What happens when you're eager to conceive, a black woman, and you're diagnosed with infertility? Not only are you facing a journey of pure uncertainty, but you are met with a blank stare from the receptionist: "Why are you here!?!" It is a stare and an aura that says, "We don't normally care for women who look like you. Aren't your people hyper-fertile?"
The year is 2012. I am at a reproductive clinic to get answers. I am 29 years old and have never been pregnant. I have been married for two years. My husband is ready, I am ready, our finances are in order, and we have a home with three bedrooms from which to choose a nursery.
I arrive 15 minutes early for my appointment, eager to fill out the new patient record forms. There is no pleasant hello from the receptionist as I sign my name with a ballpoint pen. As I sit there waiting, I wonder if I wore the right outfit, if my perfume is over-powering, if my strong demeanor was too loud, if my mascara is running, or if my hair is not straight enough today.
Then, the thought crosses my mind. “Maybe my ethnicity is the reason for such a cold encounter with the receptionist," I say to myself. But that can’t be it, right? This is a reproductive clinic meant to serve some of the most vulnerable people with the utmost of care. As I have done numerous times before, I brush off the feelings of racism and prejudice and think, maybe she was just having a bad day.
A tall caucasian woman walks in as I wait to be seen. She is wearing a business casual dress, one that I would buy for myself, with black pumps. She has blonde hair and a pretty face. I smile and nod as she does the same. The receptionist greets this woman with a smile and asks, "How are you feeling?", with a giggle that only girlfriends share. The woman sits across from me, legs crossed, and her husband quickly rushes in. The receptionist greets him with a smile, and he sits next to his wife. A few minutes later the couple is summoned to the back by a nurse, who also greets them with pleasantries. The nurse calls my name, and I stand to my feet enthusiastically. Another cold hello and an unwillingness to shake my hand. It is then that I realize that maybe this isn't the clinic for me.
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A female doctor comes in shortly after I get comfortable and loosely shakes my hand, barely making eye contact. I am asked a series of basic questions, and the consultation is over. I am given some information and the doctor recommends a possible IUI after I am checked for tubal blockage. She reiterates and emphasizes that tubal blockage and other reproductive issues can be caused by a previous STD infection. You have seen my medical history, doc; why the need to stress STD infection further?
Could it be possible that an assumption about my state of reproductive health was tied to my ethnicity? According to the CDC, only 8% of black women seek assistance to get pregnant compared to 15% of white women. Yet I, a Non-Hispanic black woman in America, am two times more likely to suffer from infertility.
With this information readily available to any medical professional, why was I not shown compassion, empathy, and greeted with pleasantries? Was it all in my head? Did I overreact? Perhaps they favored the blonde woman because she was a patient that had been in their care for some time. But I was a new patient with no prior knowledge of infertility. Was I undeserving of sympathy and a few more moments of the doctor's time?
Racism and prejudice was not a new experience for me. I had suffered and healed through numerous instances as a child, adolescent, and adult. This time was different, though. No white doctor I had ever encountered had behaved this way towards me. I certainly hadn’t expected it from the staff at a reproductive clinic. It was a wake-up call for me—a reminder that everyone I meet will not be fond of my highly pigmented skin tone. How could I return to this doctor's office, feeling how I was feeling?
I decided I would follow through with the initial testing to determine if infertility would now be a part of our lives. I would take the perceived mature approach and face the women who made me feel uneasy. Doing so by not calling them out or complaining to the corporate office, but by showing up with my invisible crown beaming brightly. Hopefully, blinding them. Like many people of color before me in history, I would silently advocate for myself just in case it was all in my head.
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It isn’t until four years later, in the spring of 2016, that my husband and I decide we are ready to try again to get pregnant. I am excited about the future, while also grieving that female-factor infertility is prohibiting us from expanding our family naturally. Fear sets in again, and I am reminded of the former Reproductive Endocrinologist and her staff. Searching endlessly on Google for a Black female RE within a 30-mile radius was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Then one day while in the car, a commercial for a well-known clinic in Northern, Virginia airs and mentions the longevity of the clinic by the founding doctor. I knew from his last name that he was not a Black man, but I felt drawn to research the clinic further. I am elated to find on the new clinics' website, a female Reproductive Endocrinologist that had many accolades in her career. It was apparent that she was not a Black doctor from the photos in her bio, but I was willing to meet and consult with her.
Everything that you would expect to feel and experience at a clinic, my new RE’s office was that and more. I had found my tribe of medical professionals. I felt safe, seen, and heard wholeheartedly. No matter how small of a negative inclination you feel when being cared for by a medical professional, go with your gut. Advocate for yourself and your loved ones by having a list of questions, asking those questions, and taking notes. Bring a friend or spouse, find a new doctor if you need to, and of course, speak up if you feel concerned. Your mental and emotional well-being depends on it.
Monique Farook is a wife and mother of one IVF and NICU miracle three-year-old boy. She is a small business owner turned stay-at-home-mom. Monique created the Infertility And Me podcast in November of 2019, which emphasizes emotional, spiritual, and mental healing while on the path to parenthood. Check out her website & listen to the podcast at www.infertilityandmepodcast.com.