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After My Isolating Fertility Experience, I Started A Nonprofit For Black People

Welcome to Refinery29’s Fertility Diaries, where people chronicle their joyous, painful, and sometimes complicated paths to parenthood. Today, we hear from Stacey Edwards-Dunn, DMin, a 51-year-old woman in Illinois who has gone through IVF seven times, experienced pregnancy loss, and started a fertility awareness organization for people and couples of color. 
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Since I was a very little girl, I’ve always been the mothering type. From the age of 11, I knew I wanted to be a doctor and to be married with a child. In the meantime, I did what I was supposed to do. I went to school, got a good job. Went to school again. And again. I became the executive minister at the Trinity United Church of Christ. I found me a husband and got married in 2007. At the time, I was 37 years old and my husband knew I didn’t want to wait too long to have a child. 
They say to “try” for a year before involving doctors, but I didn’t wait. I went to a fertility specialist and got a surprise diagnosis — I had unexplained infertility. I knew nothing about infertility. As an African American woman, I didn’t really even know it existed within our community. 
I was told that the only way I could get pregnant would be through in vitro fertilization (IVF), which came with a high price tag. We heard it could be about $25,000, which we couldn’t afford. And it wasn’t covered by my insurance. That’s when I heard about IVF vacations, where you go to another country for the procedure to save money. I looked into Barbados and South Africa because the doctors were very likely caring for more Black and brown bodies than other options. After looking at reviews and talking to doctors and patients, we decided to go with Barbados. We ended up doing two cycles — the first cost $7,500 and the second cost $5,000 — but neither cycle worked. So we came back to the U.S. to try. 
I went to three fertility clinics in total and had four different doctors. In one of the fertility clinics that I visited, I experienced a lot of racism, including microaggressions, being talked down to, or them making assumptions about me because I was Black. 
After three more failed attempts at IVF after the first two rounds in Barbados, my final doctor tried something different. She did a few more tests and realized I only had one fallopian tube and a unicornuate uterus, meaning my uterus is basically shaped like a banana. This completely changed her course of action.
After making these adjustments, we did a sixth attempt in 2012, and I got a positive pregnancy test. Just two weeks later, they came back and told me I was no longer pregnant. I was so devastated. I took some time off and even started moving forward with adoption, but my husband said, “Let’s try IVF one more time. I think if we do, we’ll get pregnant.” I said okay, but said to God, “If this is for me, show me. I can’t carry this weight any longer. You just have your way.” 
In 2013, at age 43, we did our seventh cycle, which we’d decided would be our final one. In January 2014, we found out we were pregnant with twins. We lost one, but one made it. Nine months later, I gave birth to my now seven-year-old daughter. 
During the seven years I was trying to have my daughter, I realized there was no place for Black women, people, and couples struggling with infertility to go and have conversations about their own unique experiences. In my work as a minister, couples often came to see me for counseling regarding their own fertility journeys. As a result of those encounters and my own personal experience, in March of 2013, God led me to start Fertility For Colored Girls, a nonprofit that offers support to Black people and couples struggling with infertility, miscarriage, and loss. Nine years later, we have 16 locations all across the nation. Because I know firsthand how expensive it can be (I spent upwards of $100,000 out of pocket), one of our main priorities is helping people with grants and funding for all sorts of fertility journeys — from IVF to surrogacy to adoption.
Fertility For Colored Girls is my life's work. In the African American community, infertility is a silent giant. Most people think that Black women and men do not have a problem getting pregnant. A lot of this comes from breeding myths, specifically ones that started during slavery. These myths spur a lot of shame, but infertility in our community is not uncommon. Black women struggle with infertility at two times the rate [of white women].
Fertility clinics have begun to market specifically to Black people and other people of color, but they still have a lot of work to do. It’s important that Black people see themselves when they come through the clinic doors. It helps to have staff who are diverse and who are educated about unconscious biases and ready to meet patients where they are. Providers need to be able to partner with African American women in their journey. There’s a lot of distrust of medical providers in our communities and doctors need to make an effort to regain that trust. Infertility affects everyone of all ethnicities, races, and socio-economic statuses, not just rich, white women.
After I had my daughter, I still had embryos leftover from my final cycle. We figured we’d try again. We did three frozen embryo transfers, and, with the final frozen transfer attempt, we transferred one embryo and it unexpectedly split. At 50 years old, the Lord blessed me with identical twin girls. 
My children have changed my life in a number of ways. They have increased my faith and reminded me that God didn’t forget about me, even though my prayers were delayed. Overall, I’m so honored to be their mother. They say that when you have children, it’s like your heart is outside your body — it’s true. Now I have these three little people out there who have my heart.
This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
As told to senior writer Molly Longman.

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