This is the start of infertility awareness week in America, an issue that effects many people throughout the world and can cause huge amounts of distress. Studies have shown that, as a group, women who experience problems with fertility are as anxious and depressed as those who are living with cancer, heart disease or HIV. Whether the ultimate aim is to conceive, or simply cope and move forward happily with an inability to do so, women who are struggling with fertility can face many challenges.
Women have historically shouldered the most responsibility in reproductive issues, from avoiding pregnancy to trying to achieve it. This manifested itself in various ways, with infertility resulting huge social ramifications for women, especially given that in deeply patriarchal societies bearing sons was seen as one of the only useful things women could do. We have significantly moved on from these attitudes, but their echoes can still be felt.
In the past there was also a tendency to assume that, if a couple couldn’t conceive, the cause would automatically lie with the women. This is a problem even now, despite the fact that research across many countries has found sperm counts are falling at a rate of 2% a year, and have dropped by a third from counts 20 years ago. Lifestyle factors and exposure to the chemicals in plastics are posited as possible causes.
While men are, of course, just as emotionally affected by infertility when they face it, women arguably have to deal with a greater weight of societal expectation. Little girls are given baby dolls to play with, most advertising involving childcare is aimed at women, and as women reach their late twenties and early thirties even vague acquaintances begin asking when they plan to have children.
It’s often seen as a given in women’s lives that they will have children, causing problems for those who either choose not to have them (the sentiment of “you’ll regret it” is fairly common) or have difficulty in doing so. Women who find it hard to conceive can feel that they are subject to a certain amount of stigma, or that people consider them to be missing a key part of womanhood.
There’s sometimes even a quiet assumption that problems in conceiving stem from a personal or moral fault. This could be anything from a previously hedonistic lifestyle, to “putting their career first”, to the misguided belief that if a woman simply stopped worrying so much, they would fall pregnant. And while there certainly are lifestyle factors that can have an influence on fertility, in reality the problem is usually much more complex, and the accusatory manner of such assumptions can lead to unhelpful feelings of guilt.
All these factors can amplify the feelings of distress that problems with fertility in themselves can bring. For couples who desperately want a child, rounds of IVF, fertility treatments and disappointment can create huge strain. Having their hopes raised and dashed repeatedly can be very emotionally exhausting for people, and trying to conceive can also be financially draining, leading to even more stress.
Around one in seven couples can have difficulty conceiving, but whether this challenging time results in a longed-for baby or an acceptance of the situation, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and women can find huge amounts of support to help them cope with the issue.
If you are struggling with fertility, Beeja meditation can help with the stress and unhappiness that reproductive problems can bring, and even help people conceive. Get in touch for support, advice on reproductive health & meditation, or even just a chat through our contact page.