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Social stigmas connected to gynaecological diseases

Social Concerns Regarding Infertility and IVF

Dr. Sonia Malik


Infertility is childlessness and can be considered as a stigma in society, particularly for women and these people are socially unacceptable in India. Childless people are considered as a burden on the society and the financial strength of a community. Parents, in-laws and siblings may be disappointed as the continuity of the family is stopped due to their infertility. The woman may bear the brunt of this ostracization leading the man to the path of divorce. In communities where polygamy prevails, the man may take a second wife.

Misconceptions: The in vitro fertilization (IVF) was thought to weaken family bonds and dilute parenthood. Several questions arose. Does the birth of children by in vitro method weaken family bonding? Will children born by in vitro method be looked down upon as material possessions instead of being considered as individuals in their own right? Will they be as secure as natural children?

Dos and Don’ts: Many women join IVF forums and utilize the events to expose their innermost misgivings to avoid the mistaken beliefs and being branded a social outcast. These women share their experience and coupled with the anonymity, express themselves freely without any fear. The internet and social media are extremely important ways of expression for such people. It is important to analyze emotional concerns expressed in such media. The anonymity and privacy of the forums should be honoured.

Dr.Sonia Malik
Dr.Sonia Malik

It is important that the suffering and disappointment of couples; where IVF-treatment does not succeed or the pregnancy does not last full term; is understood. Emotional and physical vulnerability of women comes out when they go through IVF. This requires a great deal of understanding between the IVF health care providers and their patients.

Social stigma that leads to low self-esteem: Women face both emotional and financial constraints because of lack of support to seek modern technical treatments. This leads to depression, despair and threats of divorce. Married women in most developing countries bear the greatest social burden of infertility. They often have to even carry the burden of their husband’s infertility, as well. though they themselves are healthy and fertile.

Years back, the stigma of infertility involved three beliefs that:

  • Infertility was due to psychological and not physical factors;
  • Infertility was associated with sexual incompetence;
  • infertility is a woman’s problem.

Lack of awareness and poor treatment: Many infertility-related problems in women are due to poor treatment or untreated reproductive tract infections. Although male infertility accounts for approximately 30% and combined causes account for another 30% of the world’s infertility cases, the disproportionate social burden falls squarely on women.

Earlier, men and women remained tight-lipped about sexual disorders: Earlier, it was publicly unacceptable to talk about sexuality or sexual body parts. And since all fertility issues are also related to sexual organs, or their functions, besides other psychological reasons, talking about one’s sex-related issues was taboo. Infertility was typically considered as something to be hidden from other people and never openly talked about. Lately though, there has been a sea change in people’s attitudes, at least in cities where people have begun to speak about it quite uninhibitedly, though a certain discomfort in seeking help and counseling is still seen even among the city-bred educated youth. To overcome this stigma, we needs to start opening up as sharing the problem can improve our emotional, mental, and physical health.

In a few cases of male infertility, men’s responses are similar to those of women’s. Guilt, low self-esteem, shame, anger, loss, isolation and personal failure are experienced by men, too. They tend to question their own masculinity.

Finally, a ray of hope: Thankfully, all is not lost. There has been incredible advance in science and technology. Thus resulting in a flicker of hope as the solution to such disappointment and most infertile couples can enjoy parenthood. IVF treatment can work wonders and help many infertile women conceive.

About Dr. Sonia Malik: Dr Sonia Malik is a pioneer in fertility treatments in North India, who began her work at Holy Angels Hospital, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi from 2001.


About Gayatri T Rao

A double post-graduate (MSc. - Botany and MA - English Literature) Gayatri T Rao is a Senior Multimedia Journalist with vast experience in writing on varied topics.

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