While the Nigerian society has placed the burden of infertility on women alone, studies have shown that men and women are both equally affected by fertility issues and that men should also seek treatments like the women. Martins Ifijeh writes
Ever wondered why many churches and other religious homes organise special prayers for ‘barren women’ and not ‘impotent men’? Ever asked why women are the ones who answer altar calls when those looking for the fruit of the womb are called upon by pastors and imams? Why do Nigerian movies suggest a childless couple have the challenge because the woman had many abortions or is possessed by a water spirit, and not because the man has sexually transmitted diseases?
Wonder no further. The society, culture and religion has made childlessness a woman’s problem, and subconsciously, many women have accepted it so. They put pressure on themselves to ensure they get pregnant and wipe out the shame and mockery associated with the reproductive challenge.
For the men, who unfortunately dictate how societies should think, it is a game of wits and patriarchy. In their minds, they have divided family worries among themselves and their wives.
While women should worry over inability to get pregnant, theirs is whether they are able to give their late fathers befitting burial, whether they are able to get that most admired chieftaincy title, or whether they have larger farms than that of their kinsmen. And then, also assume the responsibility of pressuring their wives to get pregnant or get ‘booted out’.
Unfortunately, infertility is not solely a woman’s problem. Many Nigerian families have been unable to have children because the husbands are unable to impregnate their wives and have refused to seek help.
Sharing an experience, a mother of two, Modupe Ganiyu, who is now married for the second time, said her first marriage ended due to childlessness and the consequent reaction from her in-laws, husband and the society.
“We had barely stayed two years in marriage when my ex-husband and his people started pressuring me to give them a child. There is no where I didn’t go to. From Imams to pastors, doctors and herbalists, life was daily becoming hell for me.
“He threatened a number of occasions to send me out of the house. His mother and siblings didn’t help matters. Four years into the marriage, they finally had their wish. I was driven out of the house because they had arranged another woman for him, whom they assumed was going to give him children.
“It’s been several years now and he is yet to have a child of his own. But on my part, few months after I married Ganiyu, I took in; within four years I have had two beautiful boys. I wasn’t the one with the health challenge, but there was no way he would have agreed to go check himself. He is still living in denial till date,” she said.
The Managing Director, Nordica Fertility Centre, Dr. Abaomi Ajayi believes infertility is not solely a woman’s problem, adding that 40 per cent of infertility could be caused by men, while women share another 40 per cent, with 20 per cent referred to as unexplained cause.
Abayomi said men should stop assuming it is their wives that have fertility challenges, adding that couples with infertility should access treatments, as it might end up being the man that has the issue.
“If men don’t come out, they can’t be treated. We are seeing more men now who are having bad sperms, weak sperms and abnormal sperms, and there is a real need to explore a suitable intervention to meet the growing proportion of men that need help in this direction.”
He said the spate of declining male fertility was due to many factors including the environment, adding that oestrogenisation was now becoming a trend.
“Increasing rate of infertility in men is a worldwide thing now. We really don’t know why it is so. There are so many factors we are looking, including the environment. We are looking at genetic factors, but people are saying that the problem is more in the environment because the environment is becoming more and more estrogenized. Industrialisation is producing all kinds of harmful gasses, etc.
“We are doing all kinds of things and it’s affecting the man. There was a study done in Denmark and it was shown that over 40 per cent of their men don’t have good sperm quality. So the situation is becoming an epidemic. It seems men are going into extinction,” he added.
On treatment regime available to address the growing infertility among men, the renowned invitro fertilisation expert said the latest technology was available in Nordica, adding that they have using advance tools to ensure men with infertility were getting adequate treatment.
“Everybody does what we call ICSI (intra cytoplasmic sperm injection). We not only do this, we also do IMSI (intracytoplasmic morphologically selected sperm injection), and PICSI (physiological ICSI).
“In the past, we believed that the egg is the most important thing that determines the quality of the embryo. But we now know that the quality of the sperm, contributes 20-40 per cent to the quality of the embryo. Don’t forget that all the doctor can do is get embryos. We can’t get babies. So the thing for the doctor is to be able to get an embryo that is able to become a baby.
“And because now, we are able to know the genes of the baby, we can tell you which embryo that can become a baby and which one that cannot become a baby; because we now know also that about 70-75 per cent of embryos produced in labs all over the world cannot become a baby because God is still God. He has made it in such a way that normally, a woman should not give you more than one or two eggs every month, but because we use drugs, we can get 15-20. About 70 per cent of that cannot become babies!”
On what couples can do in advance, especially when age is no longer on their side, he said the woman can engage in egg freezing. “For men, they continue to produce sperm for a very long time though the quality decreases after 45 years, and the chances of congenital abnormality like downs syndrome increases.
“And that is why we are doing some of the things that we are doing now because we now know that your DNA fragmentation increases when you are over 45 which lead to miscarriages and all those kinds of things. We can screen for that when a man is advancing in age. So for the man, and with technology, as long as he produces sperm, he can continue to have babies.“