It’s no secret that childbirth can be particularly dangerous for Black women. Studies have shown that medical professionals don’t take the complaints of pain from Black women seriously, believing that Black people don’t feel pain in the same way other races do.
But according to comedian, actress and host Michelle Buteau, dealing with the medical community even as you’re struggling to conceive can leave Black women feeling dismissed, disregarded and devalued.
During a recent interview on the podcast Infertile AF, Buteau spoke about the journey to having her twins Hazel and Otis via surrogate.
For years, Buteau, now 42, spoke about enduring four miscarriages, several rounds of in vitro fertilization, failed adoption attempts and the racial discrimination she experienced at fertility clinics.
Buteau shared, “My first miscarriage, the doctor said, ‘You have more embryos banked — we’ll just screen them. We’ll do pre-genetic screening.’ And I was like, ‘Well, why didn’t you do that before [they were frozen]?’ ” Buteau recalled in the interview. “And he said something like, ‘I don’t like your tone.’ ”
“Not only is it a thing for a woman to be at her most vulnerable in every chapter,” she explained, but “to be a Black woman or any ethnic woman, and going to a hospital, there’s always this thing where people think you have an attitude because you question them. Especially in my 20s, I would keep my voice at a certain register to make them feel comfortable. Now I’m just tired and at my wit’s end. It’s horrifying for a Black woman to give birth in a hospital because nobody believes her. It’s a lot of that.”
Buteau said that it causes you to question every interaction with a medical professional.
“I remember getting my blood drawn and doing my thing and I was like, ‘Ow! That hurt. That prick. Was that deliberate?’ All these things that kind of swirl in your mind.”
Buteau shared that for the most part, she felt like she was just a number. Or felt discrimination from receptionists who didn’t ask White women for their credit card immediately but asked her for her form of payment immediately.
Buteau shared that her husband, Gijs van der Most, a Dutchman, didn’t believe that she was experiencing discrimination until he witnessed it for himself.
“My husband, who is a white dude from Holland, has never been in this position. A lot of this I’m telling him and he doesn’t believe it, but then he sees it and he’s like, ‘Oh, wow.’
She said that people would respond to her differently when her husband was with her.
She also shared the emotional turmoil of having to deal with family and friends. People close to her pointed to everything from her weight to her drinking wine as reasons why she wasn’t getting pregnant.
“I think it really hurt when my parents did it to me,” she added. “My dad would say, ‘You’re having wine,’ or he’d try to show me articles he’d found and I just had to say to him, I think a year or two in, ‘If you want me to still talk to you, you can’t be giving me this unsolicited advice. You just have to love me. You just have to say, ‘I’m sorry, baby, and that’s okay. This will happen.’ ”
One friend even attempted to shame her for wanting to have children of her own when, ‘The world is full enough of people.’
Buteau and her husband found their surrogate while she was filming the 2019 Ali Wong romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe.
In an essay she wrote for Glamour, Buteau shared how she was feeling holding her children for the first time.
“It was insane, over the top. There’s not one word you can use to describe it. It was a marathon of emotions. I was so tired, but had finally reached this goal,” she said in the essay. “They are two souls who joined the world, and it will forever change us.”
You can see pictures of Buteau’s beautiful children on the following pages.