When a couple fails to have children, blame is normally shifted to the woman.
The woman is given all sorts of names, some downright derogatory and very painful to hear.
Women generally bear the brunt of childlessness and infertility because they are the ones that carry the pregnancy and when baby fails to come, blame is squarely put on her.
But it is a fact that men are sometimes at fault and the extended family may know about the man’s problem which remains a secret to the wife.
I have heard of numerous cases where a woman falls pregnant as soon as she finds a new man hence exposing the ex-husbund who may be barren.
One incident involved a woman who had been married for 11 years but failed to conceive. Her husband kicked her out of their matrimonial home but she was blessed with at least three children many years after she had left this man.
“I endured so much pain with this man and yet all along I knew that I was not the problem because I had had a miscarriage when I was in high school. But it would seem as though his mother knew as she had tried getting me into a relationship with one of her other sons.
“I refused and that is how the verbal abuse started. I was so belittled that I decided to leave my matrimonial home and start afresh. I now have three beautiful girls and happily remarried,” said Runyararo of Dzivaresekwa Extension.
Another example is that of Tendai and Tatenda who had been married for close to five years but no child came forth.
The pressure to fall pregnant became too much to bear for Tendai that it took toll on their marriage. They broke up and went different ways. But hardly a year down the line, Tendai had brought forth twins with her newfound partner.
Tatenda had also remarried but with three years into the marriage, there was no sign of pregnancy.
Tatenda said: “I was so disappointed about the breakdown of the marriage but what could I have done under the circumstances where the entire family had descended on me in the most horrible way? They made me feel like I was some lame and useless person that had no uterus to carry a baby. I was given all sorts of unprintable names.
“When I delivered the twins with my new spouse, I begged him to allow me travel to my former in-laws to just show them that I was a normal woman. They wept and apologised to me on behalf of the entire family. That is how I got my healing from those insults.
“No one should be ostracised for that (being childless) because I believe that there are so many men out there who cannot make a woman pregnant.”
Infertility is not always a woman’s problem. Both women and men can have problems that cause infertility.
According to MedineNet.com about one-third of infertility cases are caused by women’s problems.
Another one-third of fertility problems are due to the man. The other cases are caused by a mixture of male and female problems or by unknown problems.
Infertility is a condition resulting from abnormal functioning of the reproductive system. Nowadays, doctors insist on testing both the woman and man when investigating causes of infertility.
In women, the leading cause of infertility is the blockage of the fallopian tubes, followed by fibroids and lack of ovulation. Ectopic pregnancies, cancer treatment or an epilepsy condition, can also lead to infertility.
In men, three critical areas are a source of infertility: sperm quantity, motility, and sperm shape and structure.
The recommended sperm quantity in a single ejaculate by a fertile man is over 20 million sperm cells per millilitre, according to World Health Organisation guidelines on male fertility.
Men with sperm count between 10 and 20 million per millilitre sperms cells are classified as having a mild sub-fertile condition.
Anything below 10 million is severe form of sub-fertility.
This may have been the case for a long-distance driver who had married and remarried five times but failed to have any children.
He decided to see a doctor in South Africa during one of his trips where it was confirmed that he had a low sperm count.
He however did manage to make his sixth wife pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
This driver died from HIV complications but luckily however, both mother and the baby boy escaped the infection.
Men, instead of pointing a finger at their spouses over failure to have children, should go to a local fertility clinic to confirm their status.
The Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council can assist in this area.
Traditionally, it was an accepted custom to introduce a male member of the family, mostly brother of the infertile man, to have a relationship secretly with the woman so that she could have children for her spouse.
However, with the advent of HIV and Aids and advocacy around gender matters, the practice died a natural death.
In instances where a woman was barren, she was “loaned” some children from the family that would grow up in her custody as though they were her own.
My brother-in-law was given to his barren aunt from a very tender age and that is the mother he knew all his life. Although his biological mother lived hardly 100 metres away, he was so close to this woman and when she died he really wept.
There was a way of handling infertility in Zimbabwe without causing rifts and pain within marriages but with the advent of urbanisation, these traditions have been discarded.
What increases a man’s risk of infertility?
Holistic Online.Com states that a man’s sperm can be changed by his overall health and lifestyle.
Some things that may reduce the health or number of sperm include: heavy alcohol use; drugs;
environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead; smoking cigarettes; health problems such as mumps, serious conditions like kidney disease, or hormone problems; medicines; radiation treatment and chemotherapy for cancer and age.
And what causes infertility in women?
Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilised. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Ovulation problems are often caused by polycystic syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with normal ovulation.
Less common causes of fertility problems in women include blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy; physical problems with the uterus and uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous clumps of tissue and muscle on the walls of the uterus.
A story I heard many years ago was that about a couple that had lived together for years without success in having children. They decided to part ways amicably and try elsewhere.
They never managed to sire any children with their new spouses.
They are now back together after 30 years of separation. They had both been confirmed as being infertile.
The man had zero sperm count whilst the woman had ovarian failure which meant that she could not ovulate.
I am sure we have all heard about couples who went their separate ways only to have children with their respective new spouses.
Pinpointing the exact cause of infertility is difficult.
According to Holistic Online.Com, about a third of fertility problems occur solely in women, one-third in men and the remaining third are mutual.
It says current estimates suggest about 6% of men between the ages of fifteen and fifty are infertile.
Research has shown that sperm count worldwide has dropped by 50% since the 1940s. The reason is probably environmental (food, water and air) pollution involving chemicals.
“Another common problem is poor sperm quality, and some men’s ejaculate contains antibodies to their own sperm. Alternatively, there may be no sperm at all, either because the man is producing none or because the delicate tubes which carry them are blocked.
Sometimes sperm cannot penetrate the egg when they reach it; and in a very small number of cases there may be hormonal problems.”
It also says that the common reasons for female infertility include failure to ovulate, blocked fallopian tubes and the production of antibodies to a partner’s sperm. Psychological issues, such as stress or fear of parenthood, may contribute to infertility as well. It can be hard to pinpoint which of the many possible factors is the cause of a couple’s infertility.
For both men and women there can be several factors, such as:
l Physical changes in the pelvis due to inflammation and infection
l Chlamydia, a genital infection
l Excessive physical activity
l Extreme weight gain or loss
l Severe mental or physical stress
l Exposure to toxic substances including heavy metals, drugs, radiation and heavy smoking.
So the next time you see a couple that has not had children for years, do not jump to the conclusion that the problem is the woman.
Reproductive health matters affect both men and women.