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Not less of a woman: Infertility, IVF, miscarriages, surrogates and choosing childlessness

The ability to give birth is widely touted as a woman’s defining feature. Having children – or wanting them, and how you have them are a source of anxiety for many women. In this respect, famous women such as Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Gabrielle Union, Beyoncé and Tracee Ellis Ross help give voice to all women.

Having children may appear a natural part of a woman’s life but many women suffer in the name of this lofty ideology. Not only is pregnancy far from easy but not all women want to have children to begin with. Society has placed so much significance on childbearing that women are debilitated by the anxiety and rarely share their struggles on child bearing.

Too often, women who battle with infertility are made to feel like failures even when they spend thousands of dollars to put themselves through the physical and emotional rigours of fertilisation treatments and assisted reproduction cycles. Others silently suffer multiple miscarriages in the journey towards motherhood and are forced to constantly face the world in this state of mental pain and instability.

We also have the women who chose childlessness; women who have no desire to be mothers for reasons ranging from a lack of emotional capacity, financial constraints or even the inability to care for another person to the extent that a child needs. These are all valid personal reasons but they are considered to be “selfish” and “unnatural”. When the world should be congratulating such women for making a responsible decision that is in the best interests of both parties – after all, an ill-equipped mother would struggle through motherhood and the child would be damaged by it – they are criticised and shunned.

Women have kept their reproductive battles to themselves for fear of ridicule and misunderstanding, but there is healing in sharing these struggles – especially with other women. Prominent women are speaking out and their stories resonate with multitudes of women around the world.

“I felt like I had failed”: Michelle Obama opens up about IVF

Former First Lady of the US, Michelle Obama, has released a memoir in which she reveals that she had a miscarriage and used in vitro fertilisation to conceive both her children, Malia and Sasha.

While promoting her book, Mrs Obama told ABC that, in the period following her miscarriage, “I felt like I failed because I didn’t know how common miscarriages were because we don’t talk about them. We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we’re broken,” she said, adding, “It’s important to talk to young mothers about the fact that miscarriages happen.”

When she turned 34, she admits to realising that “the biological clock is real” and that “egg production is limited”, which made her decide to seek in-vitro fertilisation.

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a form of assisted reproduction that involves removing eggs from a woman, fertilising them with sperm in a lab and implanting the resulting embryo into the woman’s uterus. It is very expensive and couples typically require more than one attempt.

“I think it’s the worst thing that we do to each other as women – to not share the truth about our bodies and how they work,” Mrs Obama lamented.

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JOIN ME ON MY BOOK TOUR! #IAmBecoming I’m from the South Side of Chicago. I went to Princeton and Harvard. I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I’ve been a lawyer, a nonprofit leader, a hospital executive, and First Lady of the United States. I like to call these my “stats” – the shorthand we all seem to default to whenever we tell our stories. Where are you from? What do you do? What school did you go to? As I’ve written my memoir, BECOMING, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my story, mining it for the kinds of details I’d usually just brush off or even forget about—the narrow taillights of my father’s car, a talk with my mother on a drive home, the heat of my daughter’s forehead when she ran a fever. And in doing so, I’ve realized that those surface-level “stats” don’t really tell my story at all. This fall, I’d like to share that fuller story with all of you on my book tour. It’s the story of my humdrum plainness, my tiny victories, my lasting bruises, my ordinary hopes and worries. It’s the story of who I am, truly, and I’m proud of it—blemishes and all. Go to to find out where I’ll be and how to get tickets. #IAmBecoming I hope to see you somewhere along the way!

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“The mother of my children both living and dead”: Beyoncé Knowles shares about her miscarriage

Following the release of her Lemonade album and the birth of her twins, music legend Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, revealed that they have gone through multiple losses.

The first revelation happened in the singer’s 2013 HBO documentary, Life is But a Dream, where she opened up about a devastating miscarriage before the birth of her daughter Blue Ivy in 2012.

“About two years ago, I was pregnant for the first time,” she says in the documentary. “And I heard the heartbeat, which was the most beautiful music I ever heard in my life. I picked out names, I envisioned what my child would look like. I was feeling very maternal. My first child…”

She went on to lose the child in the early stages of her pregnancy. “I flew back to New York to get my check up – and no heartbeat,” she says. “Literally the week before I went to the doctor, everything was fine, but there was no heartbeat.”

In “4:44” the emotional title track on Jay-Z’s latest album, he appears to apologise to his wife for the pain she had to endure in miscarrying their children.

“So I apologise… I’ve seen the innocence leave your eyes. I still mourn this death. I apologise for all the stillborns. Cause I wasn’t present, your body wouldn’t accept it.”

Read: Teenage pregnancy and challenges to the realisation of sexual and reproductive rights in Nigeria

“Get out of My Uterus”: Tracee Ellis Ross discusses her decision to remain childless

Despite her numerous achievements many can’t get over the fact that 45-year-old “Black-ish” star Tracee Ellis Ross hasn’t settled down.

“It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids,” Ross said. “Especially when you have just pushed out your fifth kid on TV. You start hearing crazy shit like: ‘Oh, you just haven’t found the right guy yet,’ ‘What are you going to DO?’ ‘Oh, you poor thing,’ ‘Why is someone like you still single,’ ‘Have you ever thought of having kids?’ ‘Why don’t you just have a kid on your own?’ It’s never ending and not helpful.” She told Essence

The actress said that one day, while writing in her journal, she wrote the words “My life is mine” and she’s lived by those words ever since.

“If my life is actually mine…then I have to really live it for myself. I have to put myself first and not be looking for permission to do so,” she said. “The Brave You gives you the courage to hold your own agency, your own choice, your own desire, your own longings, your own fear, your own grief, your own future. She’s just one aspect of your soul that helps you become your fully embodied and completely integrated real, true self.”

In a separate interview on her partnership with the United Explorer Credit Card, Ross said, “I also want to be clear that my choices around being a mother have nothing to do with my career, they are not connected. It is not that I have chosen or not chosen because of or not because of my career, and I think that that is an old school way of looking at things that I am attempting, in my candid sharing with people, to help dismantle.”

“For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant”: Gabrielle Union talks surrogacy

The 46 year old actress and author Gabrielle Union opened up about her problems conceiving in her book We’re Going To Need More Wine, saying she has had “eight or nine” miscarriages.

“For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant,” Gabrielle wrote in her book. “I’ve either been about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle, or coming out of an IVF cycle.”

She revealed that the cause of her infertility is a condition called adenomyosis, which is similar to endometriosis, where endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus, making sustaining pregnancy difficult or improbable.

The star eventually opted for surrogacy to achieve her dream of motherhood. Surrogacy is a fertility treatment in which a woman carries and delivers a pregnancy for another couple. The surrogate mother may be the child’s genetic mother (as in the case of traditional surrogacy) or she may be genetically unrelated to the child (called gestational surrogacy).

In some cases women opt for surrogacy because pregnancy poses a threat to her as in the case of Kim Kardashian West. On her website the controversial celebrity explained in her own words the struggles she experienced in both her pregnancies writing, “Last pregnancy, I had a condition called preeclampsia, which is a serious condition you can get during pregnancy; often, the only way to get rid of it is to deliver early to protect yourself and the baby.” Preeclampsia is extremely rare, and, “causes your body and face to swell, and that was very uncomfortable for me.”

She also revealed she experienced an additional complication during delivery called placenta accreta. “She wrote, “Right after delivery, the placenta usually then comes out. Mine did not. My placenta stayed attached inside my uterus, which is a condition called placenta accreta. This is a high-risk condition that happens when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall.”

Her Third child Chicago West was therefore delivered via a surrogate.

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My baby Chi 💕

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Reproduction is not to be taken lightly and whether a woman chose not to take the path to motherhood or to suffer through it, her position requires strength and resilience. Be mindful of the casual questions you ask the women around you about reproduction because you do not know the battles she may have faced or the scars she has collected along the way.

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