I spent the better part of my 20s getting familiar with the décor of doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
Those spaces were the battlefront for the war my body was waging on itself. Uterine fibroids, cysts and endometriosis wreaked havoc on my reproductive system. Even on a cocktail of medications, I was in constant pain. Breakouts, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis rounded out the catalog of symptoms nothing seemed to cure. Then, at 25, I received a new diagnosis to add to my list of conditions: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
Still, with all of the physical changes happening inside my body, I never worried about babies. While the women around me were hot with baby fever, I was cool as a cucumber, confident that when my time came to birth the children of my dreams, it would be a breeze. Fast forward five years later to my 30th birthday and reality came tumbling down on my head. Until that point, I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by two myths: first, my youthful invincibility and unwavering certainty that all my plans for life would pan out exactly as I had planned ; and second— the one that haunts so many Black women and our Latina sisters alike—women like us don’t have fertility issues.
Despite the abundance of little ones at my family gatherings that fuels the idea that Black and Latina women are able to get pregnant at the drop of a dime, several studies point to a different reality. Women in these communities are more likely to suffer with infertility than white women. Almost twice as likely. Black women are also more predisposed to uterine fibroids, more likely to be diagnosed with it at a younger age, and more prone to experience severe symptoms of the condition. I understood—understand—that I am not an isolated case or an exception to the rule. In fact, I’m amongst the 11.5% of Black women experiencing a fertility issue.
What sets us apart from white women is that we’re less likely to seek treatment, for many reasons. However, that’s where I was happy to be exceptional. With my sister’s own endometriosis and my mother’s impending hysterectomy weighing on my mind, and my fiancé Marcus by my side, I sat in my OB/GYN’s office discussing my options for fertility treatment. Marcus and I spoke to a number of specialists and researchers. We pored over every article we could get our hands on. I was careful about my eating and exercise, practiced yoga and meditation to manage my symptoms and sought spiritual and emotional support.
As I underwent the surgeries and treatments I hoped would allow me to get pregnant, I grew incredibly close to the women who had walked the path I was stumbling down. My friend Maureen who also suffered with infertility and never birthed children of her own listened as I poured out my fears and heartache. My mother and sisters offered me much needed love and empathy. Marcus’ mother—who adopted him after finding out in her 30s that she couldn’t conceive—was a huge comfort. I communed with a community of women who knew the physical and emotional struggle and understood the depth of the cultural stigma around infertility that many would rather pretend didn’t exist.
After the loss of my father, a postponed surgery and a flight against my doctor’s orders, I found myself in my OB/GYN’s office again with horrible pain. She ran a host of tests, while I worried that I may have lost all chances of getting pregnant. She returned with surprising results and congratulations: I was pregnant.
Nine months and one surgery later, I gave birth to a little girl with a dimpled smile that could light up an entire room. We named her Summer, for the new season and the sunshine she brought into our lives. Nineteen months later, I delivered a healthy baby boy, named Miles for the way he danced in my womb to the Miles Davis records I love.
Had I kept believing the myth that stops so many women from seeking help or fell victim to the stigma that tries to shame women like me into silence, I would have accepted that infertility was a dead end. Having worked in the field of infertility for 16 years, I’ve seen so many Black and Latina women do exactly that; they don’t know the options available to them, fear seeking help because of judgement or suffer in silence, pain and shame.
Having experienced the ups and downs in trying to grow my family, I started Oshun Fertility specifically for these women to provide them with not just the medical treatments for infertility, but the emotional and spiritual support that helped me through my own doubt and pain. Because these women deserve to know that what seems like a nightmare can end in a dream come true. My life, my family are a testament to that.
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Helen Stephens, helps intended parents make informed decisions about fertility treatment options. Diversity Fertility Services, LLC is a Fertility Services Organization founded in 2009 by Helen, has 2 companies. The Flagship company, Diversity Fertility, an Egg Donation and Surrogacy Agency for [...]