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Infertile woman: The sociological impact

Photo: Women Planet

By Rimli Bhattacharya

After I recently published an article on Infertility and Women, I came across a request from a friend asking me to write on the sociological implications of infertility. In my essay, I had highlighted one major emotional impact of being infertile – depression. There are several other aspects which come into picture as soon as we declare a woman infertile.

As I had cited earlier, as per the statistics of 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. In this essay, I will highlight the Skinnerian impact of infertility on couples from a feminist point of view. My focus will be on the females because our misogynistic patriarchal society still struggles to believe that a man can as well be held responsible for this malady. This parochial mentality prevails both in urban as well as rural areas. In an interesting survey, it has been observed that the majority of the infertile people across the globe reside in the developing countries.

During the most difficult phase of treatment, women suffer from a feeling of despair and low self-esteem. There are instances when, after undergoing the painful treatment, shelling out a lot of money, consuming the prescribed drugs, going under the invasive procedure, their pregnancy tests show negative results. The need for surgery on the genitals, with partners resorting to surrogacy or oocyte donation, causes tremendous shock to them. Some women, who had to undergo this treatment, confided: “When the doctor told me that I have to use a donated ovum, I was shocked.” In such situations, participants tend to lose control over their emotions and actions. A participant declared, “I was so distracted while driving home that I had an accident and actually cried. I was frustrated and asked God, ‘I’m really tried. What should I do?’” Frequent failures in remedying infertility and learning about the failure of other treatments at the Infertility Center increase the agony of participants. Women who become pregnant, which afterwards end in miscarriage, experience a sense of failure. As some of the women said, “So much medicine and treatment substantially reduced my self-confidence.” Another participant stated, “I was sure the fetus will stay and that I am becoming a mother from the moment they implanted it, but finally I lost my child.”

Additionally, the emotional reactions to this treatment inculcate a feeling of anxiety, fear, fatigue, grief, helplessness, depression, worry, and hopelessness. Anxiety and fear of the women were attributed to their husband’s reaction, in case the result turns negative after treatment. Some even said that they felt frustrated to the extent of committing suicide as they were tired of the tests and trials. On seeing repeated negative test results, some felt grief-stricken to the point of a nervous breakdown. Yet there were some who had to stop the treatment as it was too expensive for them. One of the women stated that one were bound to feel hopeless and discontent when the result came out negative.

Although I have tried to narrate the psychic impact of being an infertile (I don’t like to use the word, ‘infertile’, as it is loaded with patriarchal meanings) woman, we must remember that there are women, who deliberately choose to remain childless. In the Guardian, Jill Filipovic writes that the “increased visibility and acceptance of women who choose not to have children is just one part of a social evolution away from the limited ‘traditional family’ model, and into a world where human beings with a diversity of needs can create family arrangements that work for them. That’s not just good for the child-free; it’s great for feminism – and even better for society and families […]. Most girls grow up in a culture of assumed motherhood. I was raised in a liberal, tolerant household, but into early adulthood, I never questioned whether I was going to have kids – it was always how many and when. That wasn’t borne out of a deep, inherent desire for children.”

To have a child or not should be a matter of personal choice. One must assess one’s own life, circumstances, values, and desires and then decide if one wishes to be a parent. As mentioned by Jill Filipovic, one needn’t wait to have a child when one is financially well-off. “We need better social and political mechanisms to ensure that families at every income level can raise children who are healthy and who have access to good food, a decent education and the prospect of social and economic mobility,” Filipovic writes.

We must stop stigmatizing a woman if she is incapable of conceiving a child of her own. Women must have the freedom to choose to have or not to have a child and when she wants to have it. We need not add to her trauma by branding her ‘infertile’.

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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