Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn on Her Mission To Improve Black Fertility Care
Feb 24, 2021
When it comes to fertility, there is a lot to navigate—from deciding which treatment option is right for you to figuring out how to afford the costs. In the U.S., about 11% of women experience infertility, and studies suggest that Black women are twice as likely to face infertility as white women.
Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn is trying to change this. After working as a health educator in Chicago and an education director at Planned Parenthood, she founded Fertility for Colored Girls (FFCG) in 2013. As a 501c3, FFCG’s mission is to provide education, awareness, and support to Black women/couples and other women of color who struggle with infertility—something Stacey wished she’d had when she was on her own infertility journey.
With 14 chapters across the country spanning urban and suburban communities, and with more opening each year, FFCG provides services including educational programs, grant opportunities, counseling, and monthly support groups where women can share their experiences and receive support.
Reverend Stacey, who is also the Executive Minister at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, sat down with us to share more about the challenges of fertility in the Black community, what fertility care providers can do to create more inclusive experiences, and some of her favorite memories in the history of FFCG.
What are the reasons Black women are almost twice as likely to experience infertility as white women?
There are a few factors behind this. The first is that in the Black community, infertility is a taboo topic. And it’s not something we expect to experience. In our communities, we have believed the hype that Black women are hyper-fertile. Much of this comes from breeding myths during slavery around our ability to be able to give birth. But the reality is, these myths are incorrect. So it begins with how we have been socialized and educated around our own reproductive health and our Black bodies.
A second reason is that there are many Black women and couples who don’t trust the medical system. And because of this distrust, we’re not accessing health care. We think doctors don’t take us seriously and impose their biases on us. And even today, we still hear stories of Black women and couples having surgeries done on them and being sterilized without permission.
A third reason has to do with research. Most of the research around reproductive health and treatment has primarily been done on white women. So when research shows that in vitro fertilization (IVF) is not as successful with Black women, it’s because the trials haven’t included Black women. Once we start seeing more research done that includes black and brown women and other ethnicities then we’ll be able to tailor treatments better.
A final reason has to do with marketing. We still have a number of fertility clinics that aren’t including women and babies of color and other ethnicities in their marketing. So Black women and couples don’t see themselves in the marketing and if you can’t see yourself, it makes it harder to feel welcome and to trust that you’ll get quality care.
In addition to marketing and staffing, what other recommendations do you have for clinicians and fertility care providers to create a more accessible and equitable experience?
I would say education. The staff working with women of color need to be educated. They need to be equipped with tools on how to be culturally sensitive to the Black women and couples that are coming into their spaces. Something I hear from Black women and couples is they want the doctor and team to partner up with them in their treatment—not to look down on them or talk at them. They want someone to walk with them on their journeys.
Education can also help staff understand their own biases which, a lot of the time, they’re unaware of. It’s important they know what to say and what not to say to make sure they aren’t deterring Black couples. In addition, Black and other ethnicities need to be represented in executive roles and throughout the organization —from doctors to nurses to lab technicians. Making sure staff is inclusive, diverse, and culturally-educated.
Finally, they need to work with organizations like FFCG, who have their pulse on the community and can help them create relationships with the Black community. And they should be open to having these conversations not just during Black History Month, but all the time.
For the communities you work with and those who might not understand their family building options and the resources available to them, what do you want them to know?
I want them to know there are multiple paths to parenthood. And though they are all different, they are not deficient. When I educate the women and couples I coach and that come to me, I help them focus on the goal, which is to be parents and to build a family. When you know the goal, then you can understand that you have other natural options, like IVF, intrauterine insemination, donor eggs or donor sperm, domestic adoption, et cetera.
There is an option and a path that has been designed for everyone and I help them see that. Because when you have options, there are possibilities. I am very intentional about helping to open up the minds of the women and couples that I work with to help them see the goal. Because when you reach the goal of becoming a parent to a child, the reality is that you’re not going to love them any less because it is the child that God has sent you.
Is there a particular memory or moment that stands out for you since you founded Fertility for Colored Girls?
A powerful moment for me was when we gave away our first free IVF [cycle] to a couple. After experiencing a few unsuccessful IVF [rounds], they didn't have any money left and their state of Mississippi doesn’t have insurance toward infertility treatments. So they put their name into our raffle and won. They took the Megabus from Mississippi up to Chicago, Illinois to meet everybody that they had been talking to on the phone during prayer time.
At this time, I was also one month away from giving birth to my daughter after seven in vitro cycles, so I really felt for them. Now they have five-year-old twins. This was significant because it was the first time we were able to provide physical resources to a couple in need.
In addition to this, I am always so honored when women and couples call me and tell me they got a positive pregnancy test after IVF, or that their surrogate is pregnant, or their adoption just got approved. Often, I end up finding out before anyone else in their family does. I’m so honored that these women and couples trust me to share their journeys and their hearts. And most of them have never met me in person, they’ve just talked to me on the phone.
These are women who have cried so many tears in silence and lived so long in shame, and they’ve found a successful path to starting a family. That is what gives me joy and fuels me to keep doing the FFCG work. It reminds me there’s still hope and the work that we are doing is not in vain.
Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about your work with FFCG and your mission?
I will add that I think you are able to have peace on your [infertility] journey when the mind, body and spirit are aligned. Because if any of those aspects are not aligned everything can really fall apart. Therefore, my approach, and the mission of FFCG, is to minister to each aspect of a person’s life as they are all equally important.
In addition, it’s important for people to know the resources that are available to them through FFCG—from grants they can apply for to education to support in our prayer circles. Many Black women and couples struggle with having the resources and support to move forward, so I want to make sure they know this.
To support or donate to Fertility for Colored Girls visit the FFCG site. You can also learn more about the Black Reproductive Endocrinologist and Infertility Specialists making history and bringing hope to their families on 2/25 at 6 pm CT. Register here.
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