By Rimli Bhattacharya
“On a planet where for thousands of years, even today, a woman’s worth has been judged exclusively by the productivity of her womb, what the hell is the point of a barren woman?” – Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
My classmate is a ‘barren’ woman; she couldn’t be a mother. The couple tried their best for a baby but they failed. She blamed herself. She wanted to hear the word ‘Mummy’ but she couldn’t. She was depressed.
Yes, it’s a case of infertility.
In terms of medical science, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive in spite of having unprotected conjugal life. In common man’s word, unprotected sex. The medical journal also says that half of the instances are attributed to female health but the other is equally attributed to sperm malady and other incognito circumstances.
As per the statistics of The Mayo Clinic, USA: 20% of infertility is due to a malady in a man, 40% to 50% is attributed to a complication in a woman, and 30% to 40% are due to issues in both a man and a woman.
To list a few, this is what causes infertility in women:
- Ovulation mayhem, which includes untimely functioning of ovaries much before age forty; PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome), where there are high levels of hormone androgen affecting reproduction; Hyperprolactinemia, where there is excess of prolactin and, if the woman is not breastfeeding, it can lead to infertility, low egg or no egg in the ovaries; Thyroid problem and other diseases like HIV/AIDS or Cancer
- Genetic disorder, which may be congenital
- Problems in Uterus and Fallopian tubes. In the case of my cousin, her fallopian tube was missing and it was congenital
- Drug/Medication side effects: mainly the anti-inflammatory drugs and sometimes the medications given during chemotherapy are also a major factor. Radiotherapy is not to be ignored, that is equally fatal.
The question is: how do we diagnose infertility? It is a standard practice for a couple to rush to a gynecologist, when the woman is unable to conceive. However, if a woman is still unable to conceive even after repeated unprotected sex for twelve months, there arises the need for medical intervention. If a woman is in her mid-thirties, it is mandatory for her to visit the medico earlier. The tests and trials take a long time. That’s why it is advisable for the woman to see a doctor before thirty-five. The couple needs to confide in the doctor about their sexual habits and the doctor will advise the tests accordingly. The trials are grueling and painful and can continue for more than a year. It has also been reported that no specific cause for infertility could be found even after a thorough investigation. In certain cases, the treatment may be expensive.
In spite of the fact a man can also be barren, our society is still biased in blaming women for barrenness. There are several ways to treat infertility in a woman. To name a few: Ovulation ailment for which fertility drugs are prescribed – mainly drugs related to FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), GnRH (Gonadotropin – releasing hormones) and a lot more; the surgical procedure includes the removal of blockages in the Fallopian tube for the easier movement of eggs or a simple Laparoscopic surgery, where a medico can make a minor incision and see the internal organs, may remove implants and scarred tissues which will aid the fertility. And then the complex ones such as IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) and IVF (In vitro Fertilization).
As I mentioned earlier, there are several complications a woman has to face during this treatment to be a mother. The IVF treatment in particular is very complicated and can cause a lot of side effects: Ovarian hyper stimulation Syndrome, Bloating, Constipation, Abdominal Pain, Difficulties in passing urine, breast tenderness, mood swings, and a lot more. A study on IVF, conducted by K. Hammarberg, J. Astbury, and H.W.G. Baker, points out: “It is clear that IVF treatment is emotionally and physically stressful, and often financially demanding […] For example Woods et al. (1991) concluded that ‘Women who are most persistent in exploring treatment . . . become vulnerable to being labelled neurotic, dysfunctional, or maladjusted’. Some studies have tried to evaluate the stress involved in undergoing IVF treatment. In most of these studies, couples have been asked to answer questionnaires while undergoing treatment or immediately following one or more failed treatment cycles […]. In one study, women and men who were currently in IVF treatment reported the most keenly felt emotions to be sadness, anxiety, anger and disgust, and the most stressful stages of IVF were a negative pregnancy test result, waiting for pregnancy test result, waiting to hear about fertilization and the wait between IVF treatment cycle attempts.” Dr. Firuza Parekh, who has been instrumental in helping 7000 couples having children through IVF and who wrote the bestseller, The Complete Guide To Becoming Pregnant, corroborates the difficulty inherent in the treatment and suggest that “being childless isn’t the end of the world and everybody cannot succeed with IVF.” When asked if a woman is still stigmatized in our society for not being able to conceive a child, Dr. Parekh answers in the affirmative in the same interview: “Unfortunately it often is. I tell women that everybody cannot succeed with IVF. IVF has its own limitations so sometimes when the treatment does not work, a woman feels like a failure so I always tell them, ‘you are not a failure, the treatment has failed you’. Today 90 per cent of infertility can be treated – we have options like freezing of eggs, donor eggs, donor sperms, we have ICSI, which is an advanced form of IVF. There is surrogacy. Of course, there is always adoption.”
Dr. Firuza Parekh on the IVF department at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai
Dr. Firuza Parekh on freezing female eggs
The emotional impact of being infertile is similar to an untold pain, a grief like any unforgettable loss. Feelings of trauma, depression, angry outbursts, low self-esteem/confidence mark these women. It also affects the relationship of the couple, most often because of interference from other family members who may unintentionally cause grief to the woman suffering in silence. The impact can lead to an ugly brawl between the couple and the woman may lose interest in her sex life, as she is already struggling under anxiety and hopelessness.
We have progressed in terms of technology and education but our society still points a finger at a woman, despite the fact that 20% of this infertility can be attributed to the fact that a man is impotent. There can be a whole host of reasons for a man’s impotence. However, when a man is medically proven to be impotent, our society still refuses to acknowledge this fact. The blame is often shifted to women. This attitude prevails in both rural and urban areas.
As a woman and as a mother, I would like to conclude this essay by pointing out that infertility is just a disorder like any other illness – hypertension, diabetes, thyroid problem, etc. Having seen cases of parents being abandoned in their old age, there is no guarantee that you will able to enjoy their company all your life. If you are desperate to hear the word, ‘Mother’, you can always go for adoption and give an orphan a home. My friend, who I started the article with, dealt with her depression by seeking help from a therapist. When all medical interventions failed, she too went for an adoption and adopted a girl child. While it’s a blessing to pass on the bloodline, it is a double blessing to adopt an orphan. Be kind, be grateful for the fact that you are infertile. So that you can be a mother to all those orphans, who had a mother once but are motherless and in need to love. There can be no love without sacrifice. So sacrifice your barrenness to all those children, who yearn for a mother.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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