IVF: Selfish or a Form of Protest?

Balancing motherhood choice in the midst of two pandemics isn't easy.

Posted Jul 05, 2020

'insung yoon' @insungyoon (Unsplash)
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Source: 'insung yoon' @insungyoon (Unsplash)

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, in between the Zoom calls and homeschooling battles, I also have been trying to figure out how to grow our family. After 9 years of medical and research training, I was clamoring to put roots down in my new city at last. This journey began 2.5 years ago, long before life was completely upended by COVID-19. We have tried months of medications and intrauterine insemination procedures with each month marked by 1 line on the stick and not 2. This singular line held the power to engulf me in an almost unspeakable disappointment.

Leading up to the week we were slated to begin in vitro fertilization (IVF), the stay-at-home orders were announced, and our dream put on hold indefinitely. Despite the looming threat of the virus, I was committed to expanding our family and anxiously awaited the reopening of our fertility clinic.

I am fully aware of how privileged I am to even have IVF as an option. Women seeking fertility services tend to enjoy a higher household income and education. However, the reality is many women struggle to receive IVF treatments due to access issues, like costs and insurance coverage among other barriers. Fifteen percent of white women turn to medical assistance to conceive and for Black women, those numbers are even more dismal at just 8%.

However, now the tide has shifted in me. I feel differently; as a Black woman, with the even more aggressive devaluation of and pervasive threat against Black lives, I am unsure. I am dismayed but not surprised about the President’s "white power" tweets and that nooses are still used as threats to keep Black men in their place. I am disturbed that Atlanta’s police officers called out sick after hearing that the ex-police officer involved in the killing of Rayshard Brooks would be charged with felony murder. And I cringe when I read that some police say, “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six,” referring to taking their chances at trial versus being carried by pallbearers. It seems utterly selfish to even contemplate bringing a Black child (boy or girl) into this world with the open attacks of law enforcement on Black lives. The indescribable heartache, when George Floyd’s final breaths called out for his “Mama.” The woman who gave him breath. How could I dare?   

Unfortunately, I have had this feeling before, but I was already pregnant then. It was 2012. I was pregnant with my first child, a Black son. I was a pediatric resident and while those around me were happy, I was devastated. While I was about to welcome the life of my first son, down South, Sybrina Fulton, who is now running for office, was burying hers. Sybrina’s son, Trayvon Martin was killed walking home with Skittles and juice.

This catapulted me into a deep, unending tunnel of despair that only the birth of my son, the help of my husband, therapist, and anti-anxiety medicine to address my postpartum depression could fix. While I was searching for my way out, I decided to do my best to protect my son from the evils of this world, though I knew it was ultimately out of my control. So, while unsure, I acted courageously and brought him into a cold, racist world.

My experience while pregnant pushed me to discover my research focus and now expertise on vicarious racism. As a pediatrician and researcher, I have since learned that this secondhand form of racism can have detrimental impacts on health, including on the health of children. I discovered that I was not alone and that racism’s toxic effects can hurt those literally miles away and bleed into a generation that is not yet born. Now, scores of Black mothers across the nation whose family members have died by the hands of police have had enough, staging protests from New York to California.

And here I am again, but with a slightly different decision—do I work so vigorously and persistently to bring another Black child into this world that so viciously and exactingly works to snuff out Black breath? The decision to move forward with IVF may be selfish in wanting my only Black son not to have to brave this world alone or maybe it is the boldest, most rebellious thing that I will ever do. Essentially, to look in the face of racism, death, and despair and say I will not be shaken. My ancestors have fought too hard, lost too much, risked it all, so that I can just be and for those after me to not only exist, but to live more fully. So, today, I choose protest, I choose liberation, and I choose life.