If you’re a woman hoping to conceive and give birth to a child, congratulations: everyone is watching and has an opinion about what you’re doing. The “Babies” section of People magazine is just one reminder of the norms and expectations about childbearing against which women’s bodies and actions are scrutinized and judged. Last week they ran an article about actress Gabrielle Union, who discusses her struggles with infertility and the stigma against it in her new book, We’re Going to Need More Wine.
The memoir, out October 17, deals in-depth with Union’s physical and emotional struggles with infertility. She has made numerous failed attempts to have a child through in vitro fertilization, or IVF, a process in which sperm and egg are combined in a lab dish and implanted in the womb artificially. Union says that IVF made her body “a prisoner of trying to get pregnant” as she suffered from hormonal side effects and endured “eight or nine miscarriages.”
She also shared her experience navigating scrutiny about her situation, from friends’ well-intentioned questions to paparazzi speculation:
“For so many women, and not just women in the spotlight, people feel entitled to know, ‘Do you want kids?’ A lot of people, especially people with fertility issues, just say ‘no’ because that’s a lot easier than being honest about whatever is actually going on. People mean so well, but they have no idea the harm or frustration it can cause.”
Union hopes that her writing will raise awareness of infertility and change the way that people talk about the issue. Even before she went public with her personal experience, she spoke out against the stigma against women with careers who are also dealing with infertility, noting that the two are often conflated.
For many of her fans, Gabrielle Union is the epitome of modern womanhood. From her star role as young black woman juggling a media career and an unruly personal life on BET’s Being Mary Jane to her daytime talk interviews about settling down with NBA star Dwayne Wade, Union projects an animated and down-to-earth demeanor. She blends a bubbly, feminine sociability with a frank willingness to speak her mind, such as when she criticized the marginalization of black Hollywood and called out her agency for confusing her with other black actresses.
The fact that gossip magazines are treating Union’s public discussion of her experience with infertility as a revelation speaks to the pervasiveness of the myth that giving birth is an easy and natural part of every woman’s life. It also highlights how women who dare to contradict that narrative risk making themselves vulnerable to judgment and shame. Union received some negative comments on Twitter, to which she replied “If I worried about dumbass comments from dumbasses I wouldn’t get a damn thing done…” and then wrote to her larger public: “Why I share my pain along with my joy, important to connect. No need to suffer in silence or in solitude.”That message just might be her most relatable yet.