Infertility generally refers to a failure to become pregnant after one year of regular, unprotected intercourse.
After one year of regular sex, approximately 84% of couples will have conceived naturally, 92% after two years and to 93% after three years. After three years of not conceiving, the likelihood of a couple achieving pregnancy in the following year falls to 25% or less.
Worldwide, around 70 to 80 million couples are currently experiencing infertility. For most individuals having a child is an important part of their life plan and being unable to conceive represents a major life problem. There are many men and women who are desperate to conceive.
Infertility represents a major crisis for most couples, with both partners experiencing loss in ways that affect them as individuals, as family members and as members of society as a whole. Examples of these losses include:
Loss of the experience of pregnancy and birth
Loss of opportunity to pass on family genetics
Loss of chance to contribute to the next generation
Loss of chance to parent or become a grandparent
Low self-worth and self-esteem
Loss of family stability
Loss of sense of control over destiny
Loss of sense of hope for the future
Loss of work productivity
Infertility has various psychological and psychosomatic effects, especially among women. The most common effects are distress, depression, anxiety, reduced self esteem, somatic complaints, reduced libido and a sense of blame and guilt.
Childlessness can impact a couple’s communication with friends and family who have children. They may not be able to bond with friends who have become parents and may feel left out at family and social gatherings. They may be very sensitive to questions asked and may perceive well-meant remarks or advice as negative.
In urban areas women are more affected psychologically, but in the rural setting women can face social and cultural challenges. The elders in the family may force methods of treatment that are not liked or understood by the woman. She may be forced to wear charms and amulets, or visit seers and temples. She may not be allowed to seek out modern medical treatment.
Women face a lack of support, both emotionally and financially. This, combined with the unavailability of fertility services, means the path for women seeking fertility care because they wish to conceive is often a lonely one.
The childlessness may also be viewed totally as the woman’s fault and she may be ostracised or rejected in society as being unclean or cursed.
Not many will understand or empathise with the grief that the woman may be going through at her perceived loss of motherhood.