By Akshat Seth
Rising burden of infertility
Infertility is something that impacts millions of couples around the world. In India alone, there are 28 million couples who experience the condition. Studies show that couples with fertility issues experience significant anxiety and distress. The inability to conceive can be one of the most stressful experiences of their lives.
Factors leading to increasing infertility rates
There is an alarming increase in infertility related complications in India due to a multitude of reasons. While there are several misconceptions attributing infertility to fate, past sins etc, scientifically it is attributed to biological or lifestyle factors, or is referred to as ‘unexplained fertility’. Biologically, fertility among women gradually declines with age, especially in the mid-30s, and it drops rapidly after the age of 37. In addition, tobacco use such as smoking by either partner may reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. Alcohol consumption is also a contributor to decline in fertility. Being overweight or underweight are other risk factors. Modern lifestyle factors like long working hours and inadequate focus on overall well-being add stress, thereby increasing the risk of infertility. While infertility can be caused due to various factors, there is a tendency to react to it as an individual or personal failure. As part of this vicious cycle, the mental pressure around fertility issues can become a cause of infertility.
Fertility Issues and their psychological impact
Fertility treatments come with their own sets of biological, emotional, and financial pressure for couples. Some of the hormonal fluctuations caused by the treatment can cause psychological-emotional disorders or consequences including confusion, frustration, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and guilt. Added to that, the complications and ups and downs associated with the treatment journey can lead to loss of control and low self-confidence. Coping with the multitude of medical decisions, and the uncertainties associated with the outcome, can affect mental health. Moreover, the social stigma and taboo around infertility can make it a significantly isolating experience for patients.
Infertility has significant negative social impact on the lives of couples unable to conceive, particularly women. As a society, we put the onus of bearing a child solely on the woman. While clinical sources point out that at least 50% of fertility issues are among men, women often tend to hide the performance issues of their partners due to social concerns. With limited facilities for treatment and few avenues for advice, women are often left to untrained doctors and subjected to unscientific and expensive treatments that they cannot afford. They suffer the bulk of the consequences, sometimes experiencing violence, divorce, social stigma, emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
The financial burden of treatment can be stressful as well. Fertility treatments and surgeries are not covered under insurance and hence become unaffordable and inaccessible for people. They sell off land, houses or borrow money for availing treatment. They may also fall prey to unethical practices during the journey, adding on to the burden.
Bringing care to fertility treatment
Patients know that mental, emotional, and social wellbeing have a significant impact on overall health. Combating fertility issues also requires a similar approach, with patience and a positive attitude.
There is a need to bring compassion into the process of fertility treatment. It is important to understand the individual preferences of patients, respect their choices and customize treatments that are best suited to each patient. It is also critical to empower patients by making more information available to them so they can make choices about their treatment with full knowledge and understanding. A fertility care provider can make a significant difference to the quality of the journey for patients, by providing not just the best of science but also empathetic support.
Akshat Seth is the CEO of CK Birla Healthcare
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