Michelle Buteau on Her Struggles with Infertility and Adoption, as Well as Racism in Healthcare
"It's horrifying for a Black woman to give birth in a hospital because nobody believes her," said comedian Michelle Buteau
Michelle Buteau's journey to having a family was not an easy one.
In a candid new interview with the podcast Infertile AF, the 42-year-old comedian opened up about her years-long struggle with infertility, which saw four miscarriages, several rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF), hurdles relating to adoption and racial discrimination at fertility clinics before she finally welcomed twins Hazel and Otis via surrogate.
"My first miscarriage, the doctor said, 'You have more embryos banked — we'll just screen them. We'll do pre-genetic screening.' And I was like, 'Well, why didn't you do that before [they were frozen]?' " Buteau recalled in the interview. "And he said something like, 'I don't like your tone.' "
"Not only is it a thing for a woman to be at her most vulnerable in every chapter," she explained, but "to be a Black woman or any ethnic woman, and going to a hospital, there's always this thing where people think you have an attitude because you question them."
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The mother of two continued, recalling the racism she experienced every time she simply went to see a doctor.
"Especially in my 20s, I would keep my voice at a certain register to make them feel comfortable. Now I'm just tired and at my wit's end," Buteau said. "It's horrifying for a Black woman to give birth in a hospital because nobody believes her. It's a lot of that."
"I remember getting my blood drawn and doing my thing and I was like, 'Ow! That hurt. That prick. Was that deliberate?' All these things that kind of swirl in your mind," she added.
Buteau, who married Gijs van der Most in July 2010, said her husband didn't believe her at first when she tried to tell him about the treatment she faced.
"My husband, who is a white dude from Holland, has never been in this position. A lot of this I'm telling him and he doesn't believe it, but then he sees it and he's like, 'Oh, wow,' " she explained.
Even when van der Most would come with his wife to her appointments, she recalled the doctor's attitude changing when they spoke to her.
"The people change in the room. When they're talking to me, it's so obvious. To think that you are to be treated like you're not worthy, that you are a problem," Buteau said.
"For any doctor to say, 'I don't like your tone,' it's like, 'You're not my dad. I'm gonna take the car out tonight.' [My doctor] also told me he was voting for [President Donald] Trump, and my joke about it is that I farted. Just a little one. It was like, 'This is what democracy smells like,' " she added.
Despite their struggles, the couple ultimately welcomed their twins in January 2019 with the help of a surrogate — but at one point, they did consider adoption. And even that came with its challenges.
"We tried to adopt. We went to three different agencies, and we'd get deep into our application after spending money on different parts of the application, for them all to say, 'If you're still trying to have children on your own, then we can't move forward,' " Buteau said.
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Buteau's struggles with infertility also impacted her relationships with friends and family, with the actress explaining that throughout the experience, she found herself pushing certain people away — especially those who tried to give her unsolicited advice.
"One of my friends tried to hit me with, 'Why do you even want to have your own kids? The world is full enough of people.' And I'm like, 'Goodbye forever,' " Buteau said. "[That friend] also said, 'You should just try and adopt.' And I was like, 'God, I didn't even know you were the accountant for my life.' "
"I think it really hurt when my parents did it to me," she added. "My dad would say, 'You're having wine,' or he'd try to show me articles he'd found and I just had to say to him, I think a year or two in, 'If you want me to still talk to you, you can't be giving me this unsolicited advice. You just have to love me. You just have to say, 'I'm sorry, baby, and that's okay. This will happen.' "
Buteau recalled, "It was also a thing with family members and friends, where I'm like, 'Wow, I didn't even know you were that much of an a--hole.' "
Describing the moment she got to hold her children for the first time, Buteau called it "wild" in a first-person essay she wrote for Glamour last year.
"It was insane, over the top. There's not one word you can use to describe it. It was a marathon of emotions. I was so tired, but had finally reached this goal," she said in the essay. "They are two souls who joined the world, and it will forever change us."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.