The Whole Veterinarian

My Black IVF Story featuring Dr. Sullivan-Henry

July 16, 2020 Cherese Sullivan-Henry, DVM Season 1 Episode 7
The Whole Veterinarian
My Black IVF Story featuring Dr. Sullivan-Henry
Chapters
The Whole Veterinarian
My Black IVF Story featuring Dr. Sullivan-Henry
Jul 16, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
Cherese Sullivan-Henry, DVM

Listen in as Dr. Cherese Sullivan-Henry generously shares the details of her family's struggle with infertility on this week's episode. She has recently started a video blog chronicling her journey to IVF (My Black IVF Story) in hopes that other Black women can find comfort in sharing her challenges. I am honored to call this brave woman my friend! Thank you for chatting with me, Cherese!
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About Cherese!
Cherese Sullivan-Henry, DVM is the creator of MyBlackIVFStory on YouTube and Instagram which is a personal account of her infertility journey.  She is a graduate of Penn State University (Bachelor of Science), Tuskegee University (Master of Science), and Cornell University (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine). She is a member of the board of directors for Sparkles of Life Inc. a a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting families dealing with infertility and delayed parenthood.  Currently, she is a relief veterinarian living in Houston, TX with her husband, one year old twins, and dog.
IG: @myblackivfstory
My Black IVF Story on YouTube

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Topics that we cover
-Sparkles of Life
-CDC article on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy
-Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites
-My Black Receipt Project

Cherese's favorite recent Black-owned business purchase: Ejona Sleepwear
Stacey's favorite recent Black-owned business purchase: Red Bay Coffee (Carver's Dream is my favorite blend so far!)

...

Resources for expanding your thought process on anti-racism and White Privilege:
-How to Be an Anti-Racist Summary from Aspen Ideas Festival with Ibram X. Kendi
-Please see the Other Resources page on my website for some examples of learning material regarding systemic oppression, White privilege and allyship guides.

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Ways to connect with The Whole Veterinarian!
Instagram: @thewholeveterinarian
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewholeveterinarian/
Email: thewholeveterinarian@gmail.com
www.thewholeveterinarian.com

....
Music Credit: Journey of Hope by Alexander Nakarada



Show Notes Transcript

Listen in as Dr. Cherese Sullivan-Henry generously shares the details of her family's struggle with infertility on this week's episode. She has recently started a video blog chronicling her journey to IVF (My Black IVF Story) in hopes that other Black women can find comfort in sharing her challenges. I am honored to call this brave woman my friend! Thank you for chatting with me, Cherese!
...

About Cherese!
Cherese Sullivan-Henry, DVM is the creator of MyBlackIVFStory on YouTube and Instagram which is a personal account of her infertility journey.  She is a graduate of Penn State University (Bachelor of Science), Tuskegee University (Master of Science), and Cornell University (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine). She is a member of the board of directors for Sparkles of Life Inc. a a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting families dealing with infertility and delayed parenthood.  Currently, she is a relief veterinarian living in Houston, TX with her husband, one year old twins, and dog.
IG: @myblackivfstory
My Black IVF Story on YouTube

...

Topics that we cover
-Sparkles of Life
-CDC article on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy
-Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites
-My Black Receipt Project

Cherese's favorite recent Black-owned business purchase: Ejona Sleepwear
Stacey's favorite recent Black-owned business purchase: Red Bay Coffee (Carver's Dream is my favorite blend so far!)

...

Resources for expanding your thought process on anti-racism and White Privilege:
-How to Be an Anti-Racist Summary from Aspen Ideas Festival with Ibram X. Kendi
-Please see the Other Resources page on my website for some examples of learning material regarding systemic oppression, White privilege and allyship guides.

...

Ways to connect with The Whole Veterinarian!
Instagram: @thewholeveterinarian
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewholeveterinarian/
Email: thewholeveterinarian@gmail.com
www.thewholeveterinarian.com

....
Music Credit: Journey of Hope by Alexander Nakarada



Stacey Cordivano :

My guest this week is Dr. Cherese Sullivan-Henry. I was really lucky to be paired randomly with Cherese as my roommate at Penn State University and we've been friends for the past 20 years. Cherese earned her master's in veterinary science at Tuskeegee University in 2006. And she earned her DVM from Cornell University in 2010. She's a relief veterinarian in the Houston area and is also a board member of Sparkles for Life, which is a nonprofit that helps women deal with infertility and delayed parenthood. Thank you so much for joining me today, Cherese!

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Thanks, Stacey. It's an honor and a pleasure to join you today.

Stacey Cordivano :

How are you?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Doing well, doing well.

Stacey Cordivano :

I'm gonna ask you that again. Because there's a lot going on. How actually, are you doing?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Well, you know, there's a lot going on the world... just kind of rolling with the punches and kind of sticking in there, you know. It's a challenging time right now with the things that are going on as far as racism and racial and justice in the world, political issues, so it definitely bears a toll on I think us all, but one thing is that we as a people, you know, we as American citizens and speaking for myself and my culture, we as Black people are very resilient, and we're going to make it through it.

Stacey Cordivano :

I certainly don't think this is the place to be teaching anyone and I don't expect you to take your time to teach anyone. I think if anything, I've learned in the past couple of weeks that we as white people need to really lean into ourselves to do some education. But before we get into your side project, and why I really brought you on here, I did just want to give you an opportunity to, you know, talk to my pretty much white veterinarian population, if you have anything to say.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Yeah, I mean, I think that this is a really good time for our profession as veterinarians specifically, largely us as a country, but specifically in veterinary medicine to kind of make a shift as far as what we perceive our society to be. Meaning that we have to really recognize that there are structural issues that are pervasive within our society when it comes to racism and racial injustice. We're seeing that nowadays it's being recorded. So it's really being thrown in everyone's face with the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the list goes on. And on Trayvon Martin a child, Korryn Gaines, there's just so many to name. You know, these are people, these are people who have families. Now me as a new mother, me as a wife, me as a black woman. There's a lot of stuff to ingest here. There are concerns for our safety. And we've really got to make a change because we're relying on a lot of folks to really guide the way as far as the future is concerned. You know, you never know who Trayvon Martin would have been had he had the chance to be alive today. He would have graduated from high school and who knows what his future would have upheld. So it's just the time of reflection as well as a time of change. So I'm hoping to see our profession really get on board, particularly the AVMA. I'd like to really see them acknowledge that this is not just a diversity and inclusion issue. This is a racial injustice issue, and we've had racism that has been evident and pervasive within our profession for a very, very long time. And we need to address it, we need to hit it head on and it's uncomfortable. These are uncomfortable conversations that we just have to have. I'm looking forward to all of us and we really need allies in this profession such as yourself to amplify these voices and, and really be willing to help everyone make a change.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah, for sure. I've realized how easy it is to say I'm against racism, but to stay inside my very white, insulated bubble. And I'm definitely dedicated to working hard to get outside of that bubble as much as I can. So thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. I appreciate your candidness. I want to talk mostly about a new passion side project that you have my black IVF story. Can you tell us what that is? And explain a little bit about how you got to that idea.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Yeah, really, to put it simply, I was looking for IVF and infertility resources when I was going through my journey. And quite simply, I just didn't see people who look like me. That was really important to me. And with this journey, there's a lot of periods of isolation and fertility. It feels like you're the only one going through it and nobody else is talking about it. I was just grabbing for straws online, anybody that I could find. While there were a lot of resources out there for people who are sharing their story, just not that many of them were people of color. At that time, I decided that I would start to gradually open up and kind of share my story. I went to a brunch and I met two black women who were cousins shout out to my friend @chigisworld on Instagram. And those two cousins were talking about how they were going through the process of IVF and infertility. And that was the first time I connected with anybody who was of color who was going through an infertility struggle. I thought to myself, wow, like they're so brave. I can't believe that they are actually standing up in front of a branch really talking about this. And I thought, you know, I could never be that brave. And then later on, I said, Well, maybe I can't be that brave now, but maybe later on I will be. So I began to just document my journey, I started making videos and doing journals. And at a certain point, I just I guess I gathered the strength then decided that I would share it. I started little by little and eventually started my Instagram. And now just this week started my YouTube channel.

Stacey Cordivano :

That's awesome.I imagine while that was super scary, it was also a little bit cathartic to journal and document while you were going through it.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Definitely, it was very healing for me, not only in the moment to be able to get all these feelings out, even if I was just talking to my cell phone, even if I was just writing in my journal, but even later on kind of reflecting on my journey, like wow, I was actually strong enough to make it through that tough time. So I experienced a lot of growth. I'm definitely grateful for that.

Stacey Cordivano :

That's amazing. Would you be willing to share a little bit about your fertility story and how you got to IVF?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Yeah, sure. There's kind of the story of me and kind of the story of my infertility. So story of me, it's pretty much just like a lot of us in this veterinary profession. I was that career woman. I was very goal focused, very highly motivated and high achieving. And I did what traditionally, I thought I was supposed to do. I went to school, got three degrees, did an internship, start a career, got married, bought a house, but throughout this time, it often came at the huge price of my physical and mental health.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah, that's definitely common for everyone in veterinary medicine, I think.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

For sure. I never really even considered my reproductive health could be an issue until I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids in 2011 after years of worsening abdominal pain was basically in my internship and there were times where I would have to run to the bathroom and cry not just because I was an internship at double hockey sticks, but also because I was in excruciating abdominal pain. I went to the doctor was diagnosed with fibroids and at that point I was told that before I could successfully conceive, I would have to have surgery. Now, this was back in 2011. Mind you, and it wasn't until four years later in 2015, that I was able to go ahead and have that surgery. And post op i was told that I had one blocked fallopian two and two dilated fallopian tubes which reduced my conception rates by 50%.

Stacey Cordivano :

Did they think there was a chance you could conceive naturally at that point?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

So at that point, they said we don't recommend you try to conceive naturally because due to your tubal structure being dilated, there's a very high chance that you will have ectopic pregnancies. Sure. So at that point, they really were already pushing for me to go towards IVF. Quite frankly, it was just something I was not ready to hear at that moment. I wasn't ready to hear it. My husband wasn't ready to hear it.

Stacey Cordivano :

We don't we don't like to admit that we can do things ourselves.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Right, exactly. Not only that, but it will require an additional step where they would actually take my tubes out. So that was a huge point of contention for me. If my tubes are removed, there's absolutely no chance of me conceiving naturally.

Stacey Cordivano :

And let me just go back. Why did it take four years to get surgery?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

So this goes into a whole nother topic that I could talk about, which is financial infertility. So at the time, I had really, really terrible insurance and I just simply could not afford it. So I ended up trying some conservative therapy and one of those things was called Lupron and Lupron is a drug that helps to shrink fibroids, but at the cost of it is going to artificially create your body to go into menopause. I was on that. While it did help with abdominal discomfort. I was in surgery with a full down on full mask everything having extreme hot flashes, sweating like crazy. It was one of those things where it was like six and a half a dozen. But at that point, I just financially could not afford to have surgery

Stacey Cordivano :

Got it. So you finally do get surgery and how does your journey progress from there?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

At that point, I have the surgery. We know that we're working with 50% capacity. They're telling me Please do not try to conceive on your own. But my husband and I said hey, you know what? We're going to try it. We know what the risks are. We're making an informed decision and we want to try to conceive naturally. Miraculously, I got pregnant in 2016. Unfortunately, it resulted in my first miscarriage. And in 2017, we decided that we would try again after we had long break and did some traveling. After not being able to conceive for six months, we decided that we would have a consultation with the fertility clinic and go see a reproductive endocrinologist through the console workup, we found out that I was pregnant again spontaneously. Unfortunately, that one also resulted in another miscarriage. So we decided that we would go forth with assisted reproductive therapy. On our third pregnancy, we got pregnant using a medication called Clomid, which helps to basically superovulate you. I did get pregnant again, and that unfortunately resulted in a miscarriage. So while none of those were ectopic pregnancies, I still had infertility. When I had the work up, I was ultimately diagnosed with unexplained infertility is just like in veterinary medicine when we call something idiopathic. No idea. They don't know. They're like, everything else looks good. My doctor suggested that it may be an egg quality issue, even though we really couldn't fully prove that. Even when we got our embryo results, it really didn't suggest that so maybe it was just the luck of the draw three times unfortunately, it's just the way things go sometimes.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah, I mean, that is the way things go sometimes. I mean, I you know, my first pregnancy resulted in miscarriage also, but three times in a row is a lot. I mean, that's a lot to deal with. How did you process that?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

It's like, as it increasingly happens to you, it's like hope goes down the drain. So the first time it was like, This is Normal, everything is going to be okay. You'll try again and you'll be successful. Then the second time really sent me into a spiral. I became very deeply depressed, I became suicidal, I made a couple of suicide attempts secondary to that. I am one of those people who was actually saved by the suicide hotline. It was just a pain just unbearable. It was just unbearable. I don't even know what to say. I don't have anything to say how I made made it through that other than the Lord stepping in on my behalf and really just putting one foot in front of the other and not being successful and my suicide attempts I really have no other explanation.

Stacey Cordivano :

That breaks my heart. Were you sharing with friends or I mean, I know we've been friends for a long time, but you know, in and out of touch and were there other people in your life at that time that knew you were struggling that deeply or you didn't share that.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

So the thing about infertility is that it's so isolating and so suffocating that you would draw from other people. There were friends that I had that I talked to every day that didn't know that I was going through what I was going through, there were a couple of friends, very, very close friends, less than probably three that kind of had an idea, but nobody other than my husband and I and really knew exactly what was going on. There were even things that I hid from my mother. And it was hard for my husband because he's, you know, while he's supporting me, he can't feel that pain that I'm feeling. He doesn't have those hormones rising up and rushing through his body, to find out that there's no baby there and trying to reconcile your mental status knowing that there's no baby in there and your breasts are developing in you've got all these maternal hormones. Running through your body, but you know that ultimately you'll you're not going to be carrying home a baby. It's difficult to deal with.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah, that's an understatement. Yeah. And did you feel supported by your doctors while you're going through this?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

One thing I will say is that I felt very, very supported by my doctors. I had an excellent ob gyn who was the one who did my fibroid surgery. She was the one who immediately knew what was going on. And she's been such an advocate for me, she is actually a specialist in Black maternal health. I really owe my life to her she when I had my fibroid surgery, she made sure that I had my fibroid surgery on the same week and weekend that another black ob gyn in the practice would be present because she said I want to make sure that you have somebody there that's an advocate that wants to preserve your fertility. So that was really important. For me, and she was the one who recommended that I go see the reproductive endocrinologist. And my whole team over at Houston IVF was awesome. They were they really believed in us when I really had no hope they were informative the entire way they let us make our decisions, even though they gave us the stats and told us, hey, this, this may be a better option for you to go ahead and jump to IVF. They said, I understand that you aren't ready to do that. So here's something that we can compromise on. So it's really important that you have people who are advocates for your health when you're going through infertility.

Stacey Cordivano :

I mean, yeah, let's just throw some stats out there right as far as not even infertility but just pregnancy. So according to the CDC, Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy related causes as white women. I want to pause there. Because like, just you being you, versus me being me, you're four times more likely to die during this process of fertility and or delivery, which is heartbreaking. And research shows that this spans income and education level. So it has nothing to do with where you live where you grew up. It's just the fact that the color of your skin, the racial bias in the healthcare system, you are at that much more of a disadvantage than I am.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Yeah. And it's sad. It's sad, because there are so many parallels between us too. Yeah. As far as education, socioeconomic status, etc. Yeah, everything.

Stacey Cordivano :

Actually, you have more degrees than I do.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Unfortunately, Yes, there there are huge health disparities that unfortunately are not on the side of particularly Black women. Some things that we know about research as well are that black women receive proper Fertility Care over a year later than their white counterparts and have half the IVF success rates. So that's a lot to take in. Yeah. And knowing that me knowing that going into my IVF, and what the mental toll of that was. And Black women are twice as likely to have a miscarriage. Black children have twice the infant mortality rate. It makes me reflect to a quote from Dr. Courtney Campbell, which is the malignancy of racism is that it does not care who you are, what your socioeconomic status is, or any of that. And that's the case when it comes to health disparities within the Black community. And these health disparities are largely due to pervasive structural racism. So there was a recent study that I found very disheartening, and that was that 50% of current med students believe that Black people feel less pain.

Stacey Cordivano :

I mean, yeah. I don't even I can't even process that.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Think about that when it comes to pain management for black women who have just had c sections,

Stacey Cordivano :

Or epidurals, I know you had didn't you have an experience with your epidural?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

I had a terrible experience with my epidural. I had a white male anesthesiologist and he did not believe that I was in pain. I was in so much pain, I could not even speak I could not even say anything. When I finally was able to yell out, please stop. That was the only moment in which a nurse stepped into the gap and said hey, should we just go ahead and stop and call her ob gyn? Come to find out because I have scoliosis he did not place the epidural correctly, so it went to the muscle.

Stacey Cordivano :

And he just thought you were

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

I guess I was just making it up. I was just being dramatic was the impression that I got,

Stacey Cordivano :

right. Hmm. Okay, well, that leads into the continuation of your IVF story. So you get past some of your darker times and your miscarriages and you meet with a specialist and then start the IVF process.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

yes. So ultimately, after a lot of conversation, my husband and I decided to start the process of IVF. And it was about a full year as far as the process was concerned. And by the grace of God, we were successful with our first round of IVF. And I was able to give birth last year to my greatest achievements, which are my twins, twin boy and twin girl.

Stacey Cordivano :

super adorable babies.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Thank you.

Stacey Cordivano :

So you said it took about a year. And at that point you were not doing relief work. You were working full time.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Yes. I was working full time in practice throughout this whole time. So that had its challenges.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah. Even just like time off. I know, just from friends here, the amount of appointments that are required. I mean, it's like, it's a huge time commitment to go through IVF. Did they work with you? How did that all go?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

It really is. And I'll say, to some extent, they worked with me. To some extent they didn't. The thing that people I think fail to recognize that it's not a sprint when someone's doing IVF it's not a one week thing, or Hey, let me take off to do this IVF for a week, it's not that like I said, it was basically a full year long process. There were a lot of appointments I had to go to in the morning before work. There was a lot of there was a lot of challenges with that. So yes, to some extent Some of those days I was allowed to come in just like half an hour later than my work time. There were times when things were up in the air and they weren't as flexible as I thought that they would be, especially given the fact that I fully disclose to them what was going on in the beginning. And I think communication is key. I don't regret that at all, because they need to know what's going on. And it really, it's your personal information as far as how much a person wants to disclose and there have no obligation, but I did respect at that point my employer enough to let them know what was going on and prep them for future events that I might need to have. One of those is your egg retrieval and retrieval week, you basically go in every day get transvaginal ultrasound, and they evaluate your follicles and till one day, they say, okay, we're going to retrieve you be here tomorrow morning, and it's very hard to work around multiple people's schedules. When you have something like that going on, at that point, I got a little bit of pushback from my employer, even though I had told them that was the case. It was it was challenging.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah. I mean, I know for me, it's been a journey realizing that myself and my family are, you know, need to be number one priority. is that a point at which you start realizing like, I love veterinary medicine, and I love my job, but I need to start having some boundaries for myself, or you're kind of just in the thick of it at that point?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Basically, a combination of both. There was a part of me that felt like Yes, I'm going to be my only advocate for my family. So I need to do what I need to do. And if that means sacrificing a part of this job, or my ability to show up with certain things, and that's the way that it is but by the same token, I always have this compassion towards my profession and my clients My team, and I don't want to inconvenience anybody either. So it's really a tug of war the whole entire time.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah, it's a hard transition. Luckily, you guys have a very happy outcome, you have two beautiful babies. And I know you went back to work full time and now have transitioned into relief work. And just for other working mothers out there, how, how did you make that call? And how is it working out for your family?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

So it's working out well. I will say that it was one of those things where fate just kind of stepped in and had me to make a decision.

Stacey Cordivano :

Sometimes we need that.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

But it came at the right time, really, I'm really enjoying being able to be here with my kids and seeing them grow up and develop and change every day. And that's a blessing that I'd likely wouldn't have had, if I would have kept working full time. So I really, really appreciate having the chance to do that. Yeah. So that's one of the real flexibilities of being a relief vet.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yeah, we're lucky, you know, sometimes it feels like we took on all this debt and work all these hours. But I do think it's important to remember that with our degree, you know, we do have flexibility if we can think outside the box. That's a little bit the goal of this podcast is for me to try to help people think outside the box.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Absolutely.

Stacey Cordivano :

Another goal of this podcast is to increase joy in people's lives. And I always ask my guests, what is one thing that has brought you joy this past week?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

One of the things has brought me joy this past week one is launching my YouTube channel, my IVF story on YouTube.

Stacey Cordivano :

Yes, that's awesome.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

And two, I would say one of the things that I that I was able to participate in this week was My Black Receipt project. That is a project that helps with financial and economic empowerment within the Black community and between Juneteenth. And yesterday, it was able to raise over $7 million of economic stimulation to the black community by purchasing from Black businesses. So that I am really proud to have been a part of and I hope that that continues.

Stacey Cordivano :

That's awesome. And I know you love a good excuse to shop.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Stacey Cordivano :

Where can people find you?

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

So you can find me on Instagram @myblackIVFstory. You can also find me on youtube by typing in my black IVF story.

Stacey Cordivano :

right, and I'll definitely link to those in the show notes. And I'll link to some of the statistics we've talked about and a few other projects.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Thank you so much, Stacey for having me on here.

Stacey Cordivano :

Thank you for Join me and thank you for being so honest, you know, it's a heavy topic period, let alone with everything else going on. I know.

Cherese Sullivan-Henry :

Well, it's much easier to discuss when I'm discussing with friends. So I appreciate that.

Stacey Cordivano :

I cannot thank Cherese enough for being so open and honest with all of us about her journey, her struggles and everything she's been through, especially as a Black woman in this country today. I feel really lucky to call her my friend and to be able to witness her bravery. And I'm really sorry that I dimed us out for being friends for 20 years, because that makes us really old. I'm going to include some resources in the show notes. I'm also going to link you to the resources page on the whole veterinarian website, where I'm going to try to include as many resources about anti racism as I have been able to look into. It's certainly not an extensive list but it's somewhere to start. It's where I'm starting. If you have any interest in joining me as an accountability partner for anti racism work, please let me know. And if you have any questions, please get in touch with Dr. Sullivan Henry @myblackIVFstory on Instagram. She's really active and I'm sure she'd love to start a conversation with you. Thanks again for listening and I will talk to you guys next week. Transcribed by https://otter.ai