At the age of 33, Hannah realizes journey of infertility has been a grueling process. According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Pregnancy-related deaths are three to four times more common in black women than white women.
Almost everything I learned as a child in Zimbabwe was centered on how I would marry and have children one day.
‘A good girl marries and starts her own family.’
My identity as a grown woman is based on my capacity to have children and carry on my husband’s. All of this is reinforced by the fact that, in my culture, my husband was required to pay a dowry to marry me as a sign of respect and thanks to my parents for raising me.
None of this dogma is inherently evil, but it became a playground for my thoughts when the expected straight path to conception did not materialize for me.
Accepting (what I now know to be) infertility as a black woman is, in truth, to have your womanhood devalued. Black women have a reduced live birth rate regardless of age, ovarian reserve, previous miscarriages, or the number of embryos transplanted.
I started making excuses for why I hadn’t gotten pregnant in the first year; the second year, I dubbed it a “trial and error” year. I tried every trick I could think of. I got pretty unreasonable in my thinking to rationalize our infertility.
I was in the hospital because of unbearable pelvic pain and pelvic pain at the two-and-a-half-year mark of trying to conceive and was hospitalized for two days.
During my stay in the hospital, a nurse asked if I was pregnant, to which I replied, “No, but we are trying.”She asked how long we’d been trying for, and I casually responded, “around two and a half years” — her look said it all – but she gently asked if I was seeing anyone about it, and I embarrassed said no.
She didn’t say anything else until the day I was discharged from the hospital when she said she had made some calls and sent me to a gynaecologist for the pain I was experiencing. They would also investigate my fertility.
I had been in such a deep state of denial for two and a half years that I had avoided seeking treatment, and I was sure that if there was a problem with fertility, it was due to me. The identification of our infertility was a real wake-up call. In retrospect, I realize that I was clinging to the idea that something was wrong with me to make sense of our infertility – to make the nebulous concept of infertility physical.
When my husband went for a test: testosterone, thyroid, and other hormone levels were checked with a blood test, there was no fault detected in him. We decided to study semen analysis; after that, we realized poor sperm mobility workup for infertility. Then it was clear that a male component caused our infertility; I had to confront my unconscious bias. To make sure all this, we went to another hospital; the Electronic Health Record system was very helpful for us to get rid of all paper reports. Physician overview our reports he was stuck with the same opinion.
For years, I had felt shame and pain against my body for being unable to conceive simply because I was the woman in the equation.
Many Black women believe that infertility troubles are only the woman’s fault. I don’t even imagine that my husband’s condition as a dialysis patient might have played a role. Due to protein malnutrition, my husband suffered from kidney failure, which happens because of nephron damage. Even though I am an educated and evolved young Black woman, I blamed myself for our infertility despite all of my knowledge.
Both communal and individual, identity is a substantial social construct that shapes our perceptions of ourselves and others.
The black women’s belief clouded my generally progressive perspective that the man is independent and the woman is subservient in our fertility. While the male factor diagnosis of our infertility has transferred the “biological fault” away from me and toward my husband, it has its weight that is not openly discussed.
I feel selfish when I become frustrated that I am not pregnant yet because I know his sperm count is low. After all, he has been on dialysis for almost 9 years, and I know his painful journey when his kidneys failed due to some common reasons at the young age of 24 and everything he had to go through.
I made every effort to avoid collapsing in front of him because, in my perspective, especially as a Black African woman, and because of the cultural elements of what it means to be a supporting partner, I’m to blame for how he feels. And, in my opinion, being a decent wife entails not making him feel any worse about our infertility than he already does. In this situation, I believe any wife would do the same.
When our first embryo transfer failed, I underestimated how difficult this would be. I wanted to go to him and share the news and be the supportive wife he probably needed when I saw the pregnancy test, but I had nothing left in me to give. I have nothing to be optimistic about after 4 years of trying organically and 9 months of IVF (with COVID19 stopping therapy), the injections, the chemicals, and the death of all the possibilities that the embryo brought.
We’ll be trying to conceive for the 5th year in 2022, and I never anticipated this would be my tale at 33. The pregnancy story is linear, promoting stigma, guilt, and secrecy around typical fertility experiences like mine.