Around 3.5 million people in the UK have difficulty conceiving, but why is infertility viewed as a ‘white, middle-class problem’? The first IVF baby, Louise Brown, recently turned 40 years old. Her birth was a major milestone in science which was met with both excitement and controversy. One of the main points of debate was, are scientists playing God? This recent milestone made me think about how infertility is not often discussed in the black community.
It is common for a lot of black people to have large extended families and the stereotype is that black women are often seen as ‘baby-making machines’ and extremely fertile. I cannot recall the last black wedding I attended where the subject of babies/grandchildren was not brought up at some point during the speeches or even the ceremony. However, in reality black women are almost twice as likely to suffer from infertility compared to their white counterparts. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after two years of unprotected intercourse and one method of treatment is IVF. With treatments such as IVF, the rate of live births is lower in ethnic minorities. This increases the importance of women feeling more comfortable to talk about their fertility struggles so they do not feel isolated during an already difficult time.
Unfortunately, many black women have stated that they feel too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their infertility struggles with family and friends. A study which focused exclusively on Black women and infertility found that 96% of participants reported feeling isolated or silenced while trying to conceive. There is still stigma surrounding infertility, especially in the black community where women are often portrayed as strong and independent and expected to handle their problems on their own. Some women do not even discuss fertility with their partners as they do not want to ‘burden them’.
This ‘suffering in silence’ mentality has to change as it has resulted in black women being less likely to seek treatment for infertility. With celebrities such as Beyoncé publicly talking about miscarriages and fertility the subject is becoming more normalised and may give more women the courage to openly talk about what they’re going through. If more women felt able to freely talk about their struggles with family, friends and medical professionals they could be made aware of the various treatments available to them, which could result in the family they desire.
By Hannah McGregor