How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
During her time in the White House, former first lady Michelle Obama brought Black women’s narratives and unique experiences into the spotlight.
Now, Obama continues to shed light on Black women’s experiences. In her new book, “Becoming,” she reveals that she had a miscarriage and used in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive daughters Sasha and Malia.
“We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we’re broken,” Obama shared on “Good Morning America,” adding that “it’s important to talk to young mothers about the fact that miscarriages happen.”
It’s been a big year for Black women’s reproductive transparency. Serena Williams shared her near-death birth experience with a pulmonary embolism. Beyoncé discussed battling toxemia, or preeclampsia, during her pregnancy with twins and was on bed rest for over a month.
The above stories highlighting pregnancy challenges are small steps toward increased transparency and equity in Black women’s reproductive health.
The candidness of these poised and powerful Black women is vital to all Black women, who often feel overlooked when discussing these issues.
During youth, many Black women, including me, never discussed reproductive health and Black womanhood.
Although it was never explicitly stated, preventive reproductive health, birthing freedom, and infertility seemed like only white women’s concerns.
It took watching loved one’s pain with miscarriages, battles with infertility, and stillbirths for me to understand Black women weren’t exempt. Just ignored.
In fact, Black women experience infertility at nearly twice the rate of white women, but are almost half as likely to get help. Black women are at higher risk for other fertility, pregnancy, and birth complications, too.
The exact answers are unknown, but it’s hypothesized that similar to other health conditions that afflict Black women, the impact of racism and toxic stress in our everyday lives increases fertility risks.
Data on Black women and fertility
- Nearly twice as many white women used fertility treatments compared to Black and Hispanic women.
- IVF treatments aren’t as successful for Black women as white women.
- Premature birth rates are 49 percent higher among Black women than all other races.
- Preeclampsia is 60 percent more common in Black women.
- Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.
I had a traumatic first birth and am awaiting the second. Hearing other Black women’s stories has been invaluable to me.
Even after my own personal experiences, I was shocked to hear that women like Michelle Obama, whose lives appeared strategically planned and perfectly executed, could struggle with issues similar to my own.
It was also liberating.
Her admission, combined with my admiration for her, makes it feel that much more possible for Black women to start speaking up and sharing their infertility stories.
By speaking up, Obama proves not only that Black women experience infertility, but that we’re often forced to deal with the emotional consequences alone.
We don’t see ourselves reflected in mainstream narratives on IVF and infertility, and we lack the open dialogue in our community to find support in our fellow Black women.
Around the same time, Gabrielle Union-Wade announced that she and her husband welcomed their first daughter together via surrogate. Through the years, she’s also discussed the sense of loneliness and failure she feels struggling with infertility after undergoing several unsuccessful rounds of IVF.
The level of exposure Union-Wade, Obama, Williams, and others bring is helping center the reproductive struggles around Black women while normalizing reproductive challenges in the Black community.
I’m grateful to be giving birth to my daughter in a time when she’ll be able to easily find a reflection of herself in a wide range of women’s narratives.
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