Tag Archives: assisted reproductive technology

Infertility is a Reproductive Justice Issue

As a reproductive justice (RJ) activist I have spent years advocating for abortion rights and access to birth control. Simplified, the movement often focuses on how not to get or remain pregnant. However, there is little to no time spent on discussions of infertility or one’s ability to get and stay pregnant. Even organizations that hold themselves out as “full spectrum”, may address miscarriage and other forms of loss but rarely confront issues of infertility. Similar to other forms of reproductive loss, infertility is stigmatized and people are often silenced. It is our responsibility as RJ activists to shed light on this issue.

Infertility is impacted by issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. In my own journey, I was privileged enough to have health insurance to cover appointments with reproductive endocrinologists, a myriad of tests, and ultimately several forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Lack of economic resources can prevent someone from not only receiving a diagnosis but also engaging in ART, if they so choose. I know many people whose options were limited due to financial means. This is unacceptable. ART is not something that should be available to a lucky few who can afford it. Not to mention that there is also lack of access that isn’t due to finances. Some insurance companies won’t cover ART if it is due to “social infertility” meaning single women and queer couples. If I had fallen in love with a woman, I may have been denied coverage. In addition, studies have shown that there is a “knowledge gap” for people of color on fertility options. Many non-white racial groups struggle with infertility at high rates without the same access to resources. The group most likely to access ART are white, educated, wealthy women. After decades of forced sterilizations of women of color, there is no coincidence that the government is not invested in marginalized communities gaining access.

On a personal note, as a Latina, there has been an added pressure around family building as a indicator of success. I have 2 degrees and own a home, indicators towards upward mobility that it very hard to do in this country. It is something I am very proud of. However, to many in my community, accomplishments are nothing without children. The expectations around pregnancy and parenting have made speaking out about infertility struggles that much harder. I would venture that many other women of color share this sentiment. I know that the feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are not strictly culturally specific, but I think there are added cultural standards in various communities of color, including religion, that add to the silencing of this issue.

The reproductive justice community needs to provide space for people to discuss infertility. It needs to talk about the ways in which infertility is stigmatized in various communities. I did not consider these issues as part of my RJ work before experiencing them myself. I always viewed the tenant of RJ, “right to have children” through what I thought was an intersectional lens, but did not include infertility. Like so many of us, the personal becomes political. Since experiencing infertility, I have provided workshops for people who have experienced reproductive loss and infertility. I have been lucky to collaborate with local yoga studios and the organization Holding Our Space, but there is more work to be done. It is our responsibility as RJ activists to call out inequity in ART and make space for those who need support in their infertility journeys. We need to destigmatize discussions of infertility and include these experiences in this movement.

Another Birthday Without A Child

Several weeks ago I celebrated by 34th birthday. 33 was not the year I had hoped for in a lot of ways. One of my 2016 resolutions that I failed miserably was wanting to write at least one blog post a month. I failed because I did not want to have to write only about infertility. I am more than that. So I didn’t write about my struggles but then nothing else came out or felt right. The process of trying to conceive is an all consuming one. At times all I can think about is the desire to be pregnant and the inability to be so. Each month watching my hopes swept away in a sea of red.

Unexplained Infertility is what the doctor said, which is medical speak for we have no idea. Although it is some sort of answer, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, the pain moved in and made a home. So many daily activities became harder. Watching TV meant dealing with those damn Clear Blue Easy commercials. You know the ones, where women find out they’re pregnant and cheer and cry. Every time it came on it was like a punch to the gut. A reminder of each moment I had looked down to see the words “not pregnant.” Facebook became unbearable. Pregnancy announcement after ultrasound bombarding my timeline. It seemed as though everyone around me sneezed and got pregnant. And then there are the in person interactions. The pregnant coworker I try to avoid so as not to see her growing belly and feel tears welling up. The party I have to leave early when a couple shows up with their newborn. The questions from strangers on whether or not I have children. Getting angry each time, not only because they were asking, but that it bothered me.

I want to say that deciding on a plan of action made things easier but it’s just hard in another way. Deciding to do IUI felt like admitting defeat. And because I chose very early on to be honest and open about this process in order to help others struggling, choosing IUI also meant having to explain IUI to family and friends. Explaining can be exhausting. Talking about it is hard. Not talking about it, is hard.

In two months it will officially be two years of trying to conceive. Two years may not seem like a long time but when you desperately want a baby, it feels like a lifetime. For me it is a lifetime. I have waited my whole life for this moment. I can only hope that a year from now, I will be celebrating my next birthday with a baby, a whole list of other hardships, exhausted, and with a smile on my face.