We know that infertility can affect anyone, of any age, colour, race, religion, culture or gender
But when infertility is discussed, it doesn’t always include women of colour. Writer Seetal Savla spoke up on the topic recently, and is calling for more diversity in the stories we hear about infertility.
Whilst reading Becoming, the autobiography by Michelle Obama, Seetal was undergoing her third round of IVF treatment in as many years.
Michelle’s words, “Fertility is not something you conquer. Rather maddeningly, there’s no straight line between effort and reward” made Seetal feel understood.
Having read many different personal accounts of IVF experiences, Seetal felt that this one really spoke to her
Not least because Michelle Obama is of African-American origin. Most accounts of IVF that Seetal comes across she feels doesn’t represent the wider population of the UK, and tend to only represent “middle class, middle aged, white women”.
Yet according to the Human Fertility and Embryo Authority (HFEA) there has been an increase in women of Black and Ethnic Minorities (BAME) receiving IVF treatment of 21% over the past five years
But one of the issues is that “infertility remains shrouded in secrecy in the Indian community” despite recent Bollywood stars being open and honest about their fertility journeys.
Seetal says that, “seeing celebrities share their vulnerabilities may legitimise our own infertility battles and comfort us in private, but our experiences and emotions are still not being vocalised enough in public”.
“We suffer in silence for various reasons, shame being one of the main culprits. We’re ashamed of our bodies being unable to perform their primary purpose and being judged for it, maybe even ostracised. We’re ashamed of letting our family down and making them the source of idle gossip among the extended family and our wider community.”
“Indian women are afraid of the assumption that the inability to conceive is our fault – our patriarchal society isn’t known for considering an alternate scenario”
“At its most extreme, this reputational damage could affect the marriage prospects of future generations, the fear being that they’ll also struggle to start a family.”
Seetal says that she too felt silenced by these “societal stigmas”. She felt that even talking about it meant owning up to “inadequacies” and the stories we’re all familiar with about someone who had given up hope, relaxed about the whole thing and then naturally falling pregnant on holiday, were difficult to hear. As were the stories about another who never gave up and on her umpteenth round of IVF fell pregnant.
She describes these woman as “fertility warriors” and talks about how painful it is to hear these stories
After a failed round of IVF your heart, body and mind are broken, and daring to dream it could be different next time is something not many of us can do.
Seetal says she “arrogantly assumed” she’d be a mother one day and rallied against her family’s pleas to have a baby in the early years of her marriage. But it was a miscarriage during a “surprise natural pregnancy” that made her realise she was ready to have a family.
After the miscarriage she embarked on her first IVF cycle with her husband and has subsequently had three rounds in total, all three unsuccessful
Having kept their fertility treatment to only a few close friends and family members, Seetal grew tired of the questions and secrecy and decided to be open with it on Mother’s Day, still fearful of the repercussions.
“Did I really want everyone to know these intimate details of our lives? Would posting about our pregnancy woes make me feel like even more of a failure, both as a woman and a wife?”
But she went ahead and spoke publicly about the “internal and external pressures that I’d been facing about childlessness, the all-consuming emotional, physical and financial challenges of undergoing IVF and our hopes for the future”.
“In doing so, I wanted to offer support to anyone experiencing infertility and provide a public and private outlet for them. When I was in freefall after my second cycle, the Trying to Conceive (TTC) community on Instagram held out a safety net and prevented me from hitting rock bottom. Instead of pity and sentimental platitudes about staying positive, they lamented my loss with me. Speaking out about my own infertility gave me the chance to pay it forward.”
Seetal was overwhelmed by the compassion shown to her from everyone from family to complete strangers, many of them of Indian heritage saying it made them feel more normal
She finished her article for the Huffington Post by saying, “Our culture values marriage and children and yet prevents us from having conversations about infertility. But if we want to change the narrative, we must be willing to lend our voices to the current one”.
Do you feel the same as Seetal? What have your experiences been? If you would like to share your story as you or anonymously we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social @ivfbabble