Growing up in a hyper-religious family in the Midwest lent itself to easily identifying as “pro-life”. One of the ten commandments included not murdering others and denying a person the right to life was easily seen as murder. However, as I lived in a fairly liberal town for the majority of my life and became a women’s and gender studies major in college, I seamlessly converted my mindset from being aggressively pro-life to being aggressively pro-choice. In my new found worldview, people had the right to be able to have abortions if and when that was necessary for themselves and their families. People had the right to access birth control if and when they needed it. However, this cursory understanding of the complex issues around reproduction was quickly troubled during my summer internship with an obstetrician-gynecologist.
Let’s call my obstetrician-gynecologist mentor Jill. Jill was a White woman from New York who came to my town to do a family planning fellowship at a local university. Part of one of the requirements for her fellowship was to come up with a research project. Her decision was to come up with a reproductive justice curriculum for physicians and physicians in training. Now, I had never really heard about a fully fleshed out reproductive justice concept before I had met her. But in my internship, I quickly learned that reproductive justice was not simply the ability to make a decision about whether or not someone would birth a child, but is the ability to make a decision about how to raise children and being able to raise children in healthy environments. This framework challenged important topics ranging from the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women to beds during labor to the Flint Water Crisis, which was troublingly close to home for me. At that moment, as I poured through Dorothy Robert’s Killing the Black Body, I knew that I wanted to support reproductive justice in my career as a future gynecologist. I wanted to challenge the notion that we should stop at caring about abortion and contraceptive access. But we should also care about the women who want to have children and are concerned about the violent or toxic environments in which their children may grow up.
As my knowledge around reproductive justice blossomed into a senior thesis in my women’s and gender studies major, I began to think about who reproductive justice wasn’t reaching. When I found out I had miscarried my own child and reflected on the work that I did with people who experienced pregnancy loss and infertility research that had sparked my interest, I saw a glaring population that reproductive justice seamlessly ignored: people who could not become pregnant and people who wanted to be pregnant. And I remember the first time I clearly felt that this was a reproductive justice issue, despite the fact that I had always believed if a person could not have children they could simply adopt.
Within the same week, two women, one who could not safely become pregnant and one who was having trouble becoming pregnant told me the same thing after I had suggested they look into adoption: “I would love to, but I cannot afford adoption.” So many people quickly believe that women who want to become pregnant and are unable to do so should simply adopt children. However, we are unable to recognize our privilege and our ignorance when we leave these women out of our minds and out of reproductive justice organizing. Adoption is exceptionally pricey, even if a child is adopted domestically. The average cost of domestic adoption through an agency in the United States is priced at almost $40,000 while the price of adopting a child without an agency was nearly $35,000. The price of adopting internationally was much greater. Given that the average household income in the United States is $58,000, many families are unable to incur the expenses, let alone the time, it takes to adopt a child. While it seems as though we are doing something harmless in telling someone to simply go adopt a child, in reality, our words translate to, “If you cannot get pregnant naturally and you are unable to afford to pay for adoption, you do not deserve to pass any lasting part of yourself to the world.” This is something seriously damaging and does not align well with reproductive justice at all. We want people to have the children that they want.
As infertility is a growing problem in the United States and that impacts Black women at higher rates than women of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, it is important that this is added to the framework of reproductive justice. Given the long and complex history that Black women have with reproduction and being allowed to reproduce at all, we must ensure that our reproductive justice movement doesn’t forget the women who desperately want to have kids and are unable to do so. It is important that our fight includes women who desperately want children and are unsuccessful in using in vitro fertilization because it only works approximately half the time. It is important that we recognize not all women have insurance plans which pay for in vitro fertilization.
When we add women who cannot have children to the movement which tries to encompass as many women as possible, we create a better movement and we take care of the women who so many forget about.
Micaela Stevenson (she/her/hers) is a 20-year-old first-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in April 2018 in Biochemistry and Women’s and Gender Studies from Eastern Michigan University with a minor in Health and Illness studies graduating with honors in all three of her disciplines and magna cum laude. Micaela hopes to use research experience and medical education to become an academic obstetrician-gynecologist in underserved urban communities.