February Is Black History Month
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”—Langston Hughes
February is Black History month and as a black woman-led non-profit organization, we felt the urge to speak about the role that race plays in infertility. Black women (and men) face unique hurdles to parenthood that are not spoken about enough so we hope this article shines a light on the challenges and inspires others to share their stories.
A Note On Inclusivity At Gift Of Parenthood
The Gift of Parenthood organization believes that parenthood isn’t one size fits all. Families come in all ages, sizes, ethnicities, abilities, geographies, and orientations. We support heterosexual married couples, gay and lesbian couples, and singles of all backgrounds on their journey to becoming parents. Our grants can cover any expenses associated with the journey to parenthood such as IUI, IVF, egg and sperm donation, egg freezing, and surrogacy.
Though we operate through grant funds and cannot accept every application for assistance, we do consider all who apply. We strive to be diverse regarding our donor recipients and have awarded financial support to a wide range of individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Given our commitment to inclusivity, we often receive messages from applicants who may feel frustrated by our recipient selection. For example, married couples have expressed frustration about a single individual as a recipient, and heterosexual applicants felt slighted when we selected an LGBTQ+ recipient or recipients.
As we are a charitable grant program, we cannot overstate that it is our mission to help, not to discourage. We consider applicants of all backgrounds and believe that becoming a parent is a gift that should be free from bias. Unfortunately, the world we live in is not free from prejudice, and we would like to shine a light on the role that race plays in fertility struggles.
Black History Month Spotlight: Fertility & Black Women
Research shows us that when it comes to fertility, black women are struggling. The concept of infertility has proven to be taboo within the black community, but the data doesn’t lie. A 2008 study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that 48% of black women reported infertility, while only 31% of white women in the participant group struggled to get pregnant. The research also noted that black women were less likely to be married, had lower incomes, lower education levels, and difficulty paying for basics. Low socioeconomic position rather than healthcare availability seemed to remain a strong driving force in the infertility of black women. The sub-par medical care that black women receive may be correlated with mismanagement of conditions like endometriosis that lead to difficulty becoming or staying pregnant.
In addition to increased infertility rates, women of color are also less likely to seek medical testing and/or treatment for their infertility than white women. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services and from the National Center for Health Statistics, 15% of white women ages 25 – 44 have received fertility treatments. In comparison, just 8% of black women have. Moreover, women of color who do seek treatment tend to have less success than their white counterparts. A study from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that black women have lower IVF success rates than white women.
While data on the role race plays in infertility is staggering, the conversation surrounding this issue is relatively muted. The shame of infertility and lack of discussion in the Black community further silences black women. It also decreases the likelihood they will receive treatment or seek out alternative paths to parenthood like surrogacy. Additionally, there are cultural barriers built by generations of racial stereotypes surrounding black women and men as hyper-fertile. These cultural myths do not do the black community any favors when it comes to their reproductive health.
Surrogacy & The Black LGBTQ+ Community
For LGBTQ+ individuals and couples of color, surrogacy can be an exciting yet bumpy road to meeting their future child or children. Surrogacy can provide same-sex couples of color with the unique opportunity to have children with a biological connection to one or both partners, which may have increased importance for ethnic adults. A gay couple may choose to use an egg donor, fertilize that donated egg, and then have the embryo implanted in a gestational surrogate to carry until birth. A lesbian couple may use one partner’s eggs in combination with donated sperm that is implanted in a gestational surrogate.
Within the black LGBTQ+ community, more and more single black gay men are proving that the traditional concept of “family” is changing. Many gay men of color want children regardless of their relationship status and feel empowered to carve out their own path to parenthood via surrogacy. Surrogacy allows a black gay man to use their sperm to fertilize a surrogate’s egg through artificial insemination. Then, ideally, the surrogate carries the baby and gives birth. In most surrogacy arrangements, the surrogate is not genetically related to the child and has no maternal rights making the process easier on both parties.
Though organizations such as the Gift of Parenthood offer a path to surrogacy for individuals and couples of color, the fact remains that the number of black intended parents remains low in relation to white intended parents, which is likely due to the high costs of surrogacy in addition to the wage disparity between hetero-white adults and LGBTQ+ adults of color.
For those who wish to have children but are unable to do so naturally for various reasons, having a path towards parenthood is invaluable and miraculous. The emotional struggles that come with infertility can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health, leading many individuals and couples to fertility treatments, IVF, egg donation, or even surrogacy. However, all of these options are financially significant and plagued with cultural barriers to parents of color.
The Gift of Parenthood organization believes that becoming a parent is a gift that should be available to all who wish to receive it, though research tells us that it is not the reality for black men and women. Research shows us that when it comes to their reproductive health, more black women are infertile than white women, and they are also less likely to seek medical testing and/or treatment for their infertility than white women. Harmful cultural stereotypes further decrease the likelihood that black women will receive treatment or seek alternative paths to parenthood like surrogacy. Additionally, as more gay men and women of color seek out surrogacy options, they are likely to discover that they are a marginalized group within the intended parent community. The number of black intended parents remains low in relation to white intended parents due to the high costs of surrogacy in addition to the wage disparity.
Though we cannot accept every application for assistance, the Gift of Parenthood organization will always consider ALL who apply for funds. We strive to be diverse in our recipient selection and are sensitive to the unique struggles that LQBTQ+ and people of color face daily. While we often receive messages from applicants who may feel frustrated by our recipient selection, we hope that this article shines a light on the black communities’ fertility challenges and gives additional insight into how race and fertility are related.
Not being selected to receive grant funds is frustrating. Still, it can help to challenge our internalized assumptions and incorrect information about others before we let negative emotions get the best of us. During Black History Month, let’s all remember that when we face our hardest struggles, it is then that we see the beauty in all that surrounds us.
We wish you well on your journey!