women & Fertility.” She said the price of a woman of childbearing age was significantly more than a postmenopausal woman on the auction block.
“So of course there are 400-year-old stigmas attached to our fertility in the United States, but also in our own community,” Lockley said.
The general perception is that black women don’t have fertility problems, despite the research showing the contrary, said Amanda Kallen, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility expert with the Yale Fertility Center in New Haven, Conn.
Another reason why black women might not seek help with infertility is because of practical concerns, Kallen said. A single in vitro fertilization cycle can run $12,000 or more, plus the time off work.
After her five-year struggle with infertility, Harper, then 34, finally got the courage to see a fertility specialist. In 2016, she did her first round of IVF. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
Devastated, Harper didn’t know where to turn to next. So she went online and discovered a Facebook group called Fertility for Colored Girls.
“I didn’t have the courage to ‘like’ the page online, because everyone would see that I liked it,” Harper said.
So instead, she sent a private message to the group and attended an in-person meeting.
“It was a room full of black women all struggling with infertility,” Harper said. “I instantly knew that I was going to have the community I needed to move forward.”
With their support, Harper’s doctor removed 17 large fibroids, and she did another round of IVF in 2017. It didn’t work.
The third round of IVF was successful. Her baby was born in February.
When she started her infertility journey, Harper said she didn’t tell a lot of people about her struggles, as she didn’t want to explain herself. But after the second round of IVF failed, she did a Facebook Live chat about her experience.
While Harper said she received support at that point, she noticed that the black community was still really grappling with fertility treatments.
“There are still a lot of people who probably looked at me and thought, ‘Why are you doing fertility treatments?’” Harper said. And the people who were supportive were still confused.
“They didn’t know how to be supportive because they didn’t know anyone who told them they had done fertility treatments.”
Stacey Edwards-Dunn, a black Chicago-area pastor, understood.
She struggled with infertility for seven years. Edwards-Dunn had been taught that black women were hyperfertile, so the idea that she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant was foreign to her.
As a result of her struggle, which included seven IVF cycles, Edwards-Dunn gave birth to a healthy child in 2014. But before she had her child, Edwards-Dunn was having a hard time because she felt like she was living in silence.
“It’s not a table conversation that we’re having in our homes,” she said. “It’s expected that we’re going to be hyperfertile, we’re seen as baby-making machines, we’re not going to be as strong as black women, so we live in shame.”
She was ready for this shaming to stop.
Edwards-Dunn founded Fertility for Colored Girls in 2013 so that black women could connect with other black women who wouldn’t critique them, and who could act as their support systems.
Today, the group has thousands of members in 10 states. It plans to add four more states by the end of the year. Six more FCG groups are expected to open in other states next year.
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