Wednesday, February 13, 2013

IVF and Indian society

India is a male-dominated, child (male child!)-obsessed society. When a couple faces infertility problem, it is the women are the ones who are blamed for their inability to get pregnant , and not the men. There are men who are reluctant to undergo infertility testing. There are mother-in-laws who adamantly deny the fact that their son could be infertile. The position of infertile women in Indian society is highly pitiable. They are generally viewed as being cursed as they are missing out on the ultimate blessing – motherhood ! Indian society is used to seeing women as baby-making machines. People believe that womanhood is complete only when a woman gives birth to a baby. As a result, when a woman fails in her reproductive function, she is viewed as incomplete and flawed! All her other positive assets are considered useless. In certain parts of India , infertile women are thought to be possessed by evil spirits! Which is why there are still people who do not invite infertile women for auspicious functions. Because of the social stigma associated with infertility, even educated women are ashamed of being infertile! They think that their body is defective and they believe that it is because of their sins ( either in this lifetime or the past) that God is punishing them, and that they must have been cursed to suffer the pangs of childlessness.

It is because of all this emotional baggage, both personal and social , that they are very reluctant to talk to anyone about their problem , and they are forced to suffer in silence. This in turn creates mental strife and depression. No one dares to ask an Indian man why he is not able to have children , but childless Indian women face ridicule from all walks of society. In such an environment , what can a husband do to protect his wife’s emotional well-being?

In-laws still pose a major threat to an infertile woman’s emotional safety. Although it is not always true, many infertile women are made to suffer at the hands of their in-laws. When a woman is not educated or financially independent , and when she has to live with her in-laws, the suffering becomes intense and intolerable. She has to face verbal attacks - and in some instances , even physical violence. But an infertile Indian man is totally protected from these kinds of emotional assaults. In such a circumstance, if your wife has a fertility problem , isn’t it your duty to safe-guard her from your spiteful parents and siblings? The best way to protect your wife is to tell your family that it is you who have fertility problems, and not your wife! Is it so difficult to tell such a small white lie?  If they believe that it is their son who is having a problem , then they will treat their daughter-in-better well (at least they will not hurt her!). This creates a peaceful environment at home , both for your wife and also for you!

In our case, my DH ( Darling Husband)  is very kind , and is considerate enough to lie to his parents that the problem is with him. Life became very difficult for me when my mother-in-law started questioning me during each conversation we had, as to whether we were taking treatment; whether I was taking medicines properly; and when my last menstrual cycle was. I started to dread the telephone conversation with her , and became very restless when the week-ends tolled around. So my DH told them that he is the one who is having problems with his fertility. As a result of this , the questions which made me uncomfortable vanished! I do feel guilty within myself (isn’t it hard for any parent to know that their offspring has fertility problem?) and I feel very grateful for my DH’s understanding and kindness. Even though it appears very selfish , it has made our family life peaceful. I no longer get hurt after a conversation with my mother-in-law. I no longer make my DH’s life miserable by saying that your mom asked me this and that. When there is an intrusion from outsiders (yes, even your parents are outsiders when your family life is concerned!) , the infertility problem gets magnified several fold.

The stigma associated with infertility tends to continue even after we get pregnant and give birth to a child.  I received an e-mail from a couple who is awaiting the birth of their first child , conceived after IVF. They are very happy , but at the same time are very anxious about whether they should tell their parents about the fact that their grand child is a test tube baby ! They wrote ‘In India,  awareness about IVF is very less. People think that IVF is a technique which is used for infertile couples who are unable to produce their own eggs or sperms. The general belief among the public is, in IVF technique, donor sperms or eggs are used (Thanks to the movie, Vicky Donor!). In this situation is it even wise to tell them that we conceived our child via IVF? Will they even bother to try to understand the science behind the creation of our bundle of joy ?”

In India, IVF is still a taboo subject. Many people strongly hold on to their own fallacies and it is very hard to explain them what the scientific facts behind IVF are ! In this situation, what will happen if the elders in the family think that the child doesn’t carry their family genes? How will society treat the child if they see the child as being born from an outsider’s gametes? Won’t this be a danger to the child’s emotional safety? The man wanted to know whether it is OK to tell his parents about the complex IVF procedure, because he wanted to share the truth with them, but his wife is very afraid and reluctant to do so.

I could understand his wife's dilemma. She is afraid whether her in-laws will accept her baby if they have the notion that the IVF technique is used for couples who need donor eggs or sperms. It is very important for her husband to respect her feelings. Even though they are his parents , it is not necessary that he tells them everything which happens in his life. Elders, because of the society in which they grew up, have a very conservative mind set. Some can be very close-minded, and it hard to change them and make them understand facts. Why should someone worry them with unwanted details? What are they going to do by understanding the facts? It might lead to unnecessary chaos and worries! Let the elders be happy on seeing their grandchild - it is not necessary that they know the mode of creation of their grandchild!

When the child grows up, the parents can tell the child the science behind his birth at an appropriate age. It’s best that the baby learns about how he was born via his parents , rather than through someone else who is ignorant about the process , and can distort the details!

If you are a person who is afraid and depressed of your infertility (and are reluctant to explore different treatment options) because of the society in which you live in, my sincere advice is– you have only one life, live for yourself!

This is an excerpt from our forthcoming, book, The Expert Patient's Guide to IVF. This being authored by our expert patient, Manju and me.

 You can email Manju at [email protected]

Her blog is at
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