Audrey Quiñones is the co-host of Infertilidad Latina Podcast.
Adrienne Bailon-Houghton and her husband, Israel Houghton, recently shared their infertility journey through her Youtube series, Faith & Familiia and it brought back my own memories of my journey. I have always admired Adrienne; When I first saw her in the Cheetah Girls movie and learned she, too, was of Puerto Rican descent, I was an instant fan. When I heard the “A La Nanita Nana” song that she sang with Belinda in one of the movie sequels, I loved it so much that it became my go-to song for getting my siblings to sleep, and now, it is the same song I sing to my son Matteo Makai. Matteo, whom I also welcomed through surrogacy, was born one month before Adrienne welcomed her son, Ever James in August 2022.
Our journeys were parallel and similar with the timeline, setbacks, expectations, wishes and ignorance, and even the procedures and the outcomes. And although there were jarring similarities, there were also key differences. In episode one she shares how at the start of their journey, they were told to wait six months after visiting the Dominican Republic because Israel had been bit by a mosquito and they believed he contracted the Zika virus which can potentially cause birth defects.
We, too, had started back when Zika was a big issue when trying to conceive, and we got pushed out by our clinic because we had gone home to Puerto Rico. Many Latinas go home and later deal with their cycles getting canceled or pushed when the clinics started to screen for whereabouts. And a setback in the infertility world comes with a price. As Adrienne mentions, I also learned that peak fertility for women happens at age 24. After that, it steadily declines month after month, and imagine being pushed back to six months because you visited home or went on a vacation to the Caribbean? When we were able to finally start In vitro fertilization (IVF), I had just turned 30.
No one talks about the fertility decline in women, especially within our culture. Latina’s fertility rate fell by 31 percent from 2006 to 2017, compared to 5 percent for white women and 11 percent for Black women, according to the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. All that your authoritative figures will tell you is, “mija don’t have sex; you can get pregnant or get an STD, and you need to focus on school or your career.” Our generation understood the assignment, and we concentrated on our education and career development. As a result, Latinas are getting educated, and we are leaving our family expansion plans to much later in life when, unfortunately, sometimes it becomes too late. Not to mention that religion in our culture is a significant driver, and fertility procedures are big taboos and, most times, not affordable or accessible.
I want to emphasize that it is not Adrienne’s nor anyone’s job to share their infertility struggles publicly, celebrity or not. Sharing that you’re trying to grow your family is announcing to the world that you are constantly having sex and failing to get something that, for many people, comes easily, sometimes unwanted, and for free. Someone’s sex life is no one’s business. However, they have decided to open up about their struggles and talk about the good and the bad to create awareness which is admirable. With that said, because it is not common to find stories like hers and mine within our community, Latinas going through infertility, pregnancy loss, and surrogacy tend to stay silent and struggle alone. We feel as if no one else can relate or understand. But as Adrienne said, referencing the airplane rule when it comes to oxygen masks: “you must put the mask on yourself before assisting others.” And that is very true.
I decided to be intentionally open about sharing my struggles and journey due to the darkness I encountered, dealing with mental health issues, and believing I was alone. And even though by no means do I have popularity or a large following, being public about this topic with strangers on the internet came with unwanted and unwarranted unsolicited advice constantly. “You need to lose weight. Are you eating right? Are you having sex at the right time? Have you taken this medication? My half-sister’s prima’s friend just relaxed and finally got pregnant; it is in God’s timing.” Can you imagine Adrienne and Israel dealing with these comments and questions from the millions of people following them? Contrary to us, for them, opening up about what they were going through, they’d be exposing something so private and sacred to themselves to people who feel entitled to judge or offer those” words of encouragement” that are so harmful and hurtful.
The burden of experiencing infertility cannot be carried alone. It would help if you had something, even with the best mental health support team. Sometimes, that’s not even close enough.
There is something beautiful about bonding with someone through a challenging experience. And I think that when Adrienne and Israel took me back to when they were doing their first stimulation cycle, where you have to mix medicine and shoot medicine, and the way they made it “their time,” it resonated with my experience. It even made me smile when they talked about how they would set the mood by playing certain songs and doing certain things because I remember our experience too. That first egg retrieval cycle, you are going in with so much hope and dreams, and sharing that and looking back, are memories I will treasure. All those memories, mixed with the good, the bad, and the ugly, became part of our story, and for Adrienne and I, it led to surrogacy. We were fortunate that we had our sons but not everyone ends the journey with a child in their arms.
Surrogacy is a trending topic lately not just because of Adrienne but with Paris Hilton’s recent announcement that she welcomes a baby via surrogacy. I became familiar with the process when I heard about it because of Kim Kardashian and Gabrielle Union. And I still thought it was a journey only celebrities could afford. I remember getting a suggested post of a beautiful nursery on Instagram that showcased the book “El Principito” in Spanish. The nursery and book caught my attention, and then I discovered that the designer behind the décor was a gorgeous Venezuelan, Josy Castro, who was expecting through surrogacy. On top of it all, she was from Atlanta, same as me. I immediately wanted to be friends with her, and we eventually did become friends in real life. It wasn’t until I edited episode nine, “Valentina,” for Infertilidad Latina podcast, where I interviewed Josy about her story, that I realized Latinas, too, can welcome motherhood through surrogacy. I remember being in tears and learning, and I thought this would be how we brought our baby home. So I called her up and asked for advice. She said, “Audrey, what is your goal? Experience pregnancy or become a mother?” without missing a beat, I said, becoming a mother. I needed validation from someone who looked like me, who spoke my language, and to who I could relate.
Not every journey ends with a child in arms, and not every process looks the same, and it’s okay. The more we talk about topics like this, the more chances we have to connect with someone we can share experiences with. I firmly believe unspoken wounds never heal, which is why kindness should always be on top of our minds because you do not know what unspoken wounds people are trying to heal.
Surrogacy is love, surrogacy is beautiful, and Latinas too can find the joy of motherhood through this journey and get their much-intended, intentional, and wanted baby.