Monica, Robin, and Anna, but not Whitley, Aunt Viv, or Mary Jane: Why aren’t Black Characters in the Infertility Narrative?

tv watcher

 

Last Sunday night, I was curled up in my bed for the season premiere episode of the final season of Downton Abby. (At this point, if you haven’t yet watched that episode, spoiler alert ahead!)

Within the first 15 minutes, Anna reveals (implies) that she’d recently suffered a miscarriage, and that this wasn’t the first time. (Lord knows, if you watch Downton, Anna’s been through enough!) This got me to thinking about how these pregnancy and fertility issues come up in TV and movies. So much so that I tuned out a bit from the episode for a few minutes. It also made me think about working conditions and society expectations of the time. She had a miscarriage, but got dressed and came to work. Those types of things were definitely not discussed openly at that time. The shame that was probably associated with not getting pregnant in that era was Much, much more than it is today, though so many of us still feel, or are made to feel ashamed.

I kept on down this rabbit hole of thoughts, and I began to think about how infertility and difficulty maintaining a pregnancy has never, as far as I’m aware, been addressed on any Black TV show, comedy or drama that are not medical drama.

I know two shows (that happen to be some of my favorites) that had characters who suffered from infertility: Monica Geller from Friends and Robin Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother. But, I cannot think of any Black character who dealt with this issue. The closest I can think is Maxine Shaw from Living Single and Mary-Jane Paul from Being Mary Jane, who did not suffer form infertility, but made “alternative” choices to attempt motherhood.

Now of course, I haven’t seen every episode of every TV show, so if you know of a Black show, or even character that did go through this, please feel free to comment and school me.

Anyone that is or was a fan of Friends, knows that Monica and Chandler got married in season 7, and found out later (season 9) that could not have a baby naturally. Both Monica and Chandler had factors contributing to their infertility. In the end, they decided to adopt and ended up with twins.

Of course, Friends was a sitcom, and dealt with the issue in a light way, but it did manage to address this very real issue. In fact, the Monica and Chandler story is the second fertility related story line in the series. In Season 4, Phoebe acts as a surrogate for  her brother and his wife.

The great part about both of these story lines is at the time, there was even less of a profile on IVF, surrogacy, and infertility. To even address this at all, especially in a sitcom format, was a bit ahead of its time.

The only slight counter part to this as a Black character that I can think of is Maxine Shaw from the 90’s sitcom Living Single. In the final season, Max decides to become a mother via a donor (who she later finds out happens to be Kyle). Its never said or implied that it is because she is having any difficulties, but just because she is ready to have a child, and with her independent nature (“Maxine Shaw: Mavrick”), she just does it. It was more about being in control of her life as a woman, not the physical ability.

Max's attitude about life. I love her
Max’s attitude about life. I love her

I will give credit for the Living Single writers for even bringing up the idea of sperm donation as a pathway to motherhood for a Black woman into the story line. Again, in the 90s, assisted pregnancy was still a mystery to most people and there was a lot of negative attitudes surrounding those processes. The idea of a baby created outside of the body, or having a doctor insert sperm in a woman to impregnate a woman was still a little taboo and considered weird. And in the Black community?! Forget about it! If that’s how you got pregnant, you better lie to your friends and family and either make an agreement with a guy friend that he’s the “father”, or say the father disappeared. At that time, either of those was better than telling your Gram-Gram that you picked a guy from a binder and had doctor impregnate you. The fact that Max was choosing a sperm donor was a huge f’n deal. Max, as was the characters personality, was unashamed of her choice.

The other popular, recent, and I would say more well done infertility story is Robin. In season 7, Robin thinks she’s pregnant with Barney’s baby. After she’s told she’s not (and they do a quick celebration dance), her doctor calls her back in a few days later to discuss other test results. The doctor delivers the unfortunate news that she cannot get pregnant. The HIMYM episode has the benefit of happening in the current era (season 7 aired in 2011-2012), where there is a better space to to discuss infertility. The episode walks the fine line of a sitcom and a bit of drama dealing with a serious topic. Its a great episode. When I see it on re runs, I usually cry, because the range of feelings and emotions you see her go through are so real.

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MJ preps for the fertility process. Robin deals with unexpected disappointment

Again, there is no counter part that is Black to this story line anywhere that I am aware of. The closest I can come, again, is a non traditional choice (key word choice) into motherhood, and that would be Mary Jane Paul of Being Mary Jane*.

Mary Jane is a complicated character, which is the charm of the show. She has these brilliant moments, then does something impulsive, selfish, and dumb. Like we all do. Without getting too bogged down into details, Mary Jane “steals” sperm form a lover, and keeps it in her freezer. She convinces her doctor bestie to inseminate her at home with a baster. Obviously unsuccessful.

Later, as a kick off to a new season of her news show, she undergoes fertility treatments to have IVF with donor sperm, and documents it for the world to see. However, the implantation was unsuccessful. Ultimately, she decides to leave the issue and not try another cycle.

Again, I credit this show for even going there, and bonus points for going deeper. Her fertility process wasn’t just mentioned, it was documented. We saw her have hot flashes. Give herself injections. Have second thoughts. Be disappointed. Have questions. But, at this point, this was a choice, not a necessity for Mary Jane. If there is ever a show with a Black cast and Black female lead that would tackle this issue head on, it would be Being Mary Jane. I would not be surprised if this issue comes back around and MJ has to face known infertility, and has to try a second round with a little more purpose and urgency. The writing team on this show is amazing, and if any team can bring this to life, it would be them.

Art is truly imitating life. Even in a parallel TV universe, we’re still not fully able to discuss infertility in Black families as a real issue that real Black women deal with. I am hopeful that this will soon change. With so much innovative programming, not just on TV, but on line and streaming, the possibilities are endless. Think of the impact a major show with a character, a Black Woman character, going through infertility could have. How it could shift perceptions and help remove the shame women feel. It can be done in a smart and funny, and culturally relevant way.

Imagine if Aunt Viv (the original), who got pregnant, at one can assume, well past 40, even briefly mentioned having a hard time getting pregnant.

What if Rainbow and Dre talked about the baby they lost before getting pregnant with Jack and Diane?

We could get into the further and deeper issue of the broader representation of women in media and Black people/Black women in media, but that is definitely a whole ‘nother post!

Black people want smart, relevant, diverse content and stories, as the numbers for recent shows like Black-ish, Empire, and How to Get Away With Murder prove. We need this infertility narrative in our stories too, because it is happening. I am thankful for the attention and story lines that do feature infertility, no mater who the subject is, but I’m waiting to see my sistas shine and use their art as a platform to change, even start the conversation.

 

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Sistas are doin’ It for Themselves. So many Black women on TV, and yet… Photo: Essence Magazine Online

*2018 FYI- Gabrielle Union who played Mary Jane Paul, is an infertility warrior in real life. She has suffered 9 miscarriages and gone through numerous IVF cycles.

Doin’ Too Much: Surgery, Change, and my Holiday

Most people’s holiday seasons are filled with family, food, drinks, and relaxation. Mine had some of that, but also included hysteroscopy, estrogen, moving, and bed rest.

 

In short, I’ve been having issues with my cycle, and my RE and gynecologist both suggested going back to my surgeon to get a better look at what is happening. My GYN suspected Asherman’s Syndrome.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I went in for a laproscopy and hysteroscopy. The surgeon did find some scar tissue that formed since the last procedure and removed it. He also found a tear that he repaired. I was put on a two month regimen of low dose estrogen (to be followed by 15 days of progesterone) to help restore my thinned lining. He also inserted a cook ballon to try to minimize scarring and adhesion inside my uterus. I had to keep the balloon in for 7 days. It was not the most comfortable thing in the world. I went the office the following week to have it removed. Having it taken out was uncomfortable more than it was painful.

The estrogen so far has given me headaches (the first week or so), and had my face broke out like I was 13. Right now, nothing major in terms of side effects, but the first two weeks…….

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This picture does my breakout no justice. My skin was horrible. I haven’t had a breakout like that since I was 13 or 14. Yay estrogen.

The procedure seemed to go pretty well, and I recovered well that day, but I didn’t bounce back like I thought I would. When I had this same thing done in 2013, I flew out to Atlanta the next day for work. Was I 100%? No, but I was at least at 75% This time, it took me about four days to feel back to normal. By the time I was feeling close to normal….it was time to pack up to move…to an entirely new city. I was limited in what I could do in terms of lifting, but I did move a suitcase that was a little heavier than I thought, and immediately felt weird. I knew I needed to sit my ass down and not lift anything. Which I did…for a few days, then I did it again. My doctor said I irritated the muscles in the pelvic area, take it easy.

I did….a little, but then it was Christmas. I had done no Christmas shopping, my mom was coming to stay with us for two days, which means I had to clean, and I had to cook my contributions to Christmas dinner. Which means, not much rest, but a lot of 800mg ibuprofen.

Finally, I was able to rest for a few days, and I do feel mostly better, after a month.

This procedure was important for me because this is the set up work to see if I can carry a baby. Aside from my left tube being blocked (not such a big deal), my lining is thin and my uterus is small. These things might keep me from carrying my own baby. I go back in April for another scope, to see if the hormones have made my lining thicken at all, and if having the balloon in for 7 days helped with the adhesion/scarring. As much as I try to downplay this as a minor procedure, it is a big deal, and I’m a little worried that all that I had going on immediately after the procedure may affect the final outcome.

We do this a lot, those of us who struggle. We don’t want to break down in front of those who know what we’re going through(or even those who don’t). We don’t want to admit the stakes even to ourselves sometimes in order to keep our peace and a little sanity. But, we need to. We have to come to terms with what is happening with our bodies and what is our options are.

 

The good news in all of this is: NO Fibroids were found! Two years fibroid free since my June 2013 Myomectomy.

 

Happy New Year

 

There’s No Place Like Home (And Endless Questions) for the Hoilidays

This week kicks off the American Holiday season: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve.

Plenty of food, parties, shopping sprees, drinks, and time with family and friends. Time with family and friends usually means people want a life update: How’s School? How’s Work? Did you get the job you interviewed for? When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids?

 

When the family asks you about babies
When the family asks you about babies (or getting a husband…or BOTH)

Its those last two that have always just irked the hell out of me. When you’re single, or even if you’re in a relationship, you get tired of people asking the same damn question (that frankly isn’t any of their business).  “Don’t worry about when I’m getting married. You’ll know when you get the invite” is what you want to say , but usually don’t. Shout out to all the women who do say that to their families. You’re my shero. I know I’m married now, but the memory of that annoying question and feeling of being put on the spot is all too real. After all, I didn’t get married until October of 2015 at 36. There were many a holiday where I was asked about a boyfriend/marriage every five minutes.

Its the same with children. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, dating or married, you get tired of people asking about your plan for procreation. “When you get the baby shower invite, you’ll know”

It becomes even more painful when people don’t even know what they’re asking. They have no idea that by asking you about having babies they are picking at a wound you are trying desperately to let heal, because you can’t have babies. Or you can’t have them without a lot of assistance from medical technology and a lot of cash. So you smile awkwardly, or change the subject, or  quickly stuff some more sweet potato pie in your mouth so you don’t have to answer.

 

It can be rough, but here’s a great piece from the Huffington Post by K.K. Goldberg about her experience and making it though. As always, you’re not alone.

The Silent Hell of Infertility During Holidays

 

Keep you head up this Thanksgiving, and keep your glass of wine handy.

 

 

 

There’s a Month For That

FIBROID AWARENESS MONTH

It seems like there is a month or day for everything now: Best Friend Day, Doughnut Day, Wine Day (obviously all days that I am here for). Then there are more serious days: HIV Awareness Day, Earth Day, Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day. Again, all days I can get behind.

And of course, you have Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and on and on.

There is a new month gaining momentum that I will definitely jump on board with: Fibroid Awareness Month!

That’s right, July is Fibroid awareness month! It know that at this point, July is pretty much over, but its still something worth knowing. This is a new initiative, and its headed by the White Dress Project, a non profit who’s mission is to “galvanize support and promote awareness about the fibroid epidemic among women domestically and globally through education, research and advocacy.

They are working to get each state to officially recognize July as Fibroid Awareness Month, and they sponsor events to help spread fibroid awareness and offer support for those that have been through or are going through a battle with fibroids. So far Georgia, New York, Florida, and the city of New Orleans are officially recognizing July as Fibroid Awareness month due to the White Dress Project’s efforts.

I love this organization and concept already. As I have said here time and time again, awareness and education a so very important in regards to fibroids (and many other things). Infertility has National Infertility Awareness Week (maybe that can move to a month one day), there is a PCOS  (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) Awareness month in September, so why not fibroids? The fact that uterine fibroids are such a common disease, but the research and amount of conversation and awareness is so small is a shame. On a wider note, so many gynecological conditions outside of cancer are not discussed in the women’s health discussion.

 

So even though there are only 5 more days left in the month, there is still time to celebrate an do your part!

Of course, you can start by telling  your story. Education and awareness starts with that one simple act.

Want to do more? You can sign this petition petition to receive a presidential proclamation to make July Fibroid Awareness Month.

https://www.change.org/p/barack-obama-michelle-obama-declare-july-fibroids-awareness-month-nationally

Check out the Fibroid Facts page of this blog to learn more about fibroids.

You Are Not Alone-Step Up and Speak Out: National Infertility Awareness Week

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It’s that time of year again: National Infertility Awareness Week!  The theme this year: You Are Not Alone. ( Cue the Michael Jackson music)

To know me and this blog is to know this is my mantra.  Infertility can be very isolating. When you look around and everyone has a kids, or is pregnant, or asking you about getting pregnant, you begin to feel this sense of separation. I’ve said here a few times that there is a feeling that you’re not a complete woman. Your body is betraying you every. single. day. How do  you explain your situation or answer people’s questions without drawing pity, which you definitely don’t want, or those awkward “just relax” or “keep trying” responses? So, you decide it’s better to keep it to yourself. Who needs that extra drama?

You want to talk to your best friend, or your mom about it, but how can you really? They don’t truly understand. They mean well and love you, and  they want to support you, but its a hard thing to relate to. My best friend has 5, yes 5 children! (who are awesome by the way) I keep my fertility struggle conversations with her to a minimum. Not because she doesn’t care. Not because she is uninterested (she asks for updates all the time), but because how can she understand? Trouble getting pregnant is a foreign concept to her. She is the exact opposite of infertility.

I was watching Teen Mom (the new episodes with original girls) the other day, and one of them went in for a wellness exam. The doctor was listening to the baby’s heartbeat, and asked if she could feel the baby moving. I started crying. Why? Because that is an experience I may never have. When you have those types of moments, who can understand that rush of emotion other than someone else who is or has been where you are?

But think about it: 1 in 8 couples are facing infertility. So, you are not alone. The next time you’re at church (mosque, synagogue), at a family reunion, dinner party, on the train, at the mall, in the hair salon, running a 5K, know that at least one more woman (or man) in the crowd is struggling with fertility.

I know it can be emotionally draining.  I know it makes you vulnerable. I know sometimes you just don’t want to be bothered. But….

Share your story. There are women that need to hear from you. They need the support and assurance that they are not alone. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. You don’t have to tell the world, just be there for one person. That can make all the difference.

Start a support group at your church or community group.

Be there for someone who is struggling with infertility

Post an Infertility article on your social media platforms

Even better:

Post about NIAW on social media. Share a link to NIAW  and Resolve.

 

I will be honest, what has helped me a lot is having someone to talk to, really two people.

I have a co-worked that had a myomectomy about 4 weeks before I had mine. We started talking about our fibroid battles, and found out we have similar fertility issues. We share articles, random facts, advice from doctors, and sometimes, just our frustrations.

I also have a friend who is about 10 years older than me, but she had infertility issues and had two wonderful sons via IVF. This was in the 90s when it was still a weird and strange thing, especially in the Black community. Her support and advice has meant a lot.

Then of course, I have this blog. I know my presence isn’t big, and its not the flashiest or most consistent blog out there, but to know that people visit or follow my blog, and I am doing my part to help someone make it through; providing information, telling my story, and maybe providing a laugh or distraction, makes me happy.

So Maybe Mamas, You Are Not Alone!

Share your story this week and beyond.