This Mompreneur Spreads Awareness On Infertility With Toddler Luxury Line
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This Mompreneur Spreads Awareness On Infertility With Toddler Luxury Line

(Photo courtesy of Penelope McCown)

Penelope McCown wanted a large family. The crushing outcome of failing to conceive led her to embark on an IVF journey that would help her achieve her greatest victory—motherhood.

The wife, mother, and family nurse practitioner by trade is dedicated to changing the stigma around 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 shamed for infertility or even for seeking treatment and they are isolated, deepening feelings of despair,” McCown tells BLACK ENTERPRISE.

Inspired by her “rainbow baby,” Priya, coupled with her personal struggles of conception, McCown designed and created Cocoa Baby Love. From onesies and bibs to bowl sets and convertible mommy bags, the collection is doused in luxury while providing infertility support to mothers.

“Cocoa Baby Love aims to bring awareness to infertility through educating and through the Pieces of Penelope series, by speaking and being involved on multiple platforms and events and by simply continuing to openly share my story,” McCown tells BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“My goal is to support and encourage other mothers 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 greater the struggle, the greater the celebration!”

McCown told us more about Cocoa Baby Love and the IVF stigmas she continues to combat within the Black community.

(Image: Courtesy of Penelope McCown)

What was your intention behind Cocoa Baby Love?

Black women not only love and deserve luxury, but our infants and toddlers deserve it as well.

The product line consists of organic cotton ware that is 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 feeding ware. The product line caters to moms and infants 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 of enjoying our first year of marriage and me finishing my nurse practitioner program. Then our plan was to conceive a child. We didn’t plan on “trying” or “hoped” to conceive. But we knew for a fact that we were going to have a child. There was no reason for any doubt. However, month after month we received negative pregnancy tests. We were crushed. I ended up completing multiple rounds of fertility medications, along with trying multiple fertility teas, multiple fertility supplements, herbal medications, tracking ovulation, and other therapies and far-fetched modalities that I had heard worked for one person or another. However, we were still unsuccessful. We were devastated.

All exams and testing on my husband and I were normal yet I was unable to get pregnant. After much convincing by my gynecologists (because I was very hesitant to see a fertility specialist) we sought treatment. After discussing treatment options with our physician it was decided that IVF would be the best course of treatment for me. While we thought that was the answer to all our problems, our journey had really just begun. I ended up being diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which simply means there was no explanation as to why I couldn’t conceive. From there my path was filled with countless ups and downs, from joy and excitement to some of the darkest moments that I had ever experienced. After three rounds of IVF, including a failed round and suffering a devastating second-trimester loss of a baby girl, we were blessed in the ultimate way with our rainbow baby.

Did you have support from your community? What were the conversations like?

Historically, in the African American community, the topic 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 uncertain 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 utmost support, excitement and words of encouragement. It was great to have their support. But then there were the naysayers—those who may or may not have meant well or simply didn’t know how to support. We were told things like, “You are spending how much?!” or my least favorite “Stop worrying about it, you’ll get pregnant!” While we had received an abundance of support, these responses were hurtful and disappointing.

What stigmas around IVF are you working 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 to have faith—when infertility is truly a medical diagnosis that should be treated as such.

There is also a misconception that African American women are “hyper fertile,” therefore contributing 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 distrust from their providers. We also tend to suffer more from health conditions that contribute to infertility. Black women also have tubal ligations before the age of 30 at higher rates when compared to white women.

It is important to also discuss why these stigmas exist and this is because disparities in the Black community truly exist. 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 care for infertility. There are also increased odds of African American women never actually reporting their infertility and therefore the true statistics in our community are not known. African American women are also often excluded from studies surrounding infertility—IVF and studies are normally only done with white, affluent women.

There is work to be done in the African American community in order to try to remove these stigmas. These conversations are starting to happen and it’s wonderful. By continuing to educate our community and bringing awareness to infertility, I truly believe we can remove these stigmas.

I also can’t stress the importance of arming yourself with knowledge. Knowledge about your current health state, your options, the infertility clinic you are choosing, and knowledge of how to obtain support. Don’t go into this process blindly. Most importantly, stay encouraged!

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