Experiencing Infertility as a Person of Color: A Black Woman’s Perspective

Today, we are running the second part of our series “Experiencing Infertility as a Person of Color” created by our Michigan State University intern, Juliette. As a woman of color herself, this is a topic deeply personal and of interest to her as she collaborates with our organization to bring awareness to all experiences of infertility. Below is an overview of her interview with Madge, who has been a prior participant in the project.

Juliette, presenting her research on women of color and their experiences with infertility at Michigan State.

The second interview I conducted as part of my effort to unearth the reality of being a woman of color in the world of infertility took place with Madge Harris-Rowland. Madge is a black woman who currently teaches in Jacksonville, Florida; Madge received her infertility diagnosis in October 2013, a time in her life when she was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan and didn’t have health insurance. As someone who is young, broke, and quickly running out of time to still be on my parents’ insurance, this fact resonated with me.

What I’ve learned about infertility treatment up to this point is that it’s a numbers game; it poses a real financial constraint on the people it affects and adds one more layer of hardship to an already difficult diagnosis. Medical treatment isn’t cheap, yet we live in a country where affordable healthcare isn’t an option for a lot of communities of color and younger people. I liked talking to Madge because she was realistic about how money, and lack thereof, can limit what someone’s response to this disease is. As a woman of color without insurance, Madge consistently felt invalidated by medical personnel and clinics who didn’t offer her the same level of care as women she knew who had insurance. She often had to ask herself if this poor treatment was coming because of her identity as a black woman living in a predominately white area, or if it was because of her socioeconomic level and lack of insurance.

Madge

Madge’s testimony was the first from a black woman that I’d heard. She spoke about the issue of her blackness in a medical world sparse with representation, one that traditionally prioritizes the bodies of white women. As Madge says of infertility within her community, “There are less options and it is less talked about. There are these myths that we’re told about how [black women] can pop kids out. Infertility is not a big deal in African American communities.” The lack of representation for Madge didn’t end in Grand Rapids; it followed her to Jacksonville where as many other women were forced to do, Madge had to turn to an online platform to find support when no physical space existed for women of color.

I had gotten to know a little about Madge’s financial struggle, but I also wanted to know how her identity as a black woman affected her journey with IF. I wanted to know what infertility was to Madge before and after her diagnosis.

She told me, “I knew about it, I knew of it, but the things you see in the media and talking to other people… it was nobody that looked like me. There’s no one you can sit there and relate to because we don’t talk about it, we don’t show that side of our community. People think infertility is not a medical disease. You feel isolated because there’s no one that looks like you. I’m a teacher; I know what happens if you don’t have someone that looks like you in a positive light. There needs to be some type of research on how this affects women and men of color because there are so many stereotypes out there that are still seen as truth.”

Madge on her wedding day.

After talking to Madge, I had a lot to think about when it came to my own identity. I grew up with ideas about how the world worked, how my body would work within that world, and thought I was all but guaranteed to have a child if I chose to do so. I didn’t know that there are no guarantees, or what the price tag on medical treatments is if my body can’t naturally conceive. I didn’t know it could cost upwards of $30,000 just to adopt in certain states like Florida, or that creating your own support group is more common than resources being readily available. I’m glad I’ve been able to learn these truths about infertility, but I would like to see them change. Talking to Madge, I got a better look at what the reality and limited options there are for people like me, who in this stage of life, can’t afford to be infertile. I hope that in the future there is easier access to affordable care, that support groups are the norm and silence the rare exception. I hope that infertility is a conversation that happens with more frequency so that all communities affected by it can be supported financially and emotionally.