The psychological effects of infertility are disastrous on women. If the couple desirous of starting a family does not conceive for a year or two the frustration begins. Along with the frustration comes worry and anxiety. Will I conceive or won’t I –the question begin to haunt the woman. She not only worries for her own biological inability to have a child but also begins to feel guilty about not begetting a child for her husband and his family as well. What will happen if there is no progeny- how will the family name continue is a condition that torments her? The genetic lineage should not stop. This trauma could become the top most priority for many couples and some women have left their jobs to focus entirely on conceiving by available medical interventions. The long drawn and physically invasive procedures for in-vitro fertilisation can also be a psychological drain for the woman. For, there is no certainty that she would conceive positively at the first attempt or even after the second.
Infertility is a frustrating and depressing experience. Anxiety and depression are common features which are experienced by all such couples. Men are also affected although some may put up a brave face and take a philosophical or a practical approach to the situation. Men might reconcile themselves by immersing themselves in their work and running away from the problem. Women are extremely affected as they are willing to subject themselves to go through great hardships to have a child. For many it could be a do or die situation. And they would not know when to stop the medical trails for there is always ‘hope’ that the day will come. For many it may become an endless wait and a hopeless one.
We are all aware of the social and the cultural values that impact such women. In a country where a high premium is given to fertility and a woman’s worth is measured by her ability to procreate and become a mother, no other achievements of hers carry any weight. All her successes will pale when compared to her fertility status. Even an illiterate dumb woman will wear the crown when she begets a child. She would be glorified as a ‘mother’. An infertile woman would be likened to a ‘barren’ field where ‘nothing can grow’. She becomes a curse for the family and for other ‘fertile’ women. She may be kept out of many religious and cultural rituals. Or at least if she is not ostracised (for people have become educated you know) they will certainly be sidelined. I have my own experiences as a single woman to enlighten me as to what could happen to ‘barren’ women. I have heard some modern educated childless couples saying in social defence that ‘they are childless by choice’. How pathetic it sounds.
My educated friends would argue that society has changed. Now- a- days the infertile woman is not thrown out of the house as they were earlier. Now the man does not bring in or threaten to bring in another wife for not bearing him a child. Society has become kinder from what is was but still not enough. A childless woman is an object of either pity or scorn leading to condemnation. She experiences guilt and shame. Many times her infertility may be her biological fault and many times it may not be doing at all. But she is targeted to face the social backlash. The onus is dumped on her by society. She is made the scapegoat.
Hearing such women narrate their heart wrenching stories does not make one proud of the cultural values and norms. We have been brave and wise to have done away with sati, jauhar, purdah, child marriages and girl illiteracy. It is time perhaps to do away with the premium on motherhood. I know I risk being misunderstood (more by women themselves) and misquoted but all I am saying that a woman can be judged by other yardsticks as well. She need not be cursed and ostracised and made to feel useless due to a biological quirk. Motherhood is a great achievement and every married woman would look forward to having a baby but if she cannot then there are alternatives. She can adopt or she can hire a surrogate. The pleasure of nurturing a baby is no less than the pleasure of having a child. In fact in Hindu religion the mother who nurtures is greater in value than the mother who gives only birth. Remember the story of Lord Krishna and Mother Yashoda!
Published in Hitavada Women’s World on October 07 2009