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From Bride To 'Banjh': The 7 Stages Of The Infertility Journey

15/11/2016 8:48 AM IST | Updated 15/11/2016 8:56 AM IST
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Kirk Mastin

Almost everyone knows about infertility, but very few in India speak openly about this taboo subject. Couples undergoing treatment for infertility often have to endure condescending behaviour emanating from ignorance, a patriarchal setup and mindsets steeped in stereotypes—all this comes into play for what, simply put, is just a disease.

Through this article I wish to achieve two purposes—one, to sensitize society about the pain (physical, mental, social and financial) endured by a couple seeking infertility treatments and, second, to tell all those couples suffering in silence and humiliation that they are not alone in this journey.

With about 30 million couples in India affected by infertility, it is high time that we speak openly so that we can construct responsible social discourse and behaviour around the subject.

You enter a new world. You begin to hear terms such as IUI, IVF, ICSI, etc. You feel totally lost and you just know you don't belong here.

The infertility-to-IVF journey has seven major stages experienced by many couples. If you relate to these stages then be reassured that you are not alone in this highly anxious and confusing journey. For those of you who are on the other side of the fence, this stage-wise break-up will help you understand what a woman goes through during her infertility journey and you will surely empathize with her pain. By the end of it, I hope I can convince you to become an #InfertilityDost and show your solidarity with the cause.

The beginning

The honeymoon period is over and now you're ready to take the next step in the journey of life—parenthood. You try for a few months or even go to doctor who gives you basic pills such as folic acid and vitamins, helps you understand how ovulation works, and sends you off with a smile. You clean up your lifestyle a bit, dream about having a cuddly baby and enjoy sex.

6 months later

It has been almost six months of trying and no luck with conception. You check with Google, your close friends, sisters and mom for any inputs. You try the tips they give you: put a pillow under your hips during sex, turn left after having sex, stop eating a particular fruit or vegetable, ask your husband to cut down on cigarettes and alcohol, buy an ovulation kit.

You then check with your gynaecologist who asks to get some tests done. The test results come almost clean with some minor and manageable fluctuations. You are told there is nothing to worry about and some medicines are added up to your prescription, and you are sent off with a reassuring smile. Your heart also knows there is nothing to worry about. You meticulously plan your sex life around your ovulation days.

1 year later

This is not normal. This does not fall into your plan. You research aggressively. You start to fret over why you are still not able to conceive naturally. This is the time when on the expert guidance of a close friend, parents or relatives you shift from a gynaecologist to an infertility expert. You enter a new world. You begin to hear terms such as IUI (intrauterine insemination), IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) etc. You feel totally lost and you just know you don't belong here.

You complain to God, you cry when your younger cousin gives birth, you have low self-esteem, you run to astrologers... it's all quite natural at this stage.

A variety of tests, frequent vaginal ultrasounds, long waiting queues, painful diagnostic procedures, tons of questions about your family history become routine. The taboo word "infertility" hits you like a thunderbolt for the first time. You feel completely lost and clueless. Your heart says all this is bullshit and there is nothing wrong with you.

2 years later

You've probably already undergone a few failed IUIs, more tests, more confusion, more physical and mental trauma. Your personal life has become a complete rollercoaster ride. Mood swings rule the day. There is an intermittent cycle of hope and depression. You have changed doctors and are seeking for alternative treatments. You become reclusive and avoid social gatherings because people have started poking you with questions about your pregnancy plan. The ones who know about your medical situation tend to give "free ka gyan" which you totally hate. Paradigms of life are changing. Priorities are shifting.

A few years later

You have tried everything. You feel traumatized, physically and mentally. Nothing seems to work out. You are now looking at the highest medical intervention possible—IVF. This is famously known as assisted reproductive technology, where a "test tube baby" is implanted into your womb.

Your anxiety and stress levels have hit the roof. You complain to God, you cry when your younger cousin gives birth, you have low self-esteem, you run to astrologers, you mindlessly perform pujas and havans in the hope of a miracle—it's all quite natural at this stage.

Acceptance that there is something wrong with you in a big way is now slowly settling in and this feeling tends to unsettle every other feeling. IVF treatment takes a toll on everything. Decisions have to be made.

A failed infertility treatment

Failure is inevitable. I am yet to hear any woman who hasn't faced some failure during infertility treatment. It can be a failure of methodology, a failed IUI or a failed first cycle of IVF—whatever it is, you will have to face it. You will realize that you are much stronger than you ever imagined you could be. All this failure is making you a better person.

You will realize that staying happy and appreciating what you already have is more important than blindly chasing an impossible dream that has wrecked and ruled your life.

You are more mature, stronger and most importantly, more empathetic. Your own immense mental and physical pain has changed the way you look at the world. You are changing and this is for the good in the long run. Of course, you won't realize it when the pain is fresh and sharp, but some years down the line, you will.

Disillusionment

You are tired and abruptly leave everything midway and just run far away. You leave treatment, you leave trying, and you leave thinking even about the future. You simply want to go as far as possible, away from everything, even your husband. You want to do nothing. You are completely drained of energy. I went to Auroville during this stage to reconnect with my real self that I had lost amidst all this frustration.

Deciding to move on

You will realize that staying happy and appreciating what you already have is more important than blindly chasing an impossible dream that has wrecked and ruled your life. You take some hard decisions. You could go for another IVF cycle with better knowledge and preparation. Or if you have already crossed the threshold of number of feasible IVF attempts, then you could start contemplating egg donors, adoption and surrogacy. Else, you could choose to remain "child-free." You can't go on like this—confused and messed up—anymore and you decide to accept the situation at hand gracefully and decide to move on.

***

The purpose of this post is to tell you that you are not alone in the journey from infertility to IVF. Bring the child in a happy world. Stay happy and miracles will happen. You will be blessed with a child (irrelevant of the medium you choose) or you will be blessed with conscious knowledge that will help you look beyond. The journey is undoubtedly a tough one but it will surely make your life more meaningful. After travelling this infertility journey you cannot be shallow. Change your perspective and see this journey as a learning experience.

Pledge never to call anyone a "banjh" or make them feel that way—because it hurts, it hurts a lot.

P.S: At any point of this infertility to IVF journey you might be blessed and have a child, thus breaking away from the outlined stages. But remember, there are many who will experience the whole lot. Empathize with their pain and say a prayer for them. If you've been a part of this journey, you'll know how it feels. Do your small bit. Connect, help, support, listen to women still in the journey, and most importantly #SpeakUp about your infertility to IVF journey for that will not inspire other women but also change society's taboos around this subject.

To others, we sincerely request you to be sensitive to the pain of infertility and pledge to be an #InfertilityDost .

Pledge never to call anyone a "banjh" or make them feel that way—because it hurts, it hurts a lot.

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