‘Agnishikha, you are an airborne commando,’ the instructor shouted, ‘but our task now is to get to the summit of a peak from a side that has been considered unconquerable. So your training will keep in mind that you need to keep your feet firmly on the ground.’

‘Yes sir,’ said Agnishikha with josh in her voice.

‘We shall meet at 0400 hours tomorrow for a long distance mountain run. Have a good night’s sleep and remain fresh.’

This had been Agnishikha’s typical day for the past few years, including those after marriage with Karan, also a part of the elite Para Commando forces of the nation. Agni jogged to her car and drove home where she was to meet Priyanka, her childhood friend whose husband was in the civil services and posted to this hill town.

That evening when the two couples met, the discussion hopped from the state of the nation to the enemies of the state, from long night outs marching over inhospitable terrain to spending entire nights brain-storming for socio-economic solutions… and from strenuous physical activity to the habit of chain smoking and alcohol consumption.

‘So when did you fall in love with tobacco?’ Agni asked Priyanka, ‘Is your journalism responsible for this?’

Priyanka smiled and said, ‘Journalism is like a sterile sperm, baby. It is the poet within that remains restless and until I smoke, words remain trapped in some alternate universe and refuse to cross over.’

Both women measured the other and thought, ‘She is trim. No fat.’ Both women thought the other was brimming with some sort of stress. Both women had been married for more than a decade now and still childless.

‘No kids yet?’ Both spoke the same words simultaneously… and then laughed. That evening had begun with memories and was coming to an end with sighs and yearnings. The women didn’t know but their husbands sitting in the lounge had slowly shifted topics and entered the domain of infertility.

‘We did consult doctors,’ said Karan, ‘and because we had been having unprotected sex for more than a year and yet Agni had not conceived, we were told that the problem could be infertility.’

Priyanka’s husband too suspected infertility but wasn’t sure. He had, of course read up a lot of literature and had concluded that infertility wasn’t really a ‘women’s problem’ because statistically the number of males almost equals the number of females in the infertility graph… there are, of course cases where both partners are infertile and a few have unknown causes. ‘So I guess she isn’t the only one to be blamed,’ he sighed.

The women, meanwhile were discussing kids and not infertility. ‘I’d love to have a dozen kids,’ said Priyanka, ‘but I guess it is either my ova or Subhash’s sperms that misbehave.’

This was when Agni noticed that Hema, her maid was standing at the door of the balcony and looking at them and appeared to want to say something. ‘Yes Hema,’ said Agni, ‘You want to ask something?’

‘Madam ji, I also want kids.’

The moment suddenly brought these three women together. Bound by a similar yearning, they looked at each other and habits, status, education, age, money, rank, and even clothes faded into nothingness.

Hema was the first to speak after a few moments of silence, ‘I don’t even know why we are not able to have kids.’ Hema was the weakest standing there and there were times when Agni asked her to skip work because she thought her maid would faint… call it malnutrition or anorexia, the final result was a woman with sunken eyes, veins making bulging contours on the back of the hands, lips that appeared devoid of any liquid, and a dishevelled appearance that had stress embossed all over.

These three women have literally asked infertility to invade their lives. Improper diet, malnutrition, weakness, and stress could be the reasons for Hema not conceiving. Strenuous exercise regime and a strict diet control with the stress of targets and objectives could be the reasons for infertility for Agni. Chain smoking and consumption of excessive alcohol, along with an inadequate compensation of nutritive food could be the undoing for the maternal yearnings for Priyanka.

Let us look at the way medical science explains the connection of infertility with the likes of Agnishikha, Priyanka, and Hema.

The NTNU report states that “elite sports women have more fertility problems than other women. But does extreme physical activity play a role in fertility among other women as well? NTNU researchers examined precisely this question in a study involving nearly 3,000 women. They found that overly frequent and hard physical exercise appears to reduce a young woman’s fertility. But the decrease in fertility probably lasts only as long as the hard training.” Thus we know for sure that Agnishikha can conceive and come out of her infertile period once the hard training is over.

Smoking is another culprit because it spread more than 7000 chemicals that have all the necessary toxic action to lead the body to have ovulation problems, genetic issues, and even damage reproductive organs besides increasing the risk of miscarriage. Even males who smoke can actually end with sperms that suffer motility and low count issues besides erectile dysfunction and other hormonal problems. For Priyanka, a change in her habits just might allow her physiology to make friendly advances again.

Hema needs the right sort of diet needs to come out of malnutrition to embrace a fertile life. Right Diagnosis points out that “underweight women may also have irregular menstrual cycles or periods that stop completely. These conditions make conception difficult or impossible… malnourished women who are underweight who do get pregnant have a higher change of miscarriage or delivering a premature or low-weight baby.”

I’d like to add here that infertility isn’t a ‘women only’ issue… and men are equally responsible for the errant physiology that rules. Infertility isn’t a lifestyle disorder as well, and isn’t something that is only ‘in your head’. It is more a physiological then a psychological issue.

By the way, I was completely baffled to discover that there are reports that point out that the number of women in the 15-44 age-group who have used infertility services is more than the number of women who are actually infertile. I guess this is because there will be hundreds of couples who believe in all the wrong reasons for not being able to conceive… and this also shows us the confidence that we have on what the right infertility advisory is capable of achieving.

I’m sure the three women protagonists in this post realised soon enough that giving the body the right treatment is the easiest way to transform infertility to fertility… though this is just half the story because the men too need to follow almost the same path unless they want to be the cause for infertility. In a vast majority of cases, infertility isn’t an irreversible phenomenon, though when that is the case, there are other solutions like in-vitro fertilization techniques available. The in-vitro world comes with its own set of pros and cons and I will talk about them in a separate post.

This said, let me also add that life shouldn’t really float on the misery debris that misconceptions about infertility are known to create… even if no reasonable guidance helps, there are options like adoption available. Why must marriage be allowed to degenerate into a meaningless harangue because of infertility. Different and diverse options are the most viable fertile field and must always be preferred over the concept of ‘no solution accepted’.

Infertility isn’t a taboo and as Christina Greer wrote in Two-Week Wait: Motherhood Lost and Found: ‘Sometimes it’s hard to see the rainbow when there’s been endless days of rain.’ Rainbows are there for all to see – one simply needs to move out of closeted taboos and open the windows of acceptance of new ideas to let in the brilliance of life!

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Infertility isn’t a taboo and as Christina Greer wrote in Two-Week Wait: Motherhood Lost and Found: ‘Sometimes it's hard to see the rainbow when there's been endless days of rain.’ Rainbows are there for all to see – one simply needs to move out of closeted taboos and open the windows of acceptance of new ideas to let in the brilliance of life!

Infertility isn’t a taboo and as Christina Greer wrote in Two-Week Wait: Motherhood Lost and Found: ‘Sometimes it’s hard to see the rainbow when there’s been endless days of rain.’ Rainbows are there for all to see – one simply needs to move out of closeted taboos and open the windows of acceptance of new ideas to let in the brilliance of life!

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This blog is to #SpreadAwareness about Infertility through Infertility Dost, India’s first website that facilitates couples to brave infertility with support and knowledge. You can find other links  on Write Tribe.

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Arvind Passey
16 October 2016