Black Women and Infertility
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FACT: According to the CDC, the incidence of infertility is higher in black women than in white women, and it is steadily increasing.
The Basics: Infertility
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines infertility as the inability for women between the ages of 15 – 44 to get pregnant after at least one year of actively trying to conceive, and for men, the inability to impregnate a woman. The NIH also states that women who can become pregnant but who cannot carry a pregnancy to term (birth) may also be considered infertile.
The cause of infertility can rest with a woman or a man. Infertility has been recognized by the medical community as a disease. It has no single cause because successful pregnancy is a chain of events (NIH).
What causes infertility?
Some cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Ovulation problems are often caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem that can interfere with normal ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a woman's ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. POI is not the same as early menopause.
Other reasons you may be experiencing infertility:
- Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Surgery for an ectopic pregnancy
- Uterine fibroids
- Polycystic Ovary syndrome (PCOS)
There are several reproductive technologies that offer choices and hope to infertile individuals or couples who desire to become parents. Common methods of Assisted Reproductve Technology (ART) include:
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): Means fertilization outside of the body. IVF is the most effective ART. It is often used if your fallopian tubes are blocked or when a man produces too few sperm. Doctors will treat you with medication that causes the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Once mature, your eggs are. They are put in a dish in the lab along with the man's sperm for fertilization. After 3 to 5 days, healthy embryos are implanted in your uterus.
Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT): or Tubal Embryo Transfer is similar to IVF. Fertilization occurs in the laboratory. Then the very young embryo is transferred to your fallopian tube instead of the uterus.
Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT): This involves transferring eggs and sperm into one of your fallopian tubes, so fertilization occurs in the woman's body. Few practices offer GIFT as an option.
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): Often used for couples in which there are serious problems with the sperm. Sometimes it is also used for older couples or if you have had failed IVF attempts. In ICSI, a single sperm is injected into a mature egg. Then the embryo is transferred to your uterus or one of your fallopian tubes.
Black Women and Infertility: An Interview with BNC and RSP's Board Member, Sara Harris
A Conversation with Shervonne Coney
RSP Staff had an inspiring conversation with Shervonne Coney, Founder and Executive Director of Black Women and Infertility, which is a support group for Black women and other women of color struggling to grow their families. Shervonne spoke to us about her personal journey with infertility and common misconceptions regarding infertility, especially in Black women.
A Conversation with Dr. Aaron Styer: Infertility Specialist
RSP Staff had the opportunity to have a discussion with Dr. Aaron Styer about infertility. Dr. Styer is a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist at CCRM Fertility in Chestnut Hill. In this recording of the conversation, he gives a wealth of information on the causes of infertility in both men and women, along with all of the different treatment options that his clinic offers.
Accessibility of Infertility Treatment
One of the largest obstacles that families face when seeking fertility treatments is cost. However many women may not know that they are covered for IVF or IUF under their health insurance. According to the Fertility Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts State Law requires that insurance cover the costs of infertility diagnosis and treatments. Accordingly, most insurance plans will cover a variety of treatments including artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo placement, gamete intrafallopian transfer, zygote intrafallopian transfer, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Coverage varies from insurance plan to insurance plan.
Mass Health currently does not cover IVF treatment and unfortunately will only cover the cost of diagnosis and treatment of the specific cause of infertility. Additionally, Massachusetts is seemingly ahead of the curve on access to fertility treatments compared to other states, so these treatments may not be as widely covered in other parts of the United States. If you are not covered for treatment, there are several organizations below which provide grants to help families pay for fertility treatments or adoption costs for people who wish to grow their families.
Fertility for Colored Girls provides education, encouragement, and support to Black women and other women of color experiencing infertility and seeking to grow their families. They aim to empower Black women to take charge of their fertility and reproductive health, and provide grants to help ease the financial burden of fertility treatments or domestic adoption.
Founded by Dr. Jason and Dr. Camille Hammond in honor of Dr. Tinina Cade, Camille’s mother. The foundation connects couples or individuals who have “overcome” infertility and were able to grow their families with couples or individuals who are still on the infertility journey in order to provide support. They also provide educational material to people struggling with infertility and grants to help them grow their families through fertility treatments and adoption.
Oshun Fertility Services is the first egg donation and surrogacy organization specifically designed to help people of African and Latino Descent. The agency was founded by Helen and Marcus Stephens. Helen was diagnosed with endometriosis, fibroids and PCOS and the couple struggled to grow their family. Through their experience, they recognized the unique obstacles that Black families face when seeking fertility treatment and decided to form an organization to help these families push through.
For more information on infertility, please contact the following organizations:
- For Black Women Isolation of Infertility Compounded by Barriers to Treatment
- InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc. — Phone: 703-379-9178
- The National Infertility Association — Phone: 703-556-7172
- National Institutes of Health (NIH): Infertility
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Infertility
- Endometriosis Association