When actress Gabrielle Union and her husband, NBA star Dwyane Wade, surprised the internet last week with photos of them holding their newborn daughter Kaavia James Union Wade — born via surrogate — my happiness was as if one of my closest girlfriends had shared the news. I was one of the supporters who applauded Gabby’s transparency for opening up about her fertility struggles in her 2017 memoir, We’re Going to Need More Wine, and I’ve been rooting for her and D. Wade ever since. (Sidenote: D. Wade’s embracing of fatherhood shows why it’s also necessary for men to speak up about infertility.)
The following day, I saw a snippet of an interview between my forever First Lady Michelle Obama and Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts where Obama revealed that her daughters, Malia and Sasha, were both conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF). I had already pre-ordered Obama’s memoir Becoming, which was released earlier this week, so I looked forward to reading more about this new nugget of information that has added to the depth of respect and admiration I hold for the Obamas.
While Union and Obama aren’t the first celebrities to open up about their non-linear path to parenthood, the frequency of these occurrences was significant. Studies suggest that Black women are almost twice as likely as white women to suffer from infertility. Yet, we’re less likely to receive infertility treatment, typically waiting longer than our white counterparts before seeing a fertility specialist. Why is the Black community prone to suffer in silence about an issue that seems so common in our community?
Someone who knows the journey all too well is Charlotte resident, and 2018 Mrs. North Carolina, Nichelle Sublett. The healthcare professional and her husband Harold married in 2013 and quickly began trying to start a family. After difficulty getting pregnant, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), one of the leading causes of infertility. The Subletts have been pregnant five times and, unfortunately, have experienced five miscarriages. She had enough of suffering in silence and publicly shared her story. She used her platform to raise awareness about infertility and pregnancy loss and encourages others to do the same with her #StartAsking hashtag. Sublett and her husband have five embryos left and said they haven’t given up hope of having a family.
I spoke with Sublett about Charlotte resources for fertility support, the impact of celebrity testimonies and more.
You describe yourself as a fertility advocate. Why is this an important topic to discuss?
I’m extremely passionate about raising awareness because I feel like women of color are often the last to know about these things. It’s assumed — and it’s a dangerous stereotype — that we’re the most fertile, that we have no miscarriages and that we have no issues having children.
I feel like it’s just on the cusp of really getting the kind of attention it deserves. With the attention, I believe that’s going to lead to more [media] coverage and more employers covering infertility so that people can have the resources to have a family because that’s a big issue.
Do you feel there is a supportive community in Charlotte for women experiencing infertility?
It’s like a silent sorority that no one wants to be part of, and once you tell someone that you’re part of it, they open up to say they’re part of it too. There are different reasons why women of color don’t talk about it or seek access. For one, the cost of infertility services, and then there’s a lack of awareness. There’s also the shame and fear within our culture. Unfortunately, I think it’s very similar to mental illness where a lot of times you’re told to pray about it versus seeking help. That’s why I’m so glad that Michelle Obama said they used IVF so that people could see that there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a medical necessity sometimes.
How do you think recent celebrity testimonies have impacted the conversation about infertility?
Right after Michelle Obama came out, a woman that I met through one of my support groups reached out and asked if we could meet. She said because of me, and Michelle Obama, that now she’s ready to go public with her story. And, she is a woman of color. She’s always been ashamed, embarrassed and didn’t want to show her flaws. But she said, “If a president’s wife can come out and say this happened to me, then I’m doing a disservice to other women by not speaking out. Especially for women of color.”
I would encourage more women to open up the conversation. You can start small by talking to your friends and family. You don’t have to go to social media or go public. I would encourage women to lean on each other and be open about it. It’s hurting our community when we’re finding out when it’s too late.
Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.