Stigma surrounding IVF and the reality behind it

Infertility continues to be stigmatised and women continue to be discriminated against, putting them under enormous emotional strain

Representational image. AFP

In the Indian society, where gender roles and social status are intrinsically tied to parenthood, childbearing is of immense importance. This value that has been put on being able to birth a child is so inflated, that most often the sole purpose of marriage is grow the family and to keep generations going. As such, from as soon as a couple is married, they feel passive and otherwise pressure from their family members to bring a child to the world, preferably a son.

Society has a tendency to believe that fertility for men is a given and that childlessness is always a woman’s fault. Infertility continues to be stigmatised and women continue to be discriminated against, putting them under enormous emotional strain. This results in unstable marriages, due to conventional reproductive perceptions and social norms. The majority of female infertility-related unpleasant feelings in the society have been linked to stigma. Infertile women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy are immensely affected as a result of stigma, which is also linked to greater distress, a lack of social support, and a poor social standing. Not only this, it has been found that infertile women are more likely to have symptoms for depression as well as anxiety.

One research published in the” target=”_blank”>BMC Women’s Health found that almost 45 per cent infertile women have clinically significant depressive symptoms compared to ~24% in the fertile cohort; it also found that ~40 per cent of the infertile group observed had anxiety whereas ~18% exhibit the same in the fertile group.

We are yet a long way to go where fighting these stigmas are concerned. However technology in today’s world has progressed by leaps and bounds and today we have many medical solutions for the couples struggling with infertility. Under the ambit of ART, we see techniques like In vitro fertilisation (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) etc. all of which are proven scientific solutions for people struggling with infertility. However, the lack of scientific knowledge, still makes people opt for traditional and spiritual healers rather than a visit to a doctor.

Even today people have a lot of misconceptions about IVF which makes them doubt the process. One common misconception is that IVF causes one to have multiple births. In the past, in order to maximise chances of conception, IVF laboratories used to often transfer a lot of healthy embryos. However, in the decades that followed, technology improved and this is no longer a necessity.

Another common myth related to IVF is that all deliveries in IVF pregnancies are surgical. In reality IVF pregnancies are similar to natural pregnancies. A C-section could be necessary due to certain difficulties at times but issues are similar to what might also occur in any natural pregnancy. The most common hesitation in people’s minds which stops them from adopting scientific methods like IVF is the fear that their child would be physically and mentally deformed. But, in reality, it is a completely risk-free procedure like any other biological pregnancy. IVF-born children are normally born like any other children and the baby being born with malformations is extremely low.

Women seeking fertility treatment and counselling are frequently nervous and concerned when they go for their sessions. These sentiments are a result of the shame associated with failing to follow traditional relationship norms or in the event of previous unsuccessful pregnancy attempts, feeling inferior at the start of the visit. Therefore, it is important that infertility treatment clinics are able to provide them support, not only in terms of the treatment, but also emotional and mental, providing assurance, and shouldering the burden for them. Upon providing such confidence, patients often progress from feeling worried to feeling comfortable in the first round of counselling. They can thus, leave the visit equipped with information and ready to go forward with their treatment with ART.

Education is always the first step towards dispelling myths and stigmas in the society. This may be accomplished by hosting community awareness camps and disseminating information through various media such as radio, television, newspapers, and even social media. The process of de-stigmatising must begin at the grassroots of the society, challenging what is otherwise accepted as the norm among the many members of the community.

The author is CEO & Co-founder, Indira IVF. Views are personal.

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