On the 18th of May, I woke up to social media ablaze with messages from men and women across the United States (US) celebrating Advocacy Day. A day set aside to raise awareness about infertility, promote pro-active discussion through information sharing, and securing funding for fertility treatments.
It got me wondering if Kenya, my home, has a day set aside to stand in solidarity with the thousands if not millions of its citizens who suffer from infertility and the stigma our society associates it with.
In my research, I came across no special day set aside to advance inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders. For most women struggling with infertility, there are a few people and organisations championing their cause at policy levels. Kenya and many other countries in the continent are yet to reach such levels of public acceptance regarding infertility.
In Kenya, the burden of awareness and information dissemination regarding infertility has unofficially been ‘bestowed’ upon nonprofits such as Waiting Wombs Trust, who provide encouragement to couples and women who are trying to have children. The organisation also shares success stories about people whose patience paid off and they were blessed with children.
It is estimated that nearly one in seven couples have challenges siring children, this means there is a high possibility that someone close to you could be battling infertility.
There are many factors that cause infertility, the majority of which are beyond an individual’s control. According to Dr Anne Poliness, a medical practitioner at Melbourne-based City Fertility Centre, one of the reasons why a woman might not fall pregnant is if the fallopian tubes are obstructed. This blockage can be attributed to past pelvic diseases or endometriosis. However, fertility treatments such as IVF can assist women to conceive.
Irregular menstrual cycles can also affect the natural ovulation process. Dr Poliness recommends seeking treatment, though this anomaly is not fatal. She endorses using remedies such as a follicle stimulating hormone or Clomid.
Fibroids are another root cause of infertility, which can occur depending on their size and location. Dr Poliness stresses that women should be aware of potential risks that fibroids might cause. One of these risks is surgery, which is not of immediate concern unless a gynaecologist recommends that the uterus is removed.
Endometriosis affects the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or the area behind the uterus leading to infertility. To enhance the probabilities of natural conception, a laparoscopy has to be performed to remove endometriosis.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can lead to infertility because it triggers the ovaries to release excessive amounts of testosterone, which interrupts the ovulation process. Women with PCOS develop enlarged ovaries that contain several small cysts, and this condition influences the frequency of periods.
Some women might need hormone suppressants to have higher chances of conception. Dr Poliness recommends several treatment options to enhance pregnancy include taking clomiphene (medication) or in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Age is by far the most well-known root cause of infertility. Dr Poliness posits that for healthy couples, their rate of conception in every menstrual cycle is between 20-25 percent. However, when a woman reaches 40, this rate drops drastically to between five and eight percent for the first six months. She recommends that for couples under 35 who are struggling to conceive during a period of one year should see a fertility specialist.