Quiet as it is kept, in 2022, the world still has not progressed enough to speak openly about women who struggle with fertility.
Black, woman, and nameless, we move through the world as figments of the imagination, like something from a Ralph Ellison novel.
Originally from Chicago, I moved to Georgia in 2017. I got a job at a preparatory school where I floated, starting with the toddler room. Several times a day, while changing diapers, my white co-workers would ask me if I had children. It seemed to bother them that I didn’t. After all, I was 30. Surely, I had children. It took a while to see they did not trust me with the babies because I had had none of my own.
I did not work there much longer.
Today, I am 35 years old, and I belong to two classes of women: those who are barren and those who miscarry. While I have no biological children, I have been pregnant three times. Healthcare providers could not give me a logical reason, and infertility was not something people talked about in public. Even in the media, Black women are missing from infertility conversations.
After years of prayer and negative pregnancy tests, I battled isolation and depression. While everyone around me was getting pregnant, I could not find one person I could relate to, not one doctor who could tell me why, and the stigmas attached to infertility forced me into silence and shame. Even when we get to a place where we are okay with our circumstances, the world still makes it seem as if we’ve done something wrong by not having children.
“For so many women, and not just women in the spotlight, people feel very entitled to know, ‘Do you want kids?'” Gabrielle Union told People. “A lot of people, especially people that have fertility issues, just say ‘no’ because that’s a lot easier than being honest about whatever is actually going on. People mean so well, but they have no idea the harm or frustration it can cause.”Gabrielle Union, People Magazine
ShaRhonda Usher, a 42-year-old Alpharetta resident, and her husband Jeremy, were also trying to conceive. When she brought up the idea of donor eggs, she felt a similar isolation. People look at you funny. They want to know how you can use someone’s egg, Usher said.
It does not help that The World Health Organization defines infertility as a disease:
Even the bible made infertility sound like a sickness. While I love my bible and advocate for living my life according to the laws and commandments of scripture, reading about how women were “healed” from their barren conditions made me sad. “Healed?” I would think to myself, “So, am I wounded?” I wondered. Although many of the prophets were born from previously infertile women, it still felt like the world was saying conceiving and birthing a child was the extent of my womanhood.
“There was a fear of being judged for not being able to conceive and a fear of being judged for feeling depressed,” 40-year-old Atlanta nurse practitioner Marshall McCown told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “She wondered if others would question whether her faith was strong enough to believe that God would bless them with a child.”
Nonetheless, Black women’s invisibility about their bodies and reproductive health is nothing new. The medical field has a long history of neglecting the medical needs of Black women through scientific racism. Records reveal that doctors medically neglected and abused enslaved women because they were powerless and legally invisible.
Hailed as the “father of modern gynecology,” James Marion Sims conducted years of painful, degrading experiments on his Black women patients and often without anesthesia. He derived this from the erroneous belief that Blacks did not feel pain the same way as whites (Washington, 65).
Studies show these stereotypes are alive as Black women continue to be stereotyped as promiscuous, sexually available, and having “animalistic” sexuality. All of which is connected to the sexual exploitation of Black women during and after slavery and are consistent with the Jezebel archetype.
These images add to the false narrative that Black women are hyper-sexual and always fertile. Consequently, that there are Black women who cannot or struggle to conceive is still approached with a sense of astonishment.
In Finding Me, Viola Davis speaks of her trip to Africa, where she encountered the startling appearance of women at a Mandinka compound. They wore clownish make-up, oversized clothes, shoes, and djembe drums. They would beat those drums, not well but loudly, screaming, chanting, and laughing exaggeratedly. These “Comedians,” as they are called, are infertile women (Davis, 173). In The Gambia, having a child is such a great act that women who cannot have children walk around screaming in manic desperation to “wake up God” (Davis, 173).
Davis said she wept. So did I.
I can only hope to do my part to eradicate the stigmas, taboos, and persisting stereotypes attached to Black women and our health. Specifically, I hope all women struggling with reproductive issues know they are not alone.
I see you. I hear you. I stand with you.
Invisible no more.
- Brianne, Tracy. “Gabrielle Union’s Struggle with Infertility.” People Mag. 4, Oct., 2017. people.com/parents/gabrielle-union-infertility-struggles-exclusive-memoir/
- Shelia, Poole. “Black women, long ignored in infertility discussions, speak out.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 18, Feb. 2022. www.ajc.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr/black-women-long-ignored-in-infertility-discussions-speak-out/D2C7JUFY2NGSJAIK5RRHTPYJ3Q/
- Washington, Harriet. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Chapter 2: Profitable Wonders: Antebellum Medical Experimentation with Slaves and Freedmen. p.65. Harlem Moon, 2006.
- World Health Organization (2020, September 14). Infertility. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility
- Woodard JB, Mastin T. Black womanhood: Essence and its treatment of stereotypical images of black women. Journal of Black Studies. 2005;36:264–281. doi: 10.1177/0021934704273152. [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
- Davis Viola. Finding Me. Chapter 14: Coming into Me, p.173. Harper One. 2022.
Takeover Tuesday is a new series comprised of people who either don’t identify as middle-age or woman, yet want to raise their voice about women’s issues.
Today’s Takeover Tuesday is hosted by Yecheilyah (e-see-li-yah) Ysrayl. Yecheilyah is an author, book blogger, and poet from Chicago, Illinois. She studied technical and professional writing at Chicago State University and child and adolescent studies at Argosy University, Atlanta. Now living in Georgia with her husband, Yecheilyah writes and publishes full-time and hopes her work will aid in the restoration of black historical truth.