Why talking about infertility matters so much to me

For so long I have listened to girlfriends talk about the infertility challenges they battle behind closed doors. I have watched them struggle silently. They move forward with their careers, go to church, the gym — all while carrying this painful secret. 

I have single friends in their 30s who are thinking about freezing their eggs. I have other friends who have dealt with fibroids for years and they’ve had surgeries that have damaged their uteruses and potentially caused fertility issues. I have friends who found out later in life that they have endometriosis. I have friends who have suffered miscarriages. I have friends going through in vitro fertilization. Sometimes after long conversations on the phone, I’ll hang up feeling helpless. 

These secret struggles have touched me, too. I’ve never talked about this, but I had a miscarriage once, before my first son. I was an anchor in Philadelphia and I was pretty stressed out at the time. I remember finding out that something was wrong; the doctor told me the baby’s heartbeat was weak. In response, I did what a lot of women do: I just kept moving forward. I was at a journalism conference and I was going from table to table, meeting people in the news business, networking in my blazer and heels and feeling so sick. I miscarried while I was there.

The doctor told me the baby’s heartbeat was weak. I did what a lot of women do: I just kept moving forward.

It took one of my mentors saying, “Sheinelle, go back to your hotel room and rest. This is traumatic.” I was so, so, so sad. Nothing could make me feel better. You’re grieving. I remember asking my girlfriend, “When is this sadness going to end?” I took a couple days off, but it was the news business — I had to get back to work. It was so painful, but I think you take the grief and tuck it away somewhere as you move forward in life.

Shortly after, I had my first son, who is now 12 years old, and then my twins, who are now 9. I didn’t have any problems with those pregnancies, and today I can’t imagine my life being any different. But it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I even remembered how painful that experience was. It’s amazing what the mind will do to move forward with grief. I had completely forgotten how dark that time was. Then I think about all the women who are still stuck in that place of grief, and I just want to help. 

As a society, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by letting people navigate something so challenging in silence. We need to talk about what women are really dealing with. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a researcher. But I am a journalist, and I can tell stories. 

One of the women I talked with said that when she was told she would need IVF, she panicked. She said, “When I think of IVF, I think of rich, white women. I’m not white or rich, so does that mean there’s no hope for me?” 

We’re starting to hear more about infertility, but so many voices are missing. There are certain challenges that women of color face that I think people underestimate. Fibroids, which can affect fertility, disproportionately affect women of color. There’s not enough research. Then you start to ask, “Why isn’t there enough research? Do I not matter? Is my fertility not as important?”

Since I announced I was doing this documentary (“Stories We Tell: The Fertility Secret” airs on MSNBC on Sunday), I’ve received so many messages — not only from viewers but from people in my life I had no idea were having challenges. A lot of older women in my life came to me and said, “Oh, I had a miscarriage, but I just had to grieve and keep moving forward.” My own mom told me she had a miscarriage. I had no idea. It’s not that our families who haven’t told us these stories are trying to do us a disservice; it’s that we have been fed this narrative that women must be strong. We put our head down, push through and keep walking, but I believe the notion of being strong can come at a cost. 

We have been fed this narrative that women must be strong … but I believe the notion of being strong can come at a cost.

This documentary isn’t just about having a baby. Some people choose to adopt, and others choose to not have children. All of those choices are OK. These issues affect young women and girls, too. It’s about quality of life. I’ve interviewed a woman who had to change her wedding day because she was in so much pain. She’s missed classes, sometimes not left the house for two weeks. Some women have to adjust their entire lives around their cycles, and you would have no idea. Even the word “cycle” instead of “period” … there are all these veils around femininity. 

It is my hope that viewers feel empowered. It doesn’t have to be depressing. I’ve met so many people who say, “I wish I would have known.” I hope I can encourage mothers to talk with their daughters about challenges they may have had — whether it’s about fibroids or endometriosis or trying to get pregnant. I hope I can encourage fathers to have open conversations with their wives and daughters. I hope I can help women feel seen and less isolated. We are all in this together. 

As told to Rheana Murray

Sheinelle Jones is the executive producer of “Stories We Tell: The Fertility Secret,” a documentary that highlights stories of infertility among Black women. It airs on MSNBC On Sunday, Dec. 19 at 10 p.m. EST.

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