I was only 19 when I was first diagnosed with an advanced stage of Endometriosis, a condition where the lining of your uterus starts to grow in other places in your body. My immediate thought was about whether this would affect my ability to conceive. My doctor calmly told me that although this was a common symptom of Endometriosis, we wouldn’t know until I was ready to try. Now, almost 4 years later, the thought is equally prevalent in my mind.
Infertility is as taboo a topic within South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures as it always has been. Historically, the role of women in these cultures has been to provide children. It is inherently expected of us, from the moment that we are old enough to understand, that we must be good wives and more importantly, good mothers. But it really isn’t as easy as that. According to the NHS, 1 in 7 couples in the UK will face difficulty in conceiving.
As behavioural scientist and author of SWAY: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, Praya Agarwal, wrote for The Independent: “the popular image of infertility is that of an upper-middle-class, White, straight-partnered woman in her mid-to-late 30’s or early 40s. It’s a stereotype that erases the significant experiences of minority ethnic, working-class, and LGBT+ women who often face the most barriers to diagnosis and treatment.”
At least 1 in every 3 women I know who are trying to conceive naturally are having trouble doing so. And when you add on the burden of every brown aunty you meet asking you ‘when you are going to have children?’, it will undoubtedly take a significant toll on your mental wellbeing.
Imagine having to explain to your in-laws that you are unable to provide them a grandchild? This is a common reason many women are ridiculed and shamed by their partner’s parents.
A few centuries ago, if a woman was unable to provide her husband with offspring, it would be thought that she was possessed or a witch. Similarly, if a wife was unable to provide the husband with a son, she would be deemed as inadequate. Infertility was only seen as a medical condition, a few decades ago.
Bearing in mind that it was only in the 19thCentury that it was discovered that the womb, does not ‘wander’ around the body, as suggested by countless philosophers. These myths and misunderstandings play a huge reason in the current stigma associated with infertility.
Just a few weeks ago, YouTube influencer and beauty guru, Farah Dhukai, released a heart-wrenching video in which she shared her struggles with infertility, especially within the South Asian community. She emphasised how difficult it has been to constantly be bombarded with comments from fans and viewers, asking her when she was going to have kids or speculating whether she was pregnant.
Once you reach an age of over 20, you inexplicably begin to find yourself surrounded by friends who are getting engaged, married, and having kids. Your life becomes a tiresome cycle of hen-dos and gender reveal parties, and if you’re struggling from infertility, this can be incredibly triggering. Not only are you constantly questioning why you can’t achieve these things in life, but it makes it difficult to enjoy and appreciate other people’s pleasures.
Infertility is a personal problem, but when you’re brown, it seems to become everyone’s problem. Aila*, 25 from South Wales said: “people somehow feel entitled to know why you haven’t had kids yet, once you’re married. It’s usually a question that people ask to start a conversation, which isn’t right. So many people are going through their own infertility battles”.
However, despite the constant need by random auntie’s at weddings to know the current status of your womb, infertility is still seen as a very taboo topic in many cultures. But why is this the case when none of us exactly chose to be infertile? Infertility can be caused by a range of reasons and illnesses. And most importantly, it doesn’t just happen in females. Men can also suffer from infertility, much to the disbelief of many people in our community.
It’s important for MESA communities to understand that this topic needs to be treated sensitively. Firstly, by understanding that not everyone wants to have children and it is within their right to do so. And secondly, understanding that not everyone can have children and this certainly isn’t anyone else’s business unless they choose to make it so.
(*names have been changed for anonymity)