The reasons for infertility and fertility issues can be quite complex and sometimes unknown. Unfortunately, women shoulder a disproportionate amount of the blame for fertility issues, under the incorrect assumption that since she carries and bears the child, she must have the greatest effect on fertility. However, statistics show that within a couple, the contributing factors to infertility break down as follows¹:
- up to 50% of infertility cases are due to the female
- 20-30% due to the male
- 20-30% is a combination of factors between both the man and the woman, with a percentage of cases being “unexplained infertility”
The stigma attached to the inability to become pregnant or have a child can be strong, particularly in developing countries. It can lead to women being ostracized, shunned from their communities, or being denied participation in family and community traditions. It can be used as grounds for divorce or justification for why a girl is not considered marriageable and then a burden to her family, community, or society. This rejection from your family and community can understandably lead to mental health issues and even suicide.
Fertility also raises issues of reproductive health and human rights. This is especially emphasized in countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Chile where it’s been found that women who were HIV-positive were being sterilized without their knowledge and without their consent². Women may believe they are having fertility issues for other reasons when in reality they were sterilized during a previous procedure and not informed of what was happening.
But the stigma is not limited to developing countries. Many women and couples in developed countries with fertility issues have experienced the curiosity of friends of family asking “are you going to have children?” without even thinking about the emotions that question can raise.
And while the conversation around “we’re trying for a baby” can be difficult enough when it doesn’t seem to be happening, “we’re doing IVF” can evoke another set of reactions and stigma.