Luck favoured me and I conceived the very first month we tried. It never occurred to me that it had anything to do with the friend who suddenly disappeared into oblivion and stopped responding. What I had labelled as indifference was actually a feeling of void, a sense of inadequacy that she had felt. I came to know of it years later when we chanced upon each other at a cafetaria. I had been so busy handling diapers and bottles and tantrums that I hardly noticed her absence. A hearty talk over coffee made me realise that every post and picture that I shared only added to her misery and reminded her of what was missing in her life. And all this time, I had though that she did not care!
My friend is not alone. More than 150 million couples in India suffer from infertility and majority of them suffer in silence! Women in our society are particularly constantly judged and expected to conform to a checklist at every stage of their lives.
A girl is ‘good’ only if she dresses ‘appropriately’ and indulges in a restrained behaviour.
A married woman is ‘respectable’ if she bears the ‘signs’ of marriage a.k.a sindoor, mangalsutra…and eventually a child!
There are no parameters to define a complete man in our society but being childless is considered as a definitive sign of an incomplete woman.
Despite the claims of broad-mindedness and modern outlooks, the taboo around infertility still exists. The stigma around infertility affects women more than men as the bearer of the womb is blamed primarily for its emptiness. Infertility is not viewed by the society as a disease like other medical conditions; it is considered as an insufficiency as if the woman is incapable of performing a duty expected of her. This lack of support and understanding makes the patient recede behind a wall of solitude, making the already painful experience more agonising. She avoids the topic and is afraid to talk.
Some orthodox and even not-so-orthodox(supposedly!) are still superstitious about the presence of an infertile woman, a ‘banjh’ at auspicious ceremonies. This leads to a feeling of shame, depression and a sense of insufficiency. At a time when the woman needs support, she hardly finds any. Instead of being made to feel that it is okay to not be able to bear a child, she is made to feel like an outcast, an untouchable, infected with a grave disease.
Superstitions have a strong hold in our culture and desperate couples sometimes indulge in tantras, absurd rituals and even consult self-proclaimed fertility experts who take advantage of their situation for the sake of money and the couples end up all the more disappointed and frustrated. Just because they are desperate for a solution to a problem which can’t be shared openly!
We, as a society, do not like talking about infertility. We treat it like Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, ‘the one who can’t be named’, as if the mere mention of the word would cause an outbreak of the same. So many women are suffering in silence. We need to end the stigma attached to infertility. Talking about the issue can actually be empowering for women who suffer from it as it makes them believe that they are not alone. It is comforting to know that you are not fighting alone and the battle can be won. Choosing IVF, adoption, surrogacy or remaining childless should be a choice made out of free will, not societal pressure or compulsion. A welcome initiative in this regard is InfertilityDost, a portal that provides guidance. knowledge and support to infertile couples. It aims to break the taboos surrounding infertility by breaking the silence over it. It provides a platform to women who suffer from infertility to share their stories and inspire each other. It empowers them by giving them the right advice so that they can choose from among the options available.
Let us all, as individuals, contribute to end this stigma.
Let us all speak up!
Infertility is a medical condition and not a stamp of inadequacy!
Let’s fight it by standing together! Let’s break the silence!!
Author’s note: This blog is to #SpreadAwareness about Infertility through Infertility Dost, India’s first website that facilitates couples to brave infertility with support and knowledge. You can find other links on Write Tribe