Lilliana Vazquez's IVF Journey Shed Light on Troubling Racial Disparities in Fertility

After a six-year IVF journey, Emmy-winning host Lilliana Vazquez announced her pregnancy. Now she's speaking out about her difficulties and how false stereotypes about fertility impact the Latinx community.

Lilliana Vazquez
Photo: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty (1)

Six years ago, E! News host Lilliana Vazquez was 35 and thriving in her career. The last thing on her mind was getting pregnant, she says. But after her gynecologist found her levels of anti-müllerian hormone (AMH)—an indicator of the quantity of a woman's healthy eggs—were "virtually undetectable," she was urged to see a specialist to get a clearer picture of her fertility and reproductive health.

"Every doctor said that if I really wanted to carry a baby, I needed to get started sooner than later," recalls Vazquez.

That moment kicked off five years spent on a dozen intrauterine insemination (IUI) cycles and four rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF). "Over that time, I took a lot of breaks," says Vazquez. "Physically, emotionally, it was just too draining."

Vazquez's journey really opened her eyes to the stereotypes and stigma that exist in the Latinx community. "One dangerous stereotype that came up as I was going through this journey was that Latinas are fertile," she says. It was one perpetuated by even those closest to Vazquez. "Your family is such a key and core part of who you are, especially when you're part of the Latinx culture. They're saying like, 'What's taking so long? Why aren't you guys having babies?' and 'You should be pregnant [with] three kids by now.'"

"One dangerous stereotype that came up as I was going through this journey was that Latinas are fertile."

Although she says these comments stemmed from "a place of love," they still stung. "That love can feel hurtful when you're struggling with something so painful and so shameful," says Vazquez.

That shame is rooted in the fact that pregnancy loss, sex, and infertility are taboo topics typically not spoken about in communities of color, she notes. "And if you can't go to the people that you love and trust and support you and are like the bedrock for you—culturally, and emotionally—you feel so alone," she adds.

For the Latinx community, there's also a prevalent "machismo" attitude in the culture, making it easy to overlook the fact that men struggle with infertility too, says Vazquez. Another factor is religion, as the Latinx community is statistically religiously observant. "Family members might ask, 'Who are you to play God? And if this is not what God intended for you, why are you messing with it?'" explains Vazquez. That's why she chose to keep her journey private. "My mom was the only one that knew," she says.

At the same time, Vazquez began noticing just how alarming racial disparity is in fertility care. She points to research from the American Psychological Association (APA) that found white women are twice as likely as racial or sexual minority women to get medical help to become pregnant. The reasons: income inequality and a lack of insurance.

What's more, "medical professionals can be influenced by gender or race," says the host who recalls being the only woman of color in many fertility clinics' waiting rooms. "And doctors make assumptions that if a cycle of IVF is $20,000, and the person's not even insured, where in the world are they going to find $20,000? So, they don't even refer them to a specialist. If our doctors are making these decisions about how we could ultimately become parents, that just is not right."

Today, thanks to a successful IVF cycle last fall, Vazquez is overjoyed to be expecting her first child with husband Patrick McGrath. But she continues to want to raise awareness, promote reproductive health education, and create access to fertility services for communities of color—all of which can help to destigmatize infertility.

To do this, Vazquez has partnered with the national fertility clinic Kindbody and 100 Hispanic Women, a nonprofit committed to serving Latinas professional development. Together, Vazquez and Kindbody are committing to help a dozen women receive comprehensive fertility assessments, and this month, they are helping one couple become parents by covering the costs associated with a cycle of IVF treatments.

Fahimeh Sasan, M.D., a founding physician with Kindbody, explains they also hope to address the "shame and secrecy" around fertility by getting a conversation going. "In order to change these societal norms, it is imperative that all women start to talk about our periods, miscarriages, aspiration of motherhood, or desire to not have children by choice," she notes. "The more we talk about these issues, the less scary and foreign these discussions will become. It is imperative that we as women take the lead in changing the status quo so that no women is left feeling alone."

It's also crucial for medical professionals, leaders, and women to share their own stories with friends and coworkers, says Dr. Sasan. After all, as she and Vazquez point out, the more education and information we have, the more empowered around our reproductive options we'll be.

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