Global statistics show that one in every 6 couples suffers from infertility. But still, this is a major taboo subject in India. Religious, cultural, and social factors have all contributed to the lack of awareness about fertility as well as the stigma and silence around it. Sadly, infertility is not considered as a disease that needs to be treated and talked about but as a matter of personal shortcoming. So, couples often feel ashamed to talk about their struggles with fertility or consult the right specialists to find suitable treatment options.
However, with more and more women stepping out of their homes to build a career and a much more competitive workplace, many couples are opting for delayed pregnancies. More stressful and unhealthy lifestyles are also contributing to infertility issues. So, it’s high time to break the taboo and start promoting information about fertility, discussing factors that lead to infertility, and planning about ways to prevent and treat it. Infertility is a complicated and multi-layered problem. There are a variety of ways in which it affects individuals and relationships, and there are many aspects of the disease. The emotional distress and depression that people struggling with infertility go through are intensified in an environment that suppresses these topics.
Reasons why infertility is still treated as a taboo topic:
- In India infertility is not just a biological issue but also a social one. Due to the silence and stigma surrounding the topic, there is a lot of misinformation about fertility in the Indian society. Even in urban areas superstitions and myths about conception and infertility abound. Infertile women are often deemed inauspicious and unlucky. They are even ill-treated, abandoned, or rejected in a lot of cases.
- Social and cultural stigma is a major reason why infertility is often suppressed or hushed up to maintain one’s social image. Family members and parents also often advise against talking about infertility or seeking help. Societal pressure plays a major role in the avoidance of these sensitive topics as infertile couples often feel like social outcasts.
- Infertility is also tied up with religious factors as it is even considered in many cases as a personal flaw or the result of ill luck or bad actions. There is a huge dearth of societal and family support for people experiencing childlessness.
- There aren’t enough self-help books for those seeking relevant information on fertility. Fertility awareness is not being sufficiently promoted by government health initiatives or by non-profit organizations. It’s strange and unfortunate that though we read, hear, share, and talk about different shocking news, discussions about somebody’s struggle with giving birth to new life are still held in hushed tones and often met with insensitivity.
Challenges to infertility awareness and treatment:
1. Traditional social and cultural ideas and opinions of infertility are a major challenge to infertility awareness as well as treatment in India. The culture of silence that pervades makes it extremely difficult for men and particularly, women to openly discuss and share their problems and seek good treatment. Even in online forums and discussions, most of the comments and queries are anonymous due to the stigma and discomfort attached to infertility.
2. Another big obstacle in the way of infertile couples seeking treatment is financial aid. Even though fertility experts in India can provide some of the most advanced treatment options to solve complicated infertility issues, most couples can’t afford these techniques since their insurance policy doesn’t provide coverage for them. This can cause an enormous financial strain on a couple, along with their physical and emotional struggle. Infertility is one of the few diseases that are not acknowledged and covered by health insurance companies.
3. Women coping with fertility problems not only face familial and social prejudices and difficulties but those in the workforce also have to deal with other challenges. Strong hormonal drugs during treatment take a significant toll on the body. But neither can they take sick leave from work during this time or let their colleagues and superiors know what they are dealing with. So, men or women going through treatment have to use up their leave days or holidays to undergo treatment.
4. This secrecy that we have allowed and perpetuated around infertility is the root of the manifold obstacles that infertile couples and families face. In the absence of proper information and guidance concerning fertility care and reproductive health, men and women often don’t even detect fertility issues until much later. For infertile couples who are on their journey to treatment and conception, the whole process is very daunting especially since they have no one to talk to and can’t find any accounts or stories of similar cases.
How can we break the taboo?
With the rise of social media, promotion of healthcare and literacy and career opportunities for women, it’s now high time for infertility to come out of the shadows. While fertility clinics and specialists are already making significant advances in rendering ART techniques and treatments to patients at a much cheaper price than the West, we need to do away with the prejudices and shame attached to infertility. Only when we build a supportive and open environment for people struggling with infertility can they truly be able to seek treatment and cope with the emotional and physical duress that this disease causes.
1. Promoting infertility as a disease
The most important step in breaking the taboo on infertility is promoting infertility as an illness caused by a number of complex factors that can be treated rather than a result of character flaws or poor personal choices. Unless people start acknowledging and recognizing infertility as a serious disease that often requires professional consultation as well as emotional and psychological support, it will continue to draw stigma and shame. Acceptance is the first step to the transition from a position of judgment to a position of empathy.
2. Encouraging conversations, discussions and personal accounts of struggles with infertility
In spite of the fact that infertility is a surprisingly common problem, it is not considered a topic that can be raised in polite society. It’s understandable that people struggling with infertility may feel uncomfortable to share it with others since it’s a sensitive issue and they fear rejection, judgment, and discomfort. They might not be ready to share details about their sex life or know how to communicate their problems. All these are, however, minor obstacles. Communicating and sharing your stories can not only help with coping with your negative emotions or depression and fears but can also establish an open environment where others support, help, and learn from you and vice versa. The social media boom has given the perfect platform to people who are still unwilling to have personal face-to-face discussions or consultations. There are online communities that offer many resources and let participants exchange information and experiences, with the option of anonymity.
3. Spreading awareness and education, particularly from the medical community
Spreading information about sexual health, contraception and safe sex isn’t enough. There is a huge lack of awareness about reproductive health and infertility both in rural and urban areas in India. Unless this problem is addressed by the medical community and aggressively promoted and talked about, fertility care won’t make much headway. Another important aspect is lack of medical insurance for infertility patients or even in some cases diagnostic testing for infertility. Marketing and activism around infertility can make a major difference in promoting infertility as an important issue. We can take the example of breast cancer and see how this issue has been successfully marketed and promoted to bring attention to treatment, diagnosis, and care.
Infertility can be a very difficult problem for couples but there is no reason to lose all hope. We can do our part in helping patients cope and hopefully conceive by spreading correct information, discussing issues with sensitivity, and listening to and supporting them with empathy.