As a young girl, I imagined how my life would be. I dreamed of being married, having a great job, a nice house and plenty of children. Coming from a big family, it was a no-brainer that I would have a large family, but as the years passed and life moved on, I succeeded in every area except one, having children. At 18 years old, I was diagnosed with PCOS and was told that I would never have children, and if by some rare chance that I conceived, my pregnancy would never go full term. I was completely devastated. I had never in all my life imagined that I would not be able to have children or that I would be deemed “infertile”.
Preparing to face the world with this new reality, I felt alone. As an African American woman, a black woman, I had no one to talk to about my situation because in my community infertility was, and is, a taboo subject. It has always been perceived that black women are just naturally fertile. Maybe that theory was passed down from the years of slavery, where black women were used to breed children to increase the value of the plantation. So if you were barren, then you were thought of as just useless and held no value. So being infertile came with the shame of being lesser, of no worth or and of no value. I think that through the years and with subsequent generations, it became easier to just say that you didn’t want children rather than admitting that you couldn’t have any because of the stigma attached to it. You just didn’t talk about it. It was a secret; something that was whispered about but never said aloud. You definitely didn’t ever seek help for infertility because then you were exposing your secret to everyone.
Seeking alternative methods to conceive, like fertility treatments, was only for the rich or other races. When I look back, I only knew of a couple of women that never had children, and it was always assumed that it was a choice that they made. Never did I think that they were infertile, but when I asked most of them, my suspicions were confirmed. I remember having a conversation with my mom about my infertility and her solution was to pray about it. Now don’t get me wrong, spirituality is very important, but I also believe that other forms of intervention are needed in many cases. In the black community, to deal with a problem means that there has to be a solution, but for those of us with the “fertility” problem, we were never taught that there were solutions. I had just accepted the potential reality of never having children, but it was a reality that was hard for me to accept. Accepting it meant I would be giving up on my dream.
Over the years, I became the best aunt, the best godmother, the best family friend because if I couldn’t have children, I was going to be in the lives of as many children I could to fill the void of not having my own. It wasn’t until I got married that I seriously entertained the thought of getting help. My husband had three children from previous relationships, so we knew he was ok. I didn’t want to ever feel cheated in my marriage by knowing that his other relationships had produced children that would be forever bonded to him. It took a lot of research on my own and the encouragement of my husband to finally be comfortable with having a conversation with my doctor. I was finally given the help and support that I needed–and it all came from outside of my own community.
My journey started with clomid, which gave me no results. Then my doctor advised me to try Femara, which was a drug still in trial to help women with PCOS and infertility. Within 2 months, I became pregnant, but it resulted in a tubal pregnancy. Due to my past experiences and harbored feelings of inadequacy, I became depressed and gave up trying for two years. I felt like the biggest failure. How could my body not do what it was designed to do? I was a woman so that should come naturally, right? With the help of my husband and my doctor, yet again, I decided to try again. This time I was able to carry my baby full term; 41 weeks to be exact. During my first pregnancy, I was so afraid that I remained unattached because I didn’t want to deal the thought of something going wrong. It seemed as if for 10 months, I held my breath and I finally exhaled when I heard his cry and held him in my arms for the first time. I was 35 years old when I became a mom.
For almost 17 years of my life I dealt with the shame of feeling inadequate, not having anyone that looked like me that I could relate to and hearing the voices in my head tell me I was not a whole woman. My labor was 17 hours and 11 minutes which represented to me those 17 years of being denied motherhood finally vanishing.
When discussing my situation with other black women, we all had almost the same experience. The experience of no one to talk to, shame, depression, and anxiety. We all knew of a handful of people who never had children, but never knew why. We all knew that there was an unspoken rule about infertility and that it was never to be talked about. I honestly think that in order to break the silence and no longer make infertility a taboo subject in the black community, we need to have raw and gritty conversations amongst ourselves. We are going to have to speak up and understand that it is not a secret; infertility is not something to be ashamed of. We must let others know that we exist. We are regular people that have problems just like the rest of the world, but one which happens to be infertility. Any chance I get, I tell my story because it took me years to seek help. I still get looks when I tell people that I conceived my children through fertility treatments, but I am no longer ashamed. If I can help one person by telling my story then I am happy that they didn’t have to suffer.