For black women infertility comes with shame and coping in silence

A paper in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly focusing on the experiences of African-American women struggling to conceive conveys an often ignored fact: That black women are equally if not more likely to experience infertility than their white counterparts.

The difference, however, is that black women tend to cope with the trauma in silence and isolation, according to the University of Michigan study

According to the study, which is one of the first focusing solely on African-American women and the issue of infertility, 98 percent of all the women who participated claimed taboos surrounding infertility in the African-American community forced them to remain silent.

The women also expressed an expected lack of empathy and sympathy for their issues alongside a heightened pressure to keep their problems not only within the black community itself but often to themselves for fear of being ridiculed and or shamed.

The women who participated in the study were of different socioeconomic backgrounds, ranging from ages 21 to 52. Many of the women were also married, college-educated and employed full-time. All of the respondents had met the medical definition for infertility — a condition in which a woman is unable to conceive after 12 or more months of regular, unprotected sex — at some point in their lives. On average, the women spent six years trying to conceive.

In describing the difficulties of getting pregnant, 32 percent of these women expressed beliefs that equated motherhood with womanhood. Respondents also infused religious significance around issues relating to fertility, as the belief that God intended women to produce children was common and often contributed to feelings of shame when fertility issues persisted.

Rosario Ceballo, a University of Michigan professor leading the study, noted, “One explanation for the women’s silence about infertility may have to do with cultural expectations about strong, self-reliant black women who can cope with adversity on their own and with notions about maintaining privacy in African-American communities.”

A quarter of the women who participated in the study reported assumptions about their sexual promiscuity and inability to pay for services were made by medical personnel as they sought fertility services. African-American women across the economic spectrum were equally as likely to experience such discrimination.