Happy New Year! Like I mentioned recently, I’ve been thinking about kids a lot lately. I won’t say my biological clock is ticking but sometime in 2015 I was lying in my bed not quite awake and not quite asleep when a picture of my future popped into my head. There was a little girl in it. The picture was just a flash, no dialogue, so she could have been any little girl from anywhere but somehow I knew, I just knew, that she was mine.
Having her isn’t going to be easy. I have reproductive issues. I had an ovarian cyst that was fused to my left ovary. The doctors didn’t think they could excise it from the ovary without accidentally popping it and flooding my womb with icky stuff that could turn cancerous someday. So the ovary and a fallopian tube had to go along with the cyst. I was left with an ugly keloid scar and a constant reminder that getting pregnant might not be the easiest journey for me. I also have fibroids, which make my odds even worse.
Where I’m from a woman who can’t have kids is a big deal. Back in the day, the man’s family would just marry another wife for him and you would just have to shut up and deal with being in a polygamous marriage without your consent. Sojourner Truth once gave this badass speech where she talked about all the stereotypically manly things she had had to do in her life and how they kept her from being considered ladylike. “Still,” she asked “Ain’t I a woman?” None of the boujee white feminists she was giving the speech to could deny that she was.
If I couldn’t have a child and I stood in the middle of my father’s village, proclaimed my infertility loudly, and then asked “Ain’t I a woman?” there would be people who would bluntly tell me “No.” “A woman has children and if you can’t have children then you are not a real woman.”
Black women who struggle with infertility get this messaging in a thousand different ways. Which royally sucks because there are so many of us. According to the CDC, married black women are twice as likely to have problems conceiving as white women. Dr. Desiree McCarthy-Keith, a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Georgia Reproductive Specialists, says that research shows approximately 11.5% of African American women experience a variety of infertility problems, compared to 7% of white women. We even get fibroids at much higher rates. So this messaging that motherhood equals womanhood isn’t affecting some small minority of us. It’s reaching a lot of us. And messing with our heads.
Women, as a whole, are taught that they have little value; that their worth as humans is dependent on the ways in which they can be of use to the people around them. Black women particularly, are taught that the world already thinks even less of us, so anything that makes us look deficient must be avoided at all costs. We are taught that “strong black women” with “black girl magic” are impervious to emotional pain because we can handle any and everything. We are taught that you don’t go around telling your personal business to people. We are taught to live under a veil of silence. And it has to stop.
It keeps us from pursuing treatments that could help us get pregnant. It keeps those of us who do eventually pursue treatment, from doing it early enough — when such interventions could actually make a difference. It keeps those of us going through fertility treatments from discussing it openly and getting the physical and communal support we need. It keeps us bearing the debilitating disappointments that come from unsuccessful attempts, alone. So we mourn in solitude for the dreams we have to defer or discard. This silence keeps us from punching out ignorant people who believe disgusting stereotypes about welfare queens with ten kids. It keeps us from informing them that thinking that black women are natural breeders who have been popping out babies with no trouble since slavery, is racist and reductive. It keeps us from advocating for ourselves when we run up against an uncaring healthcare system that has a history of prejudice against us. It keeps us from adopting, though there are thousands of black kids languishing in the foster care system. It keeps us from adopting older children, who fare the worst in the foster care system, because we think it makes it harder to keep the adoption a secret. This silence keeps us boxed in, cocooned in these suffocating spaces of secrecy and loneliness. I don’t want to be in that box anymore.
Tia Mowry shared her endometriosis story and told everyone how it had kept her from getting pregnant for the last five or six years. Gabrielle Union recently disclosed that she had had eight or nine miscarriages. Beyoncé wrote a song about the child she lost before she had Blue Ivy. Remy Ma had a miscarriage and shared on The Real that she lost her remaining fallopian tube and couldn’t physically bear children anymore. Tyra Banks shared that having a child was immensely difficult for her and she did “traumatic” rounds of IVF before letting someone else carry the child to term. Angela Bassett had her twins by surrogate and talked about it on Oprah. Viola Davis adopted her daughter. Kim Whitley adopted a son who she has a reality show about. T-Boz from TLC was all set up to adopt a child when the mother suddenly changed her mind. Years later when she got pregnant again, she let T-Boz adopt that child. Rosaria Dawson adopted a twelve-year-old girl. I only know these things because those women told the world.
When I am struggling to have this kid in three to five years I want to have this kind of courage. I want black women to commiserate with, I want black women to give me advice, I want to lend strength to black women who are losing hope, I want to be part of a community of women who are speaking up and speaking out. Most of all, I want to share with people that it doesn’t matter how you become a mother; no child is less yours because they came to you through adoption or fostering or surrogacy or fertility treatments. No child is less yours if they come to you as a tween with intact memories of their biological mother instead of as a newborn swaddled in a blanket. Mother is a verb, not a noun. It’s a job you sign up for; it’s not a title the world bestows upon you based on some bullshit criteria. And any way you get there is the right way. Being able to have a child doesn’t define my womanhood. I plan to remind myself of that. I also plan to remind myself that being a mother is not the only route to personal fulfillment. Ending up without a kid because it didn’t work out is okay. Choosing not to have a kid, for whatever reason feels right to you, is also okay. It’s all okay. No matter what our journeys are, we are all okay. We are enough. We are amazing.
F.N. is a thirty something Ghanaian free-lance writer who alternates between living in Accra and Washington, DC.