When I was walking through the mall the other day, I overheard a stressed young mother offhandedly comment to her two preschoolers who were misbehaving quite loudly that they were “a walking advertisement for birth control.”
Her humor made me smile but also reflect on parenting and motherhood. Today it is common for couples to wait until they are older and settled before starting a family. Unfortunately, waiting may decrease their probability of having children.
Today it is more common to find couples struggling to conceive. It is estimated that 1 in 7 couples is unable to reproduce.
Both Women and Men
Infertility is a condition in which a woman is unable to conceive after a year of being sexually active without birth control. This condition is not gender-specific: both men and women share an equal third of the blame. The remaining third implicates factors from both partners or from an unknown source.
If you go back 15 years, infertility was not so openly discussed as it is today. Facing infertility is quite devastating for some couples, but we are privileged to live in a country where women are not ostracised, physically abused, or cursed because they are unable to bear children.
In China, infertility affects many couples. For most, the treatments are too expensive, not easily accessible, or culturally frowned upon. Moreover, an inherent shyness about discussing anything regarding sexuality could hinder a couple from seeking advice and support from their family.
Traditional Chinese Medicine regards infertility as a problem of the whole person and an imbalance of his or her energy. Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Shiatsu, Qigong, and Tai Chi are often used to rebalance the person's energy flow in order to help the couple conceive.
In India, couples who are unable to conceive face an uphill battle in their attempts to have a family. The country can offer the most advanced reproductive techniques to circumvent infertility problems, but for most couples the treatments are too expensive.
Indian women are under a lot of pressure to propagate the family name. Misconceptions about infertility and its causes are widespread. Women often suffer shame in being childless because they believe they are cursed by God or being punished for the sins of a prior life.
Prevalence of infertility in Africa is among the highest internationally. Underlying causes for the high infertility rates include a history of female circumcision, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy complications, and genital infection. It is estimated that infertility is responsible for 45–65% of gynaecological consultations.
The main concern is that African society places a high premium on fertility due to social, economic, and religious beliefs. In most cases women suffer distress—divorce, loss of social status, physical and emotional abuse, poverty—when they are unable to conceive and will be blamed and ostracised for non-conception.
Worldwide there are many cultural misconceptions that claim to contribute to infertility. Some of these false beliefs are:
In Australia, within the Aborigine culture, they believe that girls who play the didgeridoo (the world’s oldest wind instrument) will become infertile.
If the menstrual flow is light, "bad blood" accumulates in the body, causing infertility.
An urban legend purported that men who drank a famous soda pop would suffer from a lower sperm count, causing sterility.
In Sudan, people believe that an unacceptable dowry, witchcraft, eating the wrong food, and parental discontent with their daughter’s chosen partner can make a woman infertile.
Excessive masturbation in adolescence will “use up” all of a man’s sperm.
Daily oral contraceptives build up in a woman's body, causing sterility.
Before passing judgement on these misconceptions, realize that for many people who are fighting to survive, infertility education or treatment is not high on their list of priorities. In areas struggling for essential commodities such as food and clean water, their health care resources are overtaxed combating communicable diseases such as AIDS.
Emotional Toll of Infertility
Regardless of where they live, infertile individuals generally have low self-esteem and an inferiority complex. They may feel that their bodies have let them down or that they are flawed and defective.
Infertile couples seeking medical consultations and treatments often must endure a long, frustrating road leading to stress, communication problems, and disagreements over the costs and potential risks of treatment. Failed attempts over time have an emotional toll, often leading to relationship difficulties and depression. For many people, part of their identity is linked to parenthood; when they are unable to conceive, it challenges their self-worth and sexual adequacy.
There are three assisted reproductive technologies available to couples:
The Centers for Disease Control collect success rate data from different fertility clinics across the United States to help you compare clinics. In 2006, of the 138,198 assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles performed at several infertility clinics across the country, the success rate was 41,343 live births (of one or more living infants) and 54,656 infants.
The odds are that you know more than one couple going down this long, stressful, expensive road. Help them by offering emotional support and an empathetic ear. Like the young mother in the mall, procreation is an experience most of us take for granted—but for many it is the start of a long journey with no guarantee of success.
Forensic Nurse. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.forensicnursemag.com/articles/391clinical.html
Gender inequality in southern Sudan. (2009) Global Medicine.
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