If infertility were to be "gender", which gender would it be?

Emeh Joy

If infertility were to be gender, it would be a female. Don't argue that. This is isn't about feminism. It is the reality of our society; a very warped one. Sadly, infertility which can be a problem of both genders, has been pushed to one.

Infertility is an issue for both husband and wife. Women alone shouldn't be blamed for childlessness in the marriage

I watched my aunty as she juggled the two kids. The older one strutted behind her wailing loudly, disturbing the tranquil atmosphere in the compound. Clasped in her seemly fragile hands were two pieces of biscuit.

I noticed one thing though, not even a single drop of tear dropped down her cheek. With her left hands, she wiped at the mucus running down her nose. She ended up smearing it all over her face.

The other one was strapped to her back, legs dangling down her backsides, head awkwardly bent to one side. The baby, with her eyes shut, was drooling. I could imagine the saliva trickling down, drenching my aunties sparkling white top.

It was Mother's Sunday, and as expected, all mothers in the Anglican Communion were to dress in the women's organization uniform. It was either you wear that of "Women's Guild" or that of "Mother's Guild". Both organizations are different.

Let's say, Women's Guild is for the younger, newly married women in the church while Mother's Guild is higher in the hierarchy. You must have gone through the Women's Guild before you can belong here.

Edna, the name of my aunty, was my only sister and the last child out of five. She got married to the man she fell in love with years back defying all odds. You see, her family never really liked her choice of husband. As the only child that made it through the walls of a higher institution, they wanted a better choice for her.

They wanted her to get married to Chief Ibeneme's son who attended the then great Nnamdi Azikiwe University, owns a school in town and drives a Peugeot 504. Nnamdi Ibeneme, from the story I heard, was also interested in her.

"Who wouldn't? She was among the most beautiful girls in the village. Coupled with her degree certificate, she was a hot cake then", my Mother had said with much regrets and annoyance in her voice.

If I could read her expression clearly, it was that of one who would have done all in her power to see to it that her small sister doesn't make a wrong decision.

Part of me still refused to believe she was among the most beautiful girls in the town during her prime days. If that is true, surely, no beautiful one was born during their days or could all the beauty have vanished into thin air with the years? That was what I wondered. Maybe with the years, the beauty faded.

As she entered our compound, I could already feel myself salivating for the Abacha I was so sure she carried along with her. On every Mother's Sunday, aunty Edna would visit carrying with her a big flask full of this well-prepared African salad and some other food items like fruits.

Despite my mum warning her not to, she keeps doing that. "Since mama is long gone, I don't have any other mother elsewhere. This is the least way I can celebrate you", she would tell my mum waving off her threats of rejecting the gift items when next she brings them.

We all already know my mum can't send her back or reject her food item gifts. Besides, someone like me always looked forward to that mouth-watering Abacha.

The funny part is that we also prepare lots of delicacies to celebrate the Mother's day; talk of different shades of rice, pepper soup, breadfruit ukwa and even pounded yam. But, Abacha has never really been my mum's speciality.

You need not worry about the food and who would eat them as we are certain of having enough visitors that day.

That is what happens when your Mother holds the title of "Ezinne" in the church. You have to get used to sharing your Mother and her food with many.

I wanted to rinse off the last clothe I had in the bowl before I rush to meet her but seeing the sweat dropping from her brow and forehead down to her cheeks, I knew I just had to leave the clothes and go help her out with the loads or at least with the child strapped to her back.

I often wondered if aunty Edna was happy; happy that she ended up marrying Ikem and not Nnamdi. I wondered if she lived in regrets that she would have been in the position of Agnes, Nnamdi's wife, cruising around the village with her children every Christmas in her sleek Toyota Corolla ride with her eyebrows, lips and nails painted in multiple colours.

She would have maybe had 2 or 3 children of her own now because unlike what people were saying some years back, it was later discovered that she isn't barren. The infertility issue wasn't from her; it was from Ikem her husband.

The two children, Chidimma and Ifechukwu, are not really her biological children but her adopted children who she came to love, cherish and treat as her own.

During those years, her mother-in-law was always on her neck, demanding that she give her grandchildren. It made matters worse that Ikem was the only son, so, even his sisters joined their mother in taunting my aunt.

I must say they made life miserable for her. Thinking about it now, the emotional turmoil alone was enough to make one's beauty fade away. The worst part was that her beloved husband wasn't doing anything to help the pain she was going through. He turned deaf ears to her complaints of what his family was putting her through. He seemed to care less.

They would call her barren to her face, call her a witch and all sorts of name. Even society seemed to ostracize her. She went through hell in her own home, but she still stayed back. I don't know what confers such strength on women to stay put even when going through pain.

My aunt accepted everything as her fate. It's surprising that for someone that is educated, she didn't question why she had to bear the brunt of their childlessness alone since the formation of a zygote would require not just an ova but the fusion of an ova and a sperm cell.

Both of them should have shared the name callings and finger-pointing equally, but no, it was all on her, and she bore it all even beating herself up for being unable to conceive. But even if she was the one with the infertility issue, is that why she should be put through psychological and emotional trauma?

Each time she visits the hospital, the doctors would see nothing wrong with her. Her husband never went with her. Why would he? After all, infertility is a female issue, and he shouldn't be involved.

It wasn't until our family doctor who heard the story suggested to my mother that the husband should come for tests to diagnose the cause of infertility.

All the while, Ikem was the infertile one. It happened that he had a traumatic accident in his youthful days, which rendered him infertile...

There are so many stories like this. Stories that give the notion that if infertility were to be a gender, it would be a female. There is also one of attacking a woman for giving birth to a particular gender.

I have one question though, at what point are we going to normalize adoption or push for the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), instead of stressing out couples who are having a hard time conceiving?

What is fertilization again? It is the fusion of ova (egg) from the female and sperm from the male to give rise to a zygote. Also, the sperm from the male actually determines the gender of the baby.

Gender is a genetic trait which manifests in the form of DNA. We have the two sex-linked chromosomes, X and Y. Women always have the XX chromosome while men's DNA is comprised of the XY chromosomes.

This means that while an ova can only contain an X chromosome, a man's ejaculation will contain sperms with X or Y chromosome. If the fused sperm carries an X chromosome, then expect a female baby. If it is a Y chromosome, the baby would be a boy.

What is infertility?

For the sake of clarity, let's talk briefly about infertility and factors that can cause infertility.

Infertility is the condition whereby couples are having trouble with getting pregnant or staying pregnant. It is defined as the inability to conceive after having frequent unprotected sex for at least one year.

The causes may be conditions present at birth or conditions one or both couple developed later in life. Statistics show that about 10 to 15 per cent of couples in the U.S are faced with infertility issues.

Causes of infertility in males

  • Abnormal sperm production or function can result from health defects or congenital disabilities such as undescended testes.
  • Overexposure to certain environmental conditions such as too much exposure to heat, chemicals, and radiation affects sperm production.
  • Damage resulting from cancer treatments using chemotherapy and radiotherapy
  • Low sperm count and problems with the delivery of sperm cells due to sexual issues like premature ejaculation and structural problems like a blockage in the testicles.

Causes of infertility in females

  • Ovulation problems and hormonal disorders
  • Uterine or cervical abnormalities such as the formation of fibroids in the uterine walls and blockage of the fallopian tube
  • Pelvic inflammatory diseases
  • Endometriosis
  • Cancer and cancer treatment
  • Certain genetic conditions such as Turner's syndrome can predispose to infertility.

Infertility can affect males as much as it can affect females. In fact, it is reported that in about one-third of infertility cases, the male is the affected one.

Also, in about one-third cases, the problem is from the woman. However, both partners have an issue in the remaining cases or the problem is just idiopathic (the cause is unknown).