The spectre of infertility in Zim: Part Two … the trauma of barrenness

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IN her famous novel titled Everything Good Will Come, Nigerian author Sefi Atta has this to write about the plight of women in Africa:
“Better to be ugly, to be crippled, to be a thief even, than to be barren. We had both been raised to believe that our greatest days would be: the birth of our first child, our wedding and graduation days in that order.”
Though Atta’s sentiments are works of fiction, they mirror the predicament faced by many women in African countries, Zimbabwe included.
Many women in Zimbabwe believe that by living without bearing children, their lives are hopeless.
The presence of infertility in a marriage, is a burden to a woman who is forced to think that, for her to be celebrated, she must produce fruits of her womb.
Mariana Mavanga (not real name) is a 32-year-old married woman who is celebrating her eighth wedding anniversary but does not have a child.
Sharing her story with The Patriot, Mavanga said she is experiencing a painful journey in her life.
“We are now in the eighth-year since we got married and each day I yearn to hold a baby of my own.
Though my husband does not say much about the matter, it is the society and family members who push me to have a child so that I can keep my husband home,” she said.
Narrating her ordeal, Mavanga also said that her infertility problems are a result of hormonal imbalance which she was diagnosed in her teens.
“Five years in my menstrual cycle, I started to experience an irregular cycle which sometimes comprised spotting and heavy flows.
I could not enjoy school days because my cycle could start anytime. Now my hormone levels are always fluctuating, making it difficult for me to ovulate and get pregnant,” Mavanga said.
Health researchers have found the link between hormones and aspects of fertility.
This therefore has led to the conclusion that hormonal imbalance can lead to infertility.
Family Health director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Bernard Madzima said that apart from other causes, hormonal imbalance is also another source of infertility in Zimbabwe.
It is important to note that hormonal issues can affect both men and women.
They are responsible for regular menstrual cycles in women; they can also affect mood, skin, and the sex drive.
According to Manipal Cigna, a health insurance website, hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), hyperprolactinemia (high male hormone levels) and luteal phase defect (low progesterone levels) are some hormonal irregularities which cause infertility in the long run.
Some hormonal abnormalities in women can lead to stopping of menstruation for some time, resulting in the lack of formation of eggs while the less of progesterone hormone supplied to the body can also lead to infertility.
“Recently I conducted a medical examination to check for my prolactin level and the results showed they were high,” said Mavanga.
My gynaecologist, said Mavanga, also explained that high prolactin levels interfere with the normal production of other hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone.
Mavanga’s hormonal abnormalities have left her with a burden of taking medication and changing her eating habits.
For men, low production of testosterone can hinder the ability of a man to perform thus causing infertility.
However, Dr Madzima noted that a hormone profile test can be conducted to assist in the management of hormone-related symptoms in both males and females.
In spite of enduring such disorders, social construction of women roles in many African societies leads to insinuations that a woman can only be called a mother if she produces a child.
Sandra Nellia Maburuse, a traditionalist, better known as Mbuya Muchadura, said that, usually, the responsibility of carrying a child is given to a woman.
“Kashoma kuti vanhu vechirume vanzi havabereki (It is very rare for men to be blamed for infertility),” she said.
Due to socio- cultural consequences, some women facing infertility issues end up experiencing psychological trauma or ‘secret or self-stigma’.
Self-stigma contributes to a number of them opting for unsafe clinical and traditional medicines — the goal being to achieve motherhood.
The problem of hormonal imbalance is usually scientifically proven and it might be difficult to explain to a layman.
In a bid to tackle problems associated with infertility matters, Merck Foundation is supporting First Ladies from different countries in Asia and Africa to bring infertility issues to the fore and raise awareness.
First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa is the Zimbabwean Ambassador and she has convinced Merck Foundation to set up fertility clinics at Parirenyatwa and Mpilo Group of Hospitals.
Despite socialisation playing a role in shaping the way of thinking of most women, medical sociologists agree that health and illness are best understood, not as objectively measurable states, but as socially constructed categories negotiated by professionals, sufferers and others in a socio-cultural context.
The social construction of health and illness is perhaps even more striking in the case of infertility than it is for other conditions.

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