Dealing with infertility is painful and stressful for women all over the world. But in many places, there is a deep stigma around talking about the struggle to get and stay pregnant. Women who share their experiences often face harsh comments and hateful slander, and are made to feel like they are inadequate.
In many different African cultures, women and men going through fertility struggles suffer in silence, afraid of the stigma attached.
In Zimbabwe, fertility is equated with failure. Noma, from the Ndebele community, shares her struggle
She says she’s been made to feel like, “a failure; it’s like you’re not a woman. What use are you? Well, nobody’s going to say that to your face, but they’ll definitely talk about you behind your back. You’ll feel it from your in-laws. They feel that if they’ve paid dowry, then they’ve basically paid for your uterus, and its services.”
She continued, explaining that children are often viewed as a ‘pension system’ in Zim. “If you can’t have kids, you’re pretty [screwed] in your old age because, who will take care of you?” Even in today’s age of information, this hasn’t changed. Women are still blamed when a couple can’t have children, and are looked down upon and treated with disdain.
Anne is a Luo woman from Kenya, and she has felt isolated and abandoned by her community
“You’re seen as a cursed misfit in society. You’re called a prostitute who did several abortions. Maybe you come from a family full of witchcraft. Or, you must have killed someone’s child…
People don’t want to associate with you and won’t allow their children to eat at your house, because you might kill their children. Your husband is even allowed to remarry.”
Some men refuse to undergo tests on their own fertility, and a new wife, also unable to bear children, will face the blame. The whole cycle starts anew.
Tawonga Taddja Nkhonjera is a filmmaker and playwright from Malawi
He explains that women face violence from their in-laws and husband, and often end up abandoned and in poverty. While so many women report this type of poor treatment and cruelty, the topic is still taboo. So, why aren’t people speaking about infertility in Africa?
The answer comes down to shame and embarrassment
Shame is one of the most difficult human emotions to overcome, as it is rooted in so many negative feelings. Ironically, the best antidote to shame is speaking openly about a topic, but many women’s attempts to speak up are met with silence and suspicion.
More education is needed to teach people about the biological causes of infertility, and to spread awareness that the issue can affect men and women equally.
What do you think about the stigma of infertility? Has it affected you where you live? Have you been open with your family about your struggles, or do you keep them quiet? We would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to support one another.