This Is Why We Chose To Talk About Black Women And Infertility
Infertility affects at least 12 percent of all women up to the age of 44, and studies suggest Black women may be almost twice as likely to experience infertility as white women. Yet only about 8 percent of Black women between the ages of 25 and 44 seek medical help to get pregnant, compared to 15 percent of white women. It begs the question: Why isn’t there more conversation about Black women and infertility?
WomensHealthMag.com and OprahMag.com set out to answer that question, starting with a survey we conducted in partnership with the Black Women’s Health Imperative and Celmatix, a startup bringing personalized medicine to women’s reproductive health and fertility. Here’s a bit more from Arianna Davis, digital director of OprahMag.com, and Robin Hilmantel, digital director of WomensHealthMag.com, on how the package came to life. It appears identically on both sites.
Robin Hilmantel, digital director of WomensHealthMag.com: For me, this story began while I was sitting in the waiting room of my fertility specialist’s office. I started visiting him in late November of last year, and I didn’t see a single Black woman until March. I know because I wrote down the date when I did—it was March 17. I got pregnant shortly thereafter and stopped going to the specialist in April, so in six months, she was the only African American woman I ever saw.
And I spent a lot of time in that waiting room during those months. After my doctor diagnosed me with something called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which meant my body wasn’t ovulating on its own, I had to come in every other day—sometimes for week-long stints—for blood work and monitoring, then repeat the process again the following month.
During many endless hours of waiting, I kept finding myself thinking: Why aren’t there any Black women here?
Arianna Davis, digital director of OprahMag.com: We looked into it, and Black women aren’t any less likely to suffer from infertility. In fact, we’re actually more likely than white women to have trouble getting pregnant. Yet somehow, it’s well-documented that Black women seek treatment at lower rates: 8 percent of Black women between the ages of 25 and 44 seek medical help to get pregnant, compared to 15 percent of white women.
RH: We decided to partner with the Black Women’s Health Imperative and Celmatix to conduct a survey that would ask women of multiple ethnicities about their experiences with infertility—and whether they were talking about it with their friends, family, and doctors.
I know for me, personally, having friends who opened up to me about their fertility struggles before I even started trying to have a baby was huge. It made me realize that I could one day face issues—something that probably wouldn’t have been on my radar otherwise. And it also made me feel more comfortable pursuing the help of a specialistwhen it had been several months and I still wasn’t pregnant. I wasn’t as intimidated by the feeling of not knowing what to expect because I’d heard close friends be vocal about their experiences. I also knew I could text them at any time and ask, “Was it like this for you, too?”
AD: When you first told me that you and your friends openly talked about this, I realized that hasn’t been my experience—at all. I’m a Black woman, but when I think about the conversations I’ve had with my girlfriends or family about starting a family, the topic of infertility or struggles to conceive has never come up.
And once we started this survey, I started thinking about how rare it is to see a Black woman publicly talk about fertility. I’ve only seen handful of Black celebrities open up about it, and that’s honestly just been in the last couple of years. I remember the first time I saw Gabrielle Union’s character on Being Mary Jane talk about how she might want to freeze her eggs.
That stuck with me. Even though Mary Jane was a fictional character, she looked more like me than any of the other women I’d seen on TV talking about topics like that. It made me feel like if I ever wanted—or needed—to freeze my own eggs one day, maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea.
RH: When we got the results of our survey back, they indicated that Black women didfeel less comfortable talking about infertility in many capacities. But the stats we found raised questions,: Why did this discomfort exist? What role have doctors and the larger medical community played? And, perhaps most importantly: What can we do about it?
So we spoke with experts, as well as Black women who’ve undergone fertility treatments. Some of them have even gone on to become activists in this space, encouraging others to speak out about their struggles with conceiving so that women who are suffering don’t feel as isolated as they did.
AD: We also connected with Rosario Ceballo, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. She interviewed 50 Black women about their experiences with infertility as part of her research—and the resulting publication is one of the few pieces of research that exists about how fertility issues uniquely affect Black women.
RH: It took her five years to find that many women to open up to her. And even though many of them reported having kept their infertility struggles to themselves, suffering in silence, a common theme cropped up when she asked what advice they’d give other Black women who are having trouble getting pregnant: They said to get support, talk to people about what they’re going through, and seek out good medical treatment. “Don’t do what I did,” they told Ceballo.
AD: We also spoke to several women in the public eye who shared a common message for women dealing with infertility: “You aren’t the only one!”
So that’s what we hope this package will do: provide Black women trying to get pregnant with a source of support and empower all women to have these conversations with their doctors. For anyone out there struggling, consider this your reminder: You are not alone.
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