Infertility is a common issue affecting more than six million women just in the United States. Defined as the inability to conceive a child within one year of purposeful attempts, infertility can be caused by a number of health reasons including irregular or absent menstrual cycles, issues in the uterus, fibroids and other ailments. Oppositely, some infertility diagnoses are unexplained. There are several medical factors that can contribute to a woman’s reproductive health.
In Black women, some genetic risk factors contribute to infertility. According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, one of the leading causes of infertility in Black women is associated with a metabolic syndrome. Commonly referred to as PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome affects all women. However, Black women experience more frequent cases, or undiagnosed cases, more than white women. PCOS is attached to a litany of health issues including certain cancers, weight gain, depression and diabetes. Black women with PCOS are at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Diagnosed at age 21, Carmen Farmer exhibited some classic signs of PCOS throughout her teenage years, including irregular menstrual cycles. Successfully conceiving and giving birth to a baby girl in 2012, testing after the baby’s birth showed irregular hormone levels. Doctors warned conceiving a second time would be more difficult.
“We had our baby — delivery and labor were fine. It wasn’t until after I went for my six– or eight– week check–up, [that] she was just running standard blood work and explained I had PCOS,” says Farmer.
A hormonal imbalance, PCOS can cause some levels to be too low or non-existent. In this case, a lack of the female hormone progesterone led to Farmer’s polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosis. Warned that future conception would present its challenges, the Famers embarked on a multi-year journey for their second child.
Choosing to enlist in the help of a fertility specialist or clinic for conception is a major step for couples. After working with one clinic for more than a year without conceiving, the Farmers moved on and were able to find a clinic that helped, ultimately leading to the birth of their second daughter in 2020.
“I went to the second clinic and l still had failed attempts, but [by] our third or fourth try with them, we were able to conceive,” says Farmer.
Fertility for Colored Girls is an organization headquartered in Illinois that helps bring awareness to fertility issues in Black women. Founded in 2013, the organization has grown into 16 chapters across the country including a local chapter based in Detroit. After struggling for years to conceive and having several conversations with other women who were also in the fight, the concept and birth of a new baby; Fertility for Colored Girls happened.
“When I first started Fertility for Colored Girls, and still now, there were no grassroots organizations for Black women and couples particularly with a focus on Black fertility. There were online efforts being done from blogs, but there was no one doing grassroots work. No one provided educational programs, no one provided resources and no one provided support to Black women and couples,” says Rev. Stacey Edwards-Dunn, founder of the organization.
After six years and seven unsuccessful attempts at in-vitro fertilization, the founder was able to conceive and deliver her first daughter. At the age of 43, going through additional procedures, Edwards-Dunn gave birth to a second daughter, now seven years old. Presently, the organization’s leader and an ordained minister, is carrying a set of identical twins at the age of 50.
“We transferred one embryo in April and we found out that we are pregnant with not just one baby, but we are pregnant with two,” says Edwards-Dunn.
Infertility is not exclusive to women. Male infertility affects roughly seven percent of men. Caused by low to no production of sperm, irregular movement or no movement of sperm cells, or testicular malfunction, male-based infertility accounts for 30 percent of all infertility cases. The inability to impregnate a viable womb may present itself during the conception of a second pregnancy according to the American Urological Association with 30 to 50 percent of couples affected.
Although carrying a child naturally is harder for some women, the path to parenthood has many avenues. Parents struggling to conceive are encouraged to explore all options. As adoption is one of the most common avenues to parenting, there also exists a scale of medical intervention that could assist a woman in getting pregnant.
“Of course, there is simple medication that the doctor can prescribe that will increase fertility. In addition to that, there’s IUI, intrauterine insemination [or] there’s IVF, in vitro fertilization. Women who have a low ovarian reserve or don’t have a lot of eggs, can have access to donor eggs. Men who may be struggling with infertility, LGBT couples can have access to donor sperm. There’s also embryo adoption. There’s also surrogacy and adoption, both internationally and domestic. Then there’s foster care and foster to adopt as well,” says Edwards-Dunn.
The costs associated with medical intervention can vary widely depending on procedures. While some medicines and procedures are covered by insurance, others can cost into the thousands. Currently, the cost for a single round of in vitro fertilization cam run up to $12,000. The cost is a concern for couples, but is not a deterrent.
Fertility for Colored Girls in its eight years has helped more than 200 Black women and couples become parents via several methods. Through education and guided assistance, couples have been able to make their lifelong dreams become reality.
“The reality is there are multiple paths for us to become parents. Paths that, I like to say, are not deficient, but different. Whatever path you’ve chosen to take, it can and it will have the capacity to get you to your ultimate goal,” says Edwards-Dunn.