August 11, 2022
“I just kept wondering, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why is this happening to me?’” said Yasna Patel, a 38-year-old loan analyst from Irvine, California. Patel began her fertility journey 14 years ago, when she and her husband began trying to conceive. After two years without success, she turned to fertility specialists. What followed was 12 cycles of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), two miscarriages, exorbitant medical bills, cross-country flights, and unbearable emotional turmoil. “It took such a huge toll on me. Mentally, physically, emotionally, in all the ways you can imagine.”
Yasna Patel’s story is unfortunately not unique. Asian Americans had the highest rate of assisted reproductive technology (ART) usage of any racial group in 2014. A 2021 study found that ART usage among Asian Americans is 87% higher than among white Americans. And IVF is more visible than ever, with celebrities like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Shah Rukh Khan opting for surrogacy, which often involves IVF. In India, the number of IVF cycles grew sixfold (from 7,000 annually to 40,000) from 2000 to 2010, and is now closer to 250,000 annually. The number of IVF providers in India also jumped from 31 in 2000 to 1,500 in 2019. But despite the interest, South Asians continue to have worse outcomes with IVF than white people, even when they receive the treatment at younger ages. One study found that the live birth rate for British Indians who underwent IVF was 9.1%, compared to 22.7% for white Brits.
For South Asians who are increasingly trying IVF in their fertility journeys, they are often met with longer wait times, more expensive bills, and a higher risk of the treatment not working. Part of this is due to shoddy research into how these discrepancies arose, but another key reason is that IVF was never designed with people of color in mind.