Statistically, across the world, infertility affects one in six couples. Despite this, it is a cause of immense taboo in most societies. Though the west has seen significant improvements in spreading awareness about this condition, India is yet to see such information exchange. The culture we belong to – where sex is not discussed – is an added factor and hindrance to the spread of this extremely important medical condition.
Though, there is news of celebrities opting for assisted reproductive techniques to have children and an entire movie based on surrogacy (Filhaal, 2002) in recent times, infertility is still not a dinner table discussion. This is odd, since almost all other medical conditions are discussed aloud within families.
1. Infertility is a medical condition. It requires intervention from the doctors!
Infertility is defined as the failure to conceive after a year of regular unprotected intercourse, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth. This happens strictly due to problems in the following:
- The male partner’s reproductive system
- The male partner’s sperm or semen
- The female partner’s fallopian tubes
- The female partner’s uterus and/or cervix
- The female partner’s ovulation
- Unknown reasons
The contributing factors to these problems include age, lifestyle, stress, weight, harmful habits (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse) and environmental toxins among other reasons. Infertility, like any other medical condition is not brought upon an individual by choice, but happens due to several reasons and strictly requires medical help.
2. Infertility is not just associated with women
It is popularly believed that if a woman does not conceive, it is her fault. This is untrue and severely unfair to women. In fact, according to WHO’s statistics, 30% of infertility cases are due to the female partner, 30% of the cases are due to the male partner, 30% of cases are due to minor problems in both partners and 10% is unexplained.
3. Infertility is not just associated with disability to conceive
Infertility also encompasses medical conditions which cause multiple pregnancy losses and miscarriages too.
4. Fertility treatments are not just restricted to a “test tube baby”
Unlike what is popularly known, fertility treatments do not begin or end with the “test tube baby”. In fact in a lot of cases the first step towards an fertility treatment is just scheduling a well-timed intercourse. There are several other treatments including artificial insemination. Also, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is the only test tube baby procedure people are aware of. However, there are other procedures available including ICSI, donor treatments (egg & sperm) and surrogacy.
The key to any fertility treatment is that it is a step-wise procedure. It always starts with the least invasive procedure and when nothing works, it progresses to the final options of donor treatments or surrogacy. Currently, the field of reproductive medicine is so advanced that treatments include screening of the embryo before implanting it in order to increase the success rate of implantation. There are also options to preserve one’s fertility at an appropriate age by vitrifying sperm or eggs.
5. The condition called infertility requires additional attention because it not just physically strain the individual, but also causes mental anxiety
The period of wait during which a couple undergoes fertility treatment is severely stressful owing to the medications he or she consumes, lack of clarity of the outcome and the societal pressures of having a child. Some of these couples go through treatments for loss of pregnancy which is all the more difficult to handle. Such situations put immense pressure on the individuals themselves as well as causes severe strain on the relationship. Some of them start questioning their self-worth which also affects their performance at work.
It is very essential for family and the support system to completely understand their treatment cycle and provide them all the emotional support they can. In fact a perfect fertility treatment would be one that includes a counsellor for the patients to speak to at regular intervals.
Such all-round support would only be possible, when society stops viewing infertility from a judgemental angle. It is time we start speaking more openly about infertility.