Mother or Nothing: The Torture of Infertility

Being a mother is almost every woman’s dream but not every woman is granted that blessing. Infertility is a subject that can affect both the men and women but usually the blame is put on the woman.

The most celebrated ceremony in the African society is marriage, a woman is a symbol of fertility.

In the African society, within the few months of marriage a baby bump is anticipated.  When months become years, meetings and numerous discussions are held to find a solution to the “problem.”

Fingers start being pointed, and at times families can start accusing each other of bewitching the other.

In the end, if a solution, medical or spiritual, is not found , the woman becomes the target.

It is disturbing how bareness is quickly blamed on a woman. In actual fact, misfortune is always quickly blamed on women in our African culture.

The elders then quickly begin to decide what steps to take, and in most cases, the conclusion will be to send the daughter-in-law back to her parents.

Mavis (not her real name) stated that women are shamed and discriminated against once discovered that she cannot have children.

“Usually a woman is expected to have had her first child in the first year of her marriage, if this does not happen she is treated differently,

“If she is unlucky she can be sent back home because she cannot produce seed for her husband,

“In most cases another woman is brought into the home to bear children for her husband or the younger sister to the infertile woman is asked to do the same for the husband,” said Mavis.

Within the marriage set up, some men accept the situation but the woman is abused. She faces verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

The men become promiscuous and show no affection towards their wives.

According to John (not his real name), a vendor along First Street, men always find another alternative when found in a situation like that.

“As men, we always find another alternative; we look for another woman that bears children for me,

“In most cases I can sit down with my wife and agree on bringing another woman into the house which is far better than doing it in hiding,” said John.

However there are cases where the man is infertile but in the African set-up, it is believed that a man is never infertile.

Speaking to Chipo (not her real name) she said in the African society the man is never deemed infertile and it is always the woman with the problem.

“The man is never infertile, it is rare to hear that a man is infertile, so in a situation where the man is infertile for sure it can never be known because the blame is always put on the woman,”

“In cases where the man is infertile, the issue is discussed in a secluded place and members of his family will try to secretly fix the problem.” she said.

It is unfair how a barren man is protected compared to the undignified treatment experienced by a woman in the same shoes.

In African Culture, it is taboo to point out that a man has failed in the bedroom. In reality, we have countless numbers of men who are sterile but it is shocking how they plainly and unashamedly refuse to be labeled ‘infertile’.

The other challenge is that most men marry for the sole reason of childbearing because they want to leave an heir when they die.

Many couples who are infertile end up having a divorce as having children constitutes the reason for marriage.

It should however be noted that some of the divorced women get remarried and start bearing children while their previous husbands remarry and remain childless in their second marriages.

Infertility has been defined as failure to conceive after one year of regular unprotected sexual intercourse in the absence of known reproductive pathology.

Epidemiological studies have revealed that in a normal population of heterosexually active women who are not using birth control, 25% will become pregnant in the first month, 63% within 6 months, and 80% within one year.

By the end of a second year, 85% to 90% will have conceived.

Worldwide, more than 70 million couples suffer from infertility, the majority being residents of developing countries.

According to a World Health Organization report 2016, Developing countries experience negative consequences of childlessness to a greater degree when compared with Western societies.

“Regardless of the medical cause of infertility, women receive the major blame for the reproductive setback and they suffer personal grief and frustration, social stigma, ostracism and serious economic deprivation,

“In Cameroon, infertility is a reason for divorce among the Bangangte tribe, causing a woman to lose her access to land distributed by her husband,

“Among the Ekiti of Southwestern Nigeria, infertile women are treated as outcast, after they die, and their bodies are buried on the outskirts of the town with those of people experiencing mental ill-health,” stated the report.

Stereotypes associated with barrenness must be done away with in our society, everyone should accept that even men can be infertile.

People shouldn’t stand on roof tops celebrating that someone cannot bear children.

Do people marry for the sole reason of birthing children? No. Now is the time to renew our mindset about the reasons for marriage.

If a woman cannot bear children, it does not mean that she cannot live in a happy marriage. Marriage is for two mature, educated people who then have to decide for themselves the outcome of their infertility.

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