Dispelling Myths Surrounding Fertility and Women of Color
The world of fertility can be overwhelming to navigate, and this holds especially true for women of color. Detrimental stereotypes, a lack of representation, and injustices in the healthcare system can cause women of color, especially Black women, to feel isolated from the conversation and discouraged from seeking fertility support.Here at RMA of CT, we’re committed to changing the narrative surrounding fertility treatment and advocating for a more inclusive environment for all women. As a start, we’re dispelling some of the most damaging myths surrounding women of color and fertility.
“Trying to decide if you can emotionally afford the cost of building a black or brown family in a world that is concurrently showing you how low they are valued adds additional weight to an already heavy situation,” shares Regina Townsend, founder of The Broken Brown Egg, and an advocate we’ve worked with and admire. “Infertility doesn’t see color, but my color impacts my perspective and experience of it.”
Myth: Black women are less likely to experience infertility
One of the most common misconceptions that we encounter is that infertility is mainly a “white” issue. In reality, Black women are almost twice as likely to experience infertility as their white counterparts, but only 8% of Black women seek medical help, compared to 15% of white women.
Historically, cultural images have portrayed Black women as hyper-fertile. The damaging stereotype that Black women are more fertile than other women can cause those that do struggle with infertility to experience great deals of shame and inadequacy. The stigma also still exists within the healthcare community, leading Black women to receive a lack of referrals and support from their healthcare providers.
Myth: Only white women get IVF treatments
When the conversation surrounding fertility is not inclusive of all those that it touches, many women are left to struggle in silence. If women of color do not see themselves represented in advertising, the media, or in waiting rooms, they can easily feel discouraged from seeking fertility treatments.
In fact, solely seeing IVF depicted as a white woman’s experience can lead to doctors internalizing the stereotype, affecting referrals to reproductive specialists, medical research, and outreach to particular populations.
Deeply problematic societal messages and the subsequent lack of information can ultimately lead women of color to feel completely isolated and misunderstood in the fertility community. However, we are starting to see this narrative shift as more people are coming forward to share their stories.
High profile Black women like Michelle Obama have publicly shared their IVF stories, creating national conversations surrounding women of color and fertility struggles. "I think it's the worst thing that we do to each other as women, not share the truth about our bodies and how they work," Obama shared during an appearance on Good Morning America.
Myth: Racism doesn’t exist inside the healthcare community
When looking at why women of color are less likely to seek fertility assistance, one must acknowledge the injustices that still exist in our healthcare system. Mistrust of the medical community is prevalent in the Black community, due to rampant instances of racial discrimination.
After decades of being victimized by the medical system, it’s understandable that these communities feel less comfortable turning to their doctors for fertility help. According to a recent study, Black women were 50 percent more likely than white women to say they felt uncomfortable talking to their doctors about fertility.
Myth: Fertility treatments are only available to those who are wealthy.
Women of color are already experiencing economic and medical disparities, so cost is usually cited as the greatest obstacle in seeking fertility treatment. However, many women have successfully undergone fertility treatments with the help of financial assistance and their insurance providers. According to the CDC, 13% of women who use fertility treatments live below the poverty level.
The cost of IVF or other fertility treatments vary depending on many factors, and there are resources available to help women of color achieve their goals. Organizations like Fertility for Colored Girls have made it their mission to award grants to women who cannot afford treatment.
Many insurance providers will assist with the cost of fertility treatments, including IVF. The benefits administrator at a patient’s place of employment can confirm whether fertility is covered, and, if so, what portion of care will be covered.
We’re dedicated to providing exceptional fertility care for all those who want to build a family, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity. It is our commitment to make certain that all of our patients feel supported.
Together, we can help to amplify these important conversations in order to improve fertility care for women of color. Infertility does not discriminate, and it is our job to create an environment that is inclusive and supportive of all communities. If you want to learn more about your fertility treatment options, we’re here for you.
Artist Credit: Liana Farmer (@bylianarae).
About Dr. Ilana Ressler
Reproductive endocrinologist, Ilana Ressler, M.D., knows that when patients ask questions and receive thoughtful answers, it goes a long way to support and help those experiencing infertility. This is the philosophy she brings to RMACT as she joins us as a fertility specialist, board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Drawing from both her years of practicing medicine, and her philanthropy efforts providing emotional support to those undergoing fertility treatments, she facilitates the fertility journey of her patients with a warm and genuine bedside manner. The relationship with her grandmother, who serves as a strong role model and influence in her life, gave rise to Dr. Ressler's understanding that confidence and high self-esteem is so necessary for women to thrive in today’s world. Knowledge is an important building block in this effort, especially for a segment of patients near and dear to Dr. Ressler’s heart – those affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). The most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age, and one of the leading causes of infertility in women, PCOS goes undiagnosed in 50% of women who have it. It is particularly rewarding to help those women with PCOS find a solution to something that has often been troubling them their entire lives. Board-Certified Reproductive Endocrinologist: Infertility Doctor – Connecticut & New York. While Dr. Ressler has been actively practicing medicine in the area for several years, she began her education at Duke University, earning a BS in Psychology. She then received her medical degree at Case Western Reserve University and completed her residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During her residency, Dr. Ressler was awarded the Professional Dedication to Residency Award in 2009, and the Overall Excellence in Gynecologic Care Award in 2010. In 2013 she completed a fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Cincinnati. In 2016 and 2017, Dr. Ressler was chosen by her peers at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine to receive the Fertility and Sterility Star Reviewer Award. She also regularly reviews the latest GYN surgical studies and writes literature reviews for the Society of Reproductive Surgeons. She is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (SREI) and is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). In 2018, Dr. Ressler was named to the editorial board of Fertility and Sterility, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s premier international journal for those who treat infertility and reproductive medicine. Dr. Ressler serves as Medical Advisor for Yesh Tikva, which was established to create a Jewish community of support for those experiencing infertility. She also launched the Pies for Prevention program in her Westchester community to benefit Sharsheret, the nonprofit organization supporting Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer. Dr. Ressler lives in Westchester, New York with her husband and three young children. She enjoys spending time with her immediate and extended family and cheering for her beloved Cleveland sports teams or Duke’s Blue Devils.