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, I reached all of my goals 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 still is, a taboo subject. It is commonly 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 without 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. It was a well-kept 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 very few women who were childless, and it was assumed that it was by choice. But when I asked most of them, I learned they struggled with infertility. 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 never really accepted the potential reality of never having children. Accepting it meant I would be giving up on my dream.
Over the years, I became the best aunt, godmother, and 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. It took a lot of research on my own and the encouragement of my husband to finally get comfortable with having a conversation with my doctor. Finally, I was given the help and support that I needed–and it all came from outside of my own community.
My journey started with clomid, which yielded no results. So my doctor advised me to try Femara, an experimental drug for 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 once more, I decided to try again. This time I was able to carry my baby full term; 41 weeks to be exact. Unfortunately, I was so afraid that I remained unattached because I didn’t want to deal the thought of something going wrong.
It seemed that 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 and a first-time 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, to me, represented those 17 years of being denied motherhood finally vanishing.
When discussing my situation with other Black women, we realize that we all had almost the exact same experience. The experience of no one to talk to, shame, depression, anxiety, and very little support from our own community. 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 believe 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 infertility is not something to be ashamed of; it is not a shameful secret or failure as women. We must let other people in the Black community know that they are not alone. Every chance I get, I tell my story because I don't want anyone else to wait years to . seek help like I did. I still get looks when I tell people that I conceived my children through fertility treatments, but I am not ashamed. If I can help even one person by sharing my story then that is one less person that will not have to suffer alone.
Are you healing from fertility/pregnancy/birth trauma or traumatic loss?
The nature of fertility/pregnancy/birth trauma is that it was a very visceral, body-based experience. Being in your body has become a trigger in and of itself. By learning how to feel safe in your body, you finally have a place in the world that you can control, where you can feel at peace. That happens by restoring health to your nervous system, which cascades a regulation of other body systems. That is when we see healing, both physical and emotional.
Parijat Deshpande has developed a modern approach to addressing the trauma associated with infertility.
Click here to learn more about the "Healing Hearts" program.
"I'm just a regular girl in an imperfect world trying to leave an exceptional legacy for my little blessings. Nothing in this world has ever been more important to me than motherhood. It takes great courage to create and be responsible for life and I do not take my position for granted."
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