The emotional pain of infertility

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The emotional pain of infertility.

Infertility is commonly defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse.  Approximately 7.3 million women and their partners (about 12% of the reproductive-age population) are infertile.

Women and Becoming Mothers:

Women grow up assuming that one day they will be mothers. Right from playing with dolls, the onset of periods, the expectations of the elders in the family, movies, advertisements, the media all serve to reinforce this feeling. After all isn't it the most natural thing in the world for the female of the species to procreate? A woman grows up intuitively feeling that motherhood is an essential part of her feminity and her sense of self.

When this imagined self of being a mother is threatened, it may feel like an assault on her womanhood and her ability to be a complete person.

A Sense of loss:

Women who may previously have led successful and well-planned lives, suddenly feel they have lost control of their destiny. A combination of the body failing to respond as expected, a sense that life has suddenly stopped can leave the woman at an increased risk of depression. It also has a negative impact on one's self esteem.

For some women, motherhood is often their highest ambition. When a woman cannot conceive it has a tremendous impact on her sense of self, her personal relationships and suffuses her whole life with pain, guilt, shame and a terrible sense of loss.

Couple DisappointedThe Social Pressure Of Pregnancy

The social pressure to bear children after marriage is so enormous, that women who are unable to have children can be made to feel as though something is dreadfully wrong with them, that they are somehow defective or being punished for something by the higher powers. Even women who don't necessarily want to become mothers are buffeted by these expectations from society.

Isolation and Alienation:

Such women feel isolated and alienated from the rest of the world. Friends and family become parents, and there is much less in common with them. They cannot connect or bond with other women's experience of pregnancy or their ordeals in bringing up their children. They feel guilty about not being able to contribute to the family. They feel they do not belong with the rest of the world that has all women as mothers.

The added emotional responsibility:

Women generally tend to take on the added emotional responsibility of their husbands too instead of asking for support and this adds to their emotional burdens.

Infertility Affects Relationships:

Though the pain of the childlessness can bring couples closer often the relationship may suffer when for instance the husband or his family does not want to accept that the problem may be with him, and fosts the whole responsibility of the childlessness on the woman.

Stress and conflicts may arise out of the financial constraints of treatments, out of which treatments to try, when to stop treatment and whether one should go in for adoption instead.

Fight To Conceive:

Trying to get pregnant with the help of treatment is not easy either. Going through medical tests and rounds of treatments and procedures can be both time consuming and expensive and take precedence over everything else in life. Vacations are postponed, education or buying a home is deferred and careers disrupted.

The physical demands of treatment, including blood tests, pills, injections of hormones, ultrasounds, surgeries and other procedures can be an added source of stress and discomfort for the woman.

Treatment Failure leads to Distress:

When treatment fails, there are strong emotional reactions, weeping fits, frustration and disappointment each month at the appearance of the period. This sorrow, anger, anxiety, depression, and bitterness can seep into every area of life, eroding self-confidence and straining relationships.

With some women, the feelings of sorrow and disappointment become so overwhelming and unmanageable that they have to seek emotional counselling as well.

In general, it would be no exaggeration to say that the emotional upheaval a woman goes through is as devastating as for those who face life threatening conditions like cancer, heart disease or AIDS.

Unlike in the urban setting where mostly psychological reactions are seen, the main concerns for childless women in rural areas are the social and cultural effects.

Understand The Emotions of The Woman:

People often do not realise or understand the intense trauma that the woman is going through, her grief or the sense of severe loss of her wished for life as a mother. Instead of offering empathy or  support they may ask insensitive questions or give unsolicited advice.

The elders in the family may add on to the frustrations by making the woman take treatment from mendicants, seers, and force her to fast, chant incantations or visit certain temples, wear energised beads or charms etc. in a hope to get her pregnant. Often the woman is not allowed to seek out modern treatments.

Societal Pressure:

If a woman fails to conceive in the long run and remains childless she is often scorned or condemned as a sterile woman. She is also often considered unclean or cursed and may face social discrimination, ostracism and stigma.

Childless women, whether urban or rural need special attention, as the impact of infertility is often ongoing and crippling to their identity.

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