As a little girl, you used to daydream about being a mother. Of course, you’d be married to a handsome man and have four perfect babies, two boys and two girls.
As you grew older, you hung on to the dream and always assumed when the time came, achieving that dream would be simple. One can therefore, imagine the surprise when you got married at 26 and realised achieving that dream was difficult.
Besides the emotional challenges and the stress it added to your relationship, there was also and still is the social stigma that comes along with barrenness.
Society stigmatises an infertile woman in total disregard of the causes. Some women, after going through an ectopic pregnancy, suffer infertility. Reproductive tract infections that are often sexually transmitted, postpartum complications or unsafe abortion practices can all lead to infertility. Or for no apparent reason, you are found infertile.
Although male infertility has been found to be the cause of a couple’s failure to conceive in about 50 per cent of cases, childless women suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. The stigma extends to the wider family, including siblings, parents and in-laws, who are deeply disappointed for the loss of continuity of their family and contribution to their community. This adds to the guilt and shame felt by the infertile person.
Braving the questions
It’s naturally expected that a couple will have children and if they don’t questions abound.
“When are you going to have a baby?” Or, “Don’t wait too long, your biological clock is ticking.” Or, “Do you not want children?”
Then gradually, everyone will seem to have a quick word of unsolicited advice. “Try to relax.” “Get more exercise.” “Change your diet.” “Lose weight.” “Gain weight.” “It’s God’s will.”
Most couples find it difficult to open up about their infertility due to the stigma. Those brave enough to share with family and friends are not spared. The questions and advice will change from “When are you having kids?” to “Just relax, it will happen when you least expect it.” Or, “You’re trying too hard.” Or, “Just have more sex!”
Infertile women also stigmatise themselves. With pressure from friends, families, even spouses, their careers, the media, they judge themselves thus: What went wrong? How could I have done something differently? What did I do to deserve it? They feel broken and worry about what other people think about them. They carry the stigma of failing to do one of the most basic human functions every day.
Reproduction through technology
Thankfully, we live in an era of assisted reproduction where there are many options for such couples. The infertile woman especially those with problems such as blocked or severely scarred fallopian tubes where surgical tubal repair is either not successful or not advisable, In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) can help. This technology enables eggs to be fertilised directly by sperm outside the woman’s body, without the egg or sperm having to pass through a blocked tube. The fertilised embryo is then transferred back into the woman’s uterus. Unfortunately, this technology is not affordable for most women and in general, infertility services are not widely available.
If you are childless, take heart, you aren’t alone. Be brave enough to share your pain and strong enough to seek help instead of building a wall around yourself. Rejoice in your talents and have pride in your achievements. The ideal thing is to never lose hope.
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