Bonus Episode 9: Infertility in the Black Community: Understanding Your Health Conditions and Finding the Right Doctor
This February, Progyny hosted the webinar, “Infertility in the Black Community: Understanding Your Health Conditions and Finding the Right Doctor,” to honor Black History Month and shed some light on the racial disparities in healthcare. This is an expansion on the July webinar, “Fertility and Maternal Health in the Black Community.”
Progyny’s moderator, Lissa Kline, guides experts Dr. Kanika Harris, Director of Maternal Health at Black Women’s Health Imperative (and previous guest on Episode 93), and Dr. Isiah Harris, a reproductive endocrinologist at Spring Fertility in a discussion around myths about Black women and infertility, conditions like uterine fibroids that disproportionately affect Black women, access to care, how to find the right doctor, and much more.
While this webinar is definitely worth the listen, we understand that life gets busy and have provided a summary for you here.
Experts: Dr. Kanika Harris, Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), Dr. Isiah Harris, Spring Fertility
Host: Lissa Kline, Dan Bulger (Intro)
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Here are some highlights from this episode:
Debunking Myths: Racism Doesn’t Exist in Healthcare
Lissa Kline: I’m going to stay with you Dr. Kanika. Harris, for one last myth to bust. We hear this sometimes, racism does not exist within the healthcare community. I think that’s a fairly easy one to grasp, but I’m curious to hear your perspective.
Dr. Kanika Harris: I can definitely debunk this myth. This is like the crux of Black Women’s Health Imperative’s mission. Racism is so pervasive in the medical community. Finally, the American Medical Association is recognizing racism as a threat to public health and a threat to healthcare – they have just made this new announcement around racism and how it affects care. It’s so profound and unjust in terms of inequalities and care for Black communities, and we can clearly see that within the COVID-19 pandemic. We have higher rates of maternal death and infant mortality than our White counterparts, and then you have issues such as lack of access to care, and pervasive stereotypes about Black and Brown people. For example, our ability to handle pain not being listened to. In a study from the University of Michigan, that was called Silent and Infertile, it highlights infertility in that we are clear that we have infertility issues that Black women, and as Dr. Isaiah Harris mentioned, that we suffer from more infertility issues than our White counterparts. However, the research and the focus in terms of infertility does not consider our perspective. We are left out in the research and what we have access to, so there’s just a stark imbalance in between research access studying Black women and Black families in terms of infertility and what’s available to us. So Right now, we need to catch up to what the actual statistics say so that we can address the science, the needs, and the unique concerns of Black women.
Progyny Member Point of View
Lissa Kline: What are some health conditions, specifically related to fertility, which are more prevalent in this community that have an impact on women’s infertility?
Dr. Isiah Harris: I want to piggyback off one thing that Dr. Kanika Harris mentioned in her last response, which is that access is not just about Black women going and showing up for care, but it’s also about them getting referrals for care, and once they’re there, being believed and having their information taken seriously. And one of the examples that for me really stood out, and I think a lot of people were moved by the video, but I thought equally jarring, the situation that happened to Dr. Susan Moore. She as someone who was a physician herself was seeking care for COVID, she was seeking pain relief for her ailments. And within a situation where she just did not feel believed and was not believed, she ultimately passed away. And this is someone who has a heavy understanding of complicated medical terminology. And so, I think that a lot of times, it does come down to an access issue. And there are definitely different ways that access challenges can manifest. But beyond that, there truly are some inherent epidemiologic and medical differences that Black women face that pose a greater risk to their reproductive health. And that includes things like being exposed to sexually transmitted infections that can result in things like tubal factor infertility. Things like, even though the Black women who do utilize IVF services and may have very similar characteristics coming into treatment cycles have a lower pregnancy rates and lower or higher miscarriage rates than other women do. And one of the probably the most prevalent kind of physical difference that we often identify for Black women is the prevalence of fibroids. In the Black population, fibroids can affect about 50% of Black women.
It’s Not Race, It’s Racism
31:44 – 33:38
Lissa Kline: I’m curious to know, or to have you tell us what the Black Women’s Health Imperative is doing to try to change the conversations and specifically a recent study, you all produce, which I thought was really powerful, called what healthy black women can teach us about health. And I want to know how, how we can promote a healthy lifestyle within a specific community.
Dr. Kanika Harris: The overarching message that the Black Women’s Health Imperative tries to teach to Black women, and not just Black women, but anyone who cares about Black women (working with Black women, supports Black women), is that there’s nothing inherently inferior or wrong with you. There’s nothing so different about your lifestyle habits compared to other races that will create these disparities that we experience on so many levels, from diabetes, to heart disease to all these things. When you look at all of the chronic conditions that Black women experience, underlying all of that is not race, but it’s racism. We’re going say that again, it’s not race, but it’s racism. And that’s an important first step to kind of shift the narrative. Because when you hear over and over again about every health crisis – Black women are two to three times more likely to have this, Black women are more likely to die from that –it can be daunting. And if you really don’t understand and change the narrative and focus on the structural issues in society that are causing these disparities, and start the conversation from there, then you just continue to perpetuate stereotypes, especially when it comes to health behaviors and beliefs about what the Black community does and what Black people do. I can tell you, there’s nothing vastly different from what we eat, how we live, that is so different than from what White people do across all economic spectrums that will cause us to have such different outcomes.
Lissa oversees the Patient Care Advocates and the Provider Relations Team. She worked at Columbia University Medical Center for several years in the division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Involved in Patient Services and the Donor Egg Program, she loved working with patients while they underwent fertility treatment. Lissa graduated with a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University.
Kanika Harris, PhD, MPH, is a Health Equity Strategist and Reproductive Justice Advocate for the Black Women’s Health Imperative. Since 2014, she has also been an Independent Consultant for American Public Health Association. Her expertise lies in Public Health Equity Strategy, specifically in the Nonprofit space.
Dr. Harris is a Bay Area native, who attended college at Duke University and then completed medical school at UCSF.
He left the Bay once more to complete his Obstetrics & Gynecology Residency at Harvard’s esteemed Brigham & Women’s Hospital. After completing his fellowship in reproductive endocrinology, Dr. Harris transitioned into seeing patients at Kaiser and, most recently, developing their IVF program in Santa Clara and Fremont.
Through patient surveys, Dr. Harris has earned both the Patients’ Choice Award and the Most Compassionate Physician Award. We’re so excited to have Dr. Harris, for both his remarkable communication skills and inherent sensitivity toward his patients and colleagues.