IVF as a Black, Queer Woman Showed Me Sperm Banks’ Diversity Problem First-Hand

As my wife and I scrolled through our options on the cryobank’s website, it was clear it would be a challenge to find a sperm donor of color.

A Black Lesbian couple sits on the couch with their newborn

RuslanDashinsky/Getty Images

As early as ten years old, I dreamed of having a family. I wanted nothing more than to be pregnant and carry a baby. As a Black, queer woman, I’d considered the various ways I could get pregnant, whether with a known donor or an anonymous one. I also wanted to adopt. When the time came to make my dream a reality, my wife and I chose to try in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to expand our family. But we’d soon learn that the IVF journey is a wild ride. From finding the right cryobank to saving up enough money to finding the right reproductive endocrinologist to the mental and emotional roller coaster ride of it all, having a baby with a sperm donor is not a one-size-fits-all journey.

As my wife, who is a Sri Lankan American, and I scrolled through and talked about our thousands of options on the cryobank’s website, one thing was clear; it would be a challenge to find the kind of sperm donor we wanted, a sperm donor of color. We’d researched various cryobanks, including some recommended to us by our lesbian friends who’d conceived. There were only a handful of men of color listed on any of the sites. With over 41 sperm banks in the United States, we wanted to choose the best one for us as queer women of color.

We could filter our selection based on race, height, and other characteristics, including educational background. Our search was limited to the profiles staring back at us. The Washington Post reports less than two percent of sperm donors at cryobanks are Black. This leaves Black women who want Black sperm donors with limited options. Many systemic factors—like a minimal effort to recruit Black and brown individuals and a narrow, exclusionary selection process—limit the number of Black and POC donors.  

Dr. Shaun C. Williams, a Partner in Reproductive Endocrinology at Illume Fertility and board certified in both Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, notes a willingness to donate further limits options. “In some communities, sperm donation is not as common or accepted, and there may be limitations based on those willing to participate in the process,” he says. People don’t often talk about what it means to be a sperm donor or what it can do for someone trying to conceive, whether hetero or queer. Our journey taught us that the IVF process is still taboo in our South Asian and Black households. 

When our first IVF cycle was unsuccessful, I was devastated. My body had endured injections, my emotional state was fragile, and I felt like my body had failed us. Our attempt also taught us I suffered from massive and plentiful uterine fibroids, which deemed me infertile. Afterward, we switched clinics and started all over again. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 patients (19%) are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying and are determined to have infertility. The data shows that Black and Latinx women are more likely to be infertile than White women.  

We're fortunate to live in 1 of the 17 states that mandate insurance companies offer or cover infertility diagnosis and treatments. But many others don't. Despite our struggles, we knew we weren’t ready to give up, but the cost—both in peace of mind and dollars—was an area of concern. 

Dr. Camille Hammond, CEO of the Cade Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing information and financial support to families in need to help them overcome their infertility challenges, says sperm banks and others in the reproductive health space can help by acknowledging the racial disparities and educating those working within the industry. “When you have people who understand and do more, the challenge and opportunity are to educate clinics and agencies that work in the reproductive health space, to improve their outreach and engagement in communities of color because disparities exist,” Hammond says, noting we must acknowledge the issues before we can fix them.

We're fortunate to live in 1 of 17 states that mandate insurance companies that offer or cover infertility diagnosis and treatments. But many others don't. Despite our struggles, we knew we weren’t ready to give up, but the cost—both in peace of mind and dollars—was an area of concern. 

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, one IVF cycle costs over $12,000 in the United States. But the $12,000 does not include the cost of the medications you need before, during, and after conception. There are injections and pills, suppositories, and more injections, and all of those things add up. “For couples or individuals without coverage for fertility services, the cost of more advanced fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be quite prohibitive,” says Williams. “In addition, most fertility clinics are located in larger metropolitan regions, and some patients must travel several hours to access care. This certainly affects individuals in rural areas more significantly, but is not directly tied to race.”

Despite barriers, we eventually found a Sri Lankan donor and learned we were pregnant with twins. Dr. Hammonnd says finding sperm and eggs of color is a challenge, but it’s possible. “I want to encourage everyone that just because they aren’t seeing diversity doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist,” says Hammond advising people looking for sperm or egg donors of color, “Perhaps at their clinic, there aren’t as many sperm donors or egg donors of color. But I encourage people to look at smaller organizations.” There are organizations helping people on their IVF journey, like the Resilient Sisterhood ProjectFertility for Colored Girls, and the Tinina Q. Cade Foundation. The more we talk about the resources and normalize that IVF and sperm donation are real methods that work for pregnancy, the less alone people will feel. I found a community when I began talking about my IVF journey. After my twin daughters were born, I kept talking about my IVF journey and what it was like being a mom of multiples. 

While there are challenges for women, especially for women of color on the IVF journey, finding a sperm donor of color should not be one of them. It is hard enough working to grow a family, to get pregnant, but let us take comfort in knowing that there are organizations, clinics, and resources out there to help.

The lesson we know too well as people of color, Black women and couples, is that we should never give up. 

Editor's Note

Though this story addresses IVF for cisgender couples, Kindred by Parents acknowledges that not all birthing people identify as women.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles