Last week I was contacted by a health reporter to discuss the recent birth of Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade’s daughter. Because they have publicly shared a lot about their struggles to conceive, I expected the topic to be infertility, pregnancy via surrogate or gestational carrier or motherhood after 35 ― something along those lines. Instead, the reporter wanted to discuss skin-to-skin contact between an intended parent and a baby born via surrogate or gestational carrier. Why? Because Union and Wade were heavily criticized on social media after she posted a photo of herself doing skin-to-skin with her daughter. She was accused of pretending as if she had given birth because she was in a hospital bed wearing a hospital gown.
After everything this couple has been through and after they bravely chose to share their fertility challenges with the world, this is what some people had to say?
I am sure the positive comments and congratulations far outweighed any negative sentiments, but the fact that even one person said something so hurtful is simply awful. I have to say, though, I am not surprised.
Women and couples — famous or not — who choose to publicly share their struggles with infertility will most certainly hear from friends, acquaintances, family members, strangers or online trolls who have something negative, judgmental or downright nasty to say about what they are going through and the choices they have made in their journey. Once a woman chooses to open up about her troubles conceiving, the “advice” comes pouring in.
I know this because I experienced it.
When my husband and I finally accepted the fact that we were not going to be able to get pregnant without help, I was 40 years old. As an OB/GYN and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, I knew the challenges I could face but was still in no way prepared for the journey that lay ahead.
I decided early on to share my experience with infertility in an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which I explained my reasons for delaying childbearing and the potential troubles with conceiving after age 40 and gave insight into the increasing use of assisted reproductive technology for women trying to conceive after age 35. I truly believed the response would be positive. After all, I had opened the door to a very private and personal struggle in order to educate other women like me and hopefully prevent someone else from going through what I had gone through.
Overall, the response was positive, but here are just a few of the numerous other comments I received on various outlets:
Maybe she could have been a great mother. She will never know now. Maybe she thought she could have it all. If her mother thought so, she probably would never have existed. Glad my mother did not refuse her destiny for the sake of money.
The planet is vastly overpopulated. The last thing we need is assisted human fertility. Contribute to the greater good: refrain from breeding. The species will manage just fine without your precious contribution to the gene pool. Find a less selfish way to give yourself a meaningful life. There are millions of existing disadvantaged kids who could use a hand, for starters.
God has not given you children for a reason. You need to listen and find other ways to fulfill yourself.
You are just trying to get attention. You chose a career over family. You made your bed and are lying in it now. I hope the money was worth it, doctor.
And some comments were much more vile.
Many women struggling to conceive choose to share their stories with the intention of shedding light on a taboo topic and helping others who are experiencing something similar feel that they are not so alone. I truly believe it is a selfless act because, as a woman, not being able to conceive is one of the hardest, most humiliating and most personal life events to experience. Celebrities have a much bigger platform, so some bravely choose to use that platform to reach more women and couples.
But one can quickly come to second-guess that choice when faced with damaging comments, even if they are few. The people making these harmful comments must not understand or even consider that every woman in this situation already carries a tremendous amount of guilt and shame and questions herself and her decisions daily. After all, a woman struggling with infertility is still a woman with a heart, and comments like that hurt.
Despite all the wonderful and encouraging words of support, it was comments like these that stuck in my head, put a pit in my stomach and gave me doubts.
Thankfully, I am not one to let anyone or anything get the best of me. I went on to share in another very personal piece how I became pregnant with twins via an egg donor, and I still write about and share my experiences with fertility, pregnancy and motherhood after age 40.
I am contacted by many women seeking advice, words of encouragement or a shoulder to lean on. I still get hateful, aggressive, ridiculous critiques, but I have grown a much thicker skin and can let them roll off. I have made a conscious decision to remain transparent despite any negativity thrown my way. I am frequently asked why I speak so freely and am willing to take a hit for the infertility struggle. The answer I give is simple.
If I can help just one woman on a path similar to mine or any woman living with infertility, it is worth it, and I have every intention of being honest about every step of the path I took.
Maybe it is the doctor in me who wants to help and heal. Maybe, in some way, sharing my experiences has been therapeutic for me. Maybe I am willing to be the cautionary tale for other women who think they can easily get pregnant later in life, when the reality is that many women in the media who are getting pregnant well into their 40s are doing so with assisted reproductive technology and egg donor but aren’t willing to share that part of their story. Maybe I hope my choice to be transparent is making others more willing to share their stories and take away a little of the shame one journey at a time.
So to Union and all the other women sharing their unconventional journeys to motherhood, thank you. Thank you for your openness and transparency. You are brave, you are strong, and you are my heroes. You are helping many women who haven’t found a voice and are still waiting. The good that will come of your efforts will far outweigh the bad and the ugly. I promise.