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She is what we call a superwoman and beauty with brains: a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, a mother, a wife, and Miss India International. Yes…you heard that right. But most importantly, she is an inspiring voice in the field of fertility. Dr. Roohi Jeelani is no ordinary physician as she juggles a powerful social media persona and shares her knowledge with others on such platforms. She shares her journey with Brown Girl Magazine in order to influence our readers to pursue our goals despite barriers, relate to many South Asian teens with PCOS, and to explain what In-Vitro Fertilization, IVF, is and the importance of discussing it open-mindedly in the South Asian community.

[Read Related: Are South Asian Parents Contributing to Their Daughters’ Infertility?]

 

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How did you become interested in the field of medicine, and more specifically, become attracted to the field of fertility?

When I was around 14, my mom took me to a reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Reena Jabamoni, for irregular cycles. And, every physician that I visited before that always told me you’re too skinny, or too young, etc. Finally, my uncle, who was also a physician at that time, suggested that I go to an endocrinologist, and this was back in the ’90s. She identified my situation to be a result of PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), which is very common among South Asian females and advised me to get on birth control. Fast forward, I told her ‘I am gonna be you!’ I mean, when you are a South Asian teen, coming into the clinic, especially with your parents, that has eggs and sperm pictured all over the walls, it is kind of ‘inappropriate.’ Baffled that my mom even took me here, I asked my physician what her job is. She replied, rather simplistically, that she helps make babies — taking an egg and sperm together and putting it in the mom. Again, as a little South Asian girl, I always thought [laughs] babies were God-gifted and you have to be married, etc. My world completely spun. Then, that is when I told her, ‘Oh my god, I am gonna be you. I am going to come back and work with you!’

 

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Determined to work to “make babies,” Dr. Jeelani knew what her calling was.

“My endocrinologist used to always tease me that by the time I go to work with her she will be long gone. But, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I actually lost touch with her after I moved away to college. I also got sidetracked a bit and became engaged in modeling. From this little geeky, Indian girl with a unibrow, to winning Miss India Midwest and Miss India International, I really did enjoy that aspect of my life, but you know, I wanted to be a doctor at the end of the day. My advisor in college actually told me that if my goal was to become a physician, I could not make modeling a full-time thing. So, I stopped modeling and actually transferred colleges to go to a smaller private school where I can focus on academics more. Funny thing is that my new college had so many South Asian students where everyone wanted to be doctors. I thought to myself that it is the perfect place for me. I retook many of my classes and started from there.”

On route to medical school and beyond!

“When I was ready to apply to medical school through AMCAS, I was told that I’d have to put in my grades for both colleges that I attended. That kind of took me by surprise because averaging out my grades would suggest that I should be applying to primarily DO schools. Not that DO schools are any less qualified by any means, but to achieve my end goal (becoming a fertility specialist), I would need to attend an MD school to be competitive for getting my residency and fellowships. So, finally, I thought that I should attend a Carribean school, Ross, after considering all of my factors. During my time there, I knew I had to build a competitive profile, so I started researching after I took my Step 1s. I messaged all of the fertility clinics in Chicago. I was suggested by Reena Jabamoni to go into genetics research, so I took the time to do research during my clinicals — post-call, weekends, and at night. Then, I landed the residency that I wanted. By the time I was a resident, I had many publications and I presented a lot. And, once you do something long enough, it kind of becomes your passion. I feel like in order to progress in the field of fertility, which is rather new still, it is crucial to keep researching and keep publishing. So, for my fellowship, I actually applied for a women’s reproductive health research grant! As a result, I graduated my fellowship early, converted that to a professor’s appointment, and became an oncofertility researcher for the NIH.

One downside is that even if you would think that infertility is a female-specific field, it is mostly run by older, white males. It was not fun stuff. Therefore, I quickly realized that I didn’t really want to pursue the field in an academic lens. I started looking into private practice. But, that was very money-oriented, which was not me either. I wanted to do all of it: research, academic, and patient-centered care. I even remember telling my husband that maybe this field isn’t what I envisioned it to be, maybe what I thought of it was based on how it was many years ago.”

 

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But then there was a coincidence.

One of my friends actually ran into Dr. Jabamoni, who actually helped her have her baby, and was discussing that her friend [me] is a fertility doctor and is coming to Chicago. Since fertility is a small field, Dr. Jabamoni asked her the name. After she mentioned my name, Dr. Jabamoni was like, ‘Oh my god, my little Roohi has actually become a fertility doctor!’ We met over coffee afterward, and the rest is history!

How about your own IVF journey? Would you mind telling us a little about how that enhanced your perspective on fertility?

For sure! It made me better at my job holistically, going through the process myself. Actually, I understand that in the South Asian culture, it is something that is still not widely accepted. When we were trying to get pregnant, it wasn’t working. Even as a fertility doctor myself, I was so ashamed that I said can we do it undercover and can we just do Clomid…I don’t really wanna monitor, you know things like that. You kind of buy into the self-blame, whether you’re a doctor in that very field or not. I remember I was operating and I just took Clomid and I started crying because I felt my ovulation pain. And, I have really high pain tolerance, so I knew I was just psychologically strained, holding burden and shame. I was giving off physical symptoms. Having to hide it first of all, made it actually worse. I was just really ashamed, miscarrying and feeling the guilt was taking over me. Fortunately, my husband is very logical and understanding and so I was able to talk about it more openly. So, finally, I had my son. And, after a while, I wanted to have another IVF baby but at that time I was preparing for it, I was pregnant with my daughter.

 

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If you were to explain IVF to a conservative, South Asian family, how would you do so?

IVF is a modern way to help you get your goal of becoming a parent. It employs advances in technology and science to improve your outcome. So, South Asians really get scared about what is happening outside of the body in terms of IVF, are they really yours, etc. I think people fail to understand that it’s your DNA, we are just trying to find out where the hiccup is and help with that.

Tell us a little about Vios Fertility.

It is basically a female-led clinic in a male-dominated profession. We want to make it comfortable and patient-oriented. It’s all about the patients. All of our consult rooms are designed like living rooms and we use modern technology so the patients can see what we are looking at/writing, so there is a lot of human interaction. We really believe in education and we make it clear what we will be doing and explaining what ‘abnormal’ and ‘normal’ is clearly. My patients have direct contact with me via email, even texts, so they know that they have someone to rely on.

 

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As Dr. Jeelani has mentioned, the topic of IVF is not always discussed, especially in South Asian communities. We should learn more about it, seek help when we need to, and be more open-minded about exploring options available to us. Learn more about fertility from the perspective of Dr. Jeelani herself on her Instagram through her informative posts and daily story updates! We love a woman conquering her career and making a difference each day…that too, in style!

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