Fertility Should be a Shared Responsibility

I’m very blessed to have two little girls that I call my own. The first born is four and a half years old. She is smart, beautiful and extremely needy. She has my small nose and dark gums. Everything else she got from her father. Her sister is a fierce, curly haired infant with a strawberry birthmark on her left cheek. She loves to scratch, bite and poke. Because of them I’ve had many sleepless nights. I can honestly say that it’s hard to remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. I’ve been worried and I’ve been broke but I would not know how to even breathe without them. They changed my life in ways I could never have imagined and I could not be more grateful. 
I feel a familiar pain in my chest as I’m thinking this and I’m jolted back to the current happenings . Unconsciously, I let my mind wander back home where I left my infant daughter sleeping. Thinking about her triggers a let-down and I have to cross my arms, pressing down the chest to stop the milk from flowing; I do not want to risk messing up my blouse

I’m at the Intercontinental Hotel for the Merck More than a Mother workshop on how we can all create a culture shift. As a mom blogger, I really needed to interact with forever-waiting-to-be mothers, hear their stories, understand them and see what little you and I can do to make their lives a little more bearable.

H.E. Madam Brigitte Touadera – First Lady Central African Republic

I look at the screen in front of the room and tears well up in my eyes. Jackline Mwende’s story is playing and it is gruesome to say the least. She has scars all over her swollen face and where her hands once were she now spots bandaged stumps. Her injuries were not sustained in an accident; neither was she a victim of a home invasion. She was attacked by her own husband for something that wasn’t even her fault; she could not conceive.
The saddest thing is that her husband is the one who had the infertility issues. But even though infertility affects men and women equally, more often than not, the woman is the one who carries the blame. They then suffer from isolation, discrimination and psychological trauma. They listen to other women complain about their kids and wish that they had children to complain about. We talk about how hard it is to lose the baby weight and all they’re thinking about is how they’d love their new bodies if they ever got pregnant. How they long to accidentally mess their tops with breast milk during an important meeting, or to have their kids jump on their beds at 5 on a Saturday morning when all they want to do is to sleep for a few more minutes.

But instead of getting empathy and understanding, infertile women in Africa have to deal with insensitive questions, and lack of support from those closest to them. Some of the women who told their stories during the workshop talked of rejection by family members, and their husbands going out to look for other women.

Dr. Evans Kidero – Nairobi Governor
Merck understand the struggles that these women go through everyday. With their More than a Mother Program, many infertile women in Africa have been empowered and are now leading independent and productive lives. Merck supports them establish small businesses that can sustain them individually or as a group. In Kenya Grace Kambini and Jackline Mwende are some of the women who have benefited from the program. More than 70  women having infertility issues in Taita Taveta have also been helped to register a CBO and access a ranch where plans are underway to get 100 cows that will mark their 896
new beginning. 
Courtesy: Merck more than a Mother

Merck not only helps infertile women stand on their own two feet, but they also believe that we have to change our thinking if the stigma associated with infertility is to be dealt with. To reduce the violence against the women and change everyone’s mindset, there is need to raise awareness of infertility prevention and management. There is also need to go beyond just helping those who can’t have kids. Merck more than a mother program objectives are;

  1. Creating a culture shift to de-stigmatize infertility and to respect and appreciate infertile women in Africa
  2. raising Awareness about Infertility Prevention & Management and Male Infertility by integrating it into Healthcare Infrastructure that already exist, such as HIV, Maternal Health and Mother  and Child Programs
  3. Education and Training for African Embryologists since the lack of trained and skilled staff is a big challenge
  4. Supporting Policy Makers to define ART Policies to Improve Access to Regulated Fertility Care
  5. Building Advocacy and Open Dialogue and work closely with Policy Makers, Governments, Parliaments, Healthcare Providers, Fertility Experts and Media to define interventions to reduce the social suffering and Improve Access to Regulated, Effective and Safe Fertility Care in Africa
  6. Empowering Infertile women Socially and Economically through Access to Awareness, Health Change of mind-set and Empower Women who cannot be treated anymore through starting a small business for them to build their independence and happier lives through “Empowering Berna” project.

(L-R) Dr. Belen Garijo, Merck Group CEO, Hon. Joyce Lay, MP Taita Taveta, Dr. Rasha Kelej, Merck Chief Social Officer..

Infertility is one of the commonest conditions affecting the reproductive age group of 20 to 45 yrs. Infections, toxins and occupational hazards are the main causes of infertility with half of them being due to or including male factors. Men can reduce their risk of infertility by;

  • Avoiding drugs and smoking. They should also reduce their alcohol intake as this can contribute to male infertility
  • Avoid high temperatures as it affects sperm production even though temporarily. Wear loose pants, use a shower instead of hot tubs and steam baths and avoid riding motorbikes
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet. Obesity is directly related to testosterone levels; a hormone responsible for sperm production. A recent study even confirmed that it takes obese couples 55-59% longer to conceive as compared to their non-obese counterparts. Eating a balanced diet provides the necessary nutrients to optimize sperm function and minimize the effects of factors which may otherwise damage the sperm.
  • Avoiding exposure to industrial and environmental toxins, paints and petrochemicals that may damage and impact sperm production.

If we see fertility as a shared responsibility that it is, we can be stronger together as we prevent and manage the condition. This entails;

  • Following the points listed above to reduce chances of infertility
  • Men should be men enough to accept when there’s a problem and be ready to offer their support
  • Couples should get tested together. This will ensure that the women do not carry all the blame
  • It is also very important to support each other as infertility is not a simple issue. It weighs you down and it means the world to know that someone has got your back no matter what.

Until we see each other again, 

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