Penelope McCown wanted a big family. The devastating outcome of her failure to conceive led her to embark on an IVF journey that would help her achieve her greatest victory — motherhood.
The woman, mother and family nursing practitioner by profession are committed to changing the stigma surrounding in vitro fertilization (IVF) and non-traditional conception with her new toddler luxury line, Cocoa Baby Love.
“Many times in the African-American community, conversations involving infertility do not take place, women are ashamed of infertility or even because they seek treatment and they are isolated, which deepens feelings of despair,” McCown said. BLACK ENTERPRISE.
Inspired by her “rainbow baby,” Priya, along with her personal struggle of conception, McCown designed and created Cocoa Baby Love. From onesies and bibs to baking sets and convertible maternity bags, the collection is overloaded in luxury while providing infertility support to mothers.
“Cocoa Baby Love aims to raise awareness of infertility through education and through the Pieces of Penelope series, by speaking and being involved on various platforms and events and by simply continuing to share my story openly, ”says McCown BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“My goal is to support and encourage other moms through their journey,” she says. “Also because of my struggle and difficult journey to become a mother, I want to celebrate motherhood and other mothers. Because the bigger the fight, the bigger the celebration! ”
McCown told us more about Cocoa Baby Love and the IVF stigmas she still fights in the Black community.
What was your intention behind Cocoa Baby Love?
Black women not only love and deserve luxury, but our babies and toddlers deserve it too.
The product range consists of organic cotton goods that are not only soft but safe for children’s skin (the organic cotton onesies also show a representation of ethnic children — which is so important). We also carry eco-friendly, non-toxic feedstuffs. The product range caters for moms and babies and toddlers. So for moms I want to celebrate them and allow them to feel luxurious.
Give us some insight into your personal IVF journey.
My husband and I were married in 2013. We had plans to enjoy our first year of marriage and to complete my nursing practice program. Then our plan was to conceive a child. We did not plan to “try” or “hope” to get pregnant. But we knew for a fact we were going to have a child. There was no reason for any doubt. However, we received negative pregnancy tests month after month. We were crushed. I eventually completed several rounds of fertility medicine, along with several fertility teas, multiple fertility supplements, herbal medications, ovulation tracking and other therapies and far-fetched modalities that I heard worked for some person. However, we were still unsuccessful. We were crushed.
All exams and tests on my husband and I were normal, but I could not get pregnant. After much persuasion by my gynecologists (because I was very reluctant to see a fertility specialist) we sought treatment. After discussing treatment options with our doctor, it was decided that IVF would be the best treatment course for me. While we thought this was the answer to all our problems, our journey had actually just begun. I was eventually diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which simply means there was no explanation as to why I could not get pregnant. From there, my path was filled with countless ups and downs, from joy and excitement to some of the darkest moments I have ever experienced. After three rounds of IVF, including a failed round and a devastating loss of a baby girl in the second trimester, we are finally blessed with our rainbow baby.
Did you have the support of your community? How were the conversations?
Historically, in the African-American community, the subject of infertility has been considered taboo and rarely discussed openly. Therefore, I knew that when I decided to tell my community of friends and family that my husband and I were undergoing IVF, I was unsure of how it would be received. However, I decided that I had suffered in silence long enough. I needed the support of my community. However, the support and the conversations were mixed.
From most of our close family and friends, we received the greatest support, excitement, and words of encouragement. It was great to have their support. But then there were the no-seers – those who may have meant well or did not know how to support. We are told things like: “You spend how much ?!” or my least favorite “Stop worrying about it, you’ll get pregnant!” Although we received an abundance of support, these reactions were hurtful and disappointing.
What stigmas around IVF do you work to combat within the black community?
Many times, African American women are taught to keep their “business to themselves” and are encouraged to be “strong” and have faith – when infertility is really a medical diagnosis that needs to be treated as such.
There is also a misconception that African American women are “hyper fertile”, and therefore contribute to feelings of inadequacy if you are an African American woman who is unable to conceive. African American women also tend to feel prejudice and mistrust from their providers. We also tend to suffer more from health conditions that contribute to infertility. Black women also have tubal ligaments before the age of 30 at higher doses compared to white women.
It is important to also discuss why these stigmas exist and this is because there are real inequalities in the Black community. There are studies that have shown that African American women are twice as likely as white women to suffer from infertility. However, African American women are half as likely to seek or receive infertility care. There is also a greater chance that African American women never really report their infertility and therefore the true statistics in our community are not known. African American women are also often excluded from infertility studies — IVF and studies are usually done only with white, wealthy women.
There is work to be done in the African-American community to try to remove these stigmas. These conversations are starting to happen and it’s great. By continuing to educate our community and bring awareness of infertility, I truly believe we can remove these stigmas.
Nor can I stress the importance of arming yourself with knowledge. Knowledge of your current health condition, your options, the infertility clinic you choose, and knowledge of how to obtain support. Do not blindly enter into this process. More importantly, stay encouraged!