Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series.
Pregnancy has long been perceived (some might say misconstrued) as something “normal” women can readily achieve. There is a presumption that it’s a natural and easy occurrence. Black and brown women have long been specifically plagued by the stereotype that we are over-productive reproductive machines.
And yet, recent data indicates that fertility rates are at an all-time low, particularly for black women (-11 percent since 2007) and Hispanic women (-27 percent). Meanwhile, pre-term births and maternal mortality rates frighteningly continue to rise—in the case of the latter, most significantly for black women.
All of the above indicate overarching environmental and societal factors that are affecting everyone’s reproductive abilities, but those of black women in particular. (When coupled with our current administration, they make The Handmaid’s Tale seem less like a dystopian fantasy than a not-too-distant future.)
Clearly, giving birth isn’t such an “easy” thing, after all.
In recent years, Gabrielle Union has chosen to be increasingly transparent about her attempts to conceive with husband, NBA star Dwyane Wade. The only information the couple held back from the public was that after many failed attempts at in vitro fertilization, they ultimately opted to use a gestational surrogate; that is, until their daughter, Kaavia James, was born in November.
Sitting down with Oprah for last Friday’s episode of Super Soul Conversations, the couple discussed the process, the losses, and the staggering insensitivity they’ve occasionally encountered while trying to bring their daughter into the world—and why they’ve chosen to share their story with the world.
“Throughout so much of my life, I’ve realized that so many people are suffering in silence,” Union said. “And every time [women] can be transparent about their journeys—whatever those journeys are—you are allowing people to be seen and heard and empowered in ways that they’ve never been.”
“In the black community, so many women suffer in silence,” Oprah agreed.
Union and Wade may be generously adding their celebrity to the much-needed discussion around fertility issues, but even they admitted it was a privilege to be able to attempt multiple cycles of IVF, and to be able to afford a surrogate in addition to raising their existing family. It’s a journey most couples can’t even begin to afford; let alone, single women. IVF isn’t universally covered by insurance, often making the hope of conceiving unattainable for those unable to do so naturally.
Looking to delve into the issue on a slightly more humble level, The Glow Up spoke with two black women who have gone on their own IVF journeys, with very different results. Each has had to reconcile her desire to have a child with the limitations of her body, income, and science. This the first of those stories.
Tara was 41 when she and her husband began to try to get pregnant, about a year after marrying (they’ve been partnered for 11). After their efforts to naturally conceive with the help of acupuncture only resulted in a couple of early-stage miscarriages, they decided to try IVF.
“You just don’t realize how much depends on things going right in your body at a specific time—it just becomes this impossible choreography,” Tara said. “And so, when my one of my best friends tries [IVF] and my godson is happy and healthy, and that was her first time doing it and she was older than I was, I was like, ‘OK, well let’s try this.’”
Fortunately, the first cycle was covered by Tara’s insurance. Unfortunately, she didn’t experience the immediate success her friend had. In fact, far from it.
“I just hated every single minute of it, emotionally as well as physically,” she said. “My body literally felt like it was not my own during the whole process. I didn’t feel present, I didn’t feel like I had control of anything, I’m rushing home to do shots... We did the [first] cycle, and then the egg retrieval—which is probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever done in my entire life. It just felt like a whole semi just ran up in my uterus and stole everything out of it.”
A few days days later, Tara and her husband received the news that none of her eggs were viable. Confronted with the question of whether to try again, she found herself at an unexpected crossroads. There were costs to consider—physically, financially, and emotionally.
“You know, coming down from hormones, and drugs, and your hopes, and what you want, and the things you thought were going to happen, and then getting that call ... on principle, [my husband] was like, ‘We’ll find the money. We can do this again, if that’s what you want.’ And I’m like, ‘On principle, I don’t even know if that is what I want.’ It made me really question the whole process of childhood and motherhood to begin with. For instance, I didn’t even know all these women do have miscarriages. Like, nobody even told me that they were so prevalent.”
Tara also pointed out the expense of IVF, saying, “It really feels very much like a privileged group that people can get into. I felt like I really lucked out [with insurance], but there are people who go through so many rounds of a $10,000, $15,000 thing.”
Ultimately, that first round would be Tara’s last, as she continued to navigate the trauma and frustration of trying unsuccessfully to conceive. In the process, she’d even become alienated from her longtime gynecologist.
“There’s no answer anyone can give you as to why something happens or why something doesn’t happen, and it felt very much like I couldn’t go anywhere and ask anything,” she recalled. “It just became this real big thing where I felt like I was trying to force something to happen in a way that maybe it shouldn’t.”
In the years since, Tara and her husband have explored other options, like foster-to-adoptions. But each comes with its own set of potential traumas.
“There are all these other things, but they’re all motherfucking hard,” she admitted. “Like, I’m walking out of foster resource groups and bawling my eyes out, knowing you’re not going to get your first kid that you foster to adopt. You’re probably not going to get the second one. And you have to be OK with that.”
Three years later, they’re still undecided on what their path will be. But for Tara, the most important question is: “What does being a parent mean to you, and what is it you hope to get out of it?”
“You just have to find what your groove is, and sometimes it may, at the end of the day, be that you don’t want to do any of it,” she said, conceding that for her, there are other ways to parent.
“Did I have the determination to do all of that to have a physical child? Actually, at the end of the day I did not,” she continued. “I did not want that strain on myself, on my husband, on my family; that was just not the most important thing to me. The most important thing was having love around me, however I could get that. ... Have loving people around you and continue to have this dialogue, and don’t feel like you have to be quiet about it—there’s no stigma behind it at all. We just have to be more honest with ourselves about what it all means to us, and our sanity, and our bodies, you know?”
The Glow Up tip: This two-part series will continue with a second installment on Friday, December 14.