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Am I Only My Womb? The Stigma Of Infertility

Posted: May 17, 2015

The stigma of infertility is still strong in most parts of India – and most often, it is women who bear the brunt of it. 

She lay on a charpoy, a thin sheet covering her from head to toe. The hot April day, and the warm afternoon breeze made the sleepy village seem like a ghost town. Raja ka Tal is a small farming village in district Firozabad. It is here that I first met Poonam in a health camp.

“Bibiji, bachcha nahi ho raha he. Dawayee dijiye” (I am not able to have a baby. Give me medicine), she said. The treatment of Poonam’s primary infertility was beyond the scope of the mobile camp and the tiny village Raja ka Tal. She was handed over a referral slip for a check-up at Firozabad’s government hospital. She nodded faintly. I saw a tear roll down her eye when she left the camp.

Six months later, I saw a dead Poonam. Her body had thinned down considerably. “Bimar pad gayee, khana hajam nahi ho raha tha. Mar gayee” (She fell ill. She couldn’t take food anymore and passed away), said her mother. I saw her husband Rajbir at a distance, quiet and sombre.

I got the complete story from her friend Savitri. Poonam was married three years after puberty. Even after a year of marriage, she had not conceived. The taunts started and soon, Rajbir decided to marry again. It was for the want of a baby. The bride was none other than Poonam’s younger sister. For Poonam’s parents, it was a win-win situation; both daughters married at the cost of just one.

Within a month of this marriage, the news of an impending pregnancy reached Poonam. That is when the first signs of depression were noticeable.  She would cry often, have temper tantrums, and developed a low degree fever. For those around her, it meant that she had gone mad. No efforts were made to treat her. It wasn’t really a priority. Within a span of four months, Poonam lay dead.

Cut to Bangalore.

I met Anusha at a plush coffee shop. The first thing I noticed was the disheveled hair and sullen eyes. “I have started my IVF and it’s taking a toll, physically and mentally”, she said. A long silence followed. This wasn’t the same energetic woman I had known five years back. “Ashok works late and travels often. But he still manages to be around for the IVF schedule. His presence is required, medically. Apart from this, we really don’t talk much”, she added.

“Why don’t you adopt?” I asked her. She said, “My in-laws had been dead against our love marriage. According to them, we are going through this infertility because we chose to marry without horoscopes being matched. Ashok would not go against them a second time. They wouldn’t accept a baby that is not of their blood. I hope God blesses me with a baby soon. I feel void and empty. It is killing me”.

First signs of depression?

Whether it is Raja ka Tal or Bangalore, the brunt of infertility is often faced by women. There exists in society, a certain element of stigma when a woman is unable to conceive. At a time when she needs mental support, she gets the taunts and bears the blame.

Much as it is important biologically for a woman to conceive, not being able to should not be the end of the road. Adoption regulations in India are getting easier, with even single women now able to adopt. A baby is all that matters for a childless couple. And adoption may well be the answer. It would reduce the mental trauma on the woman and provide a home to a child. It would bring about happiness in more than one life.

First published at author’s blog

Woman looking at pregnancy test image via Shutterstock

A blogger who writes on society and culture, hoping to bring about positive impact on

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  1. Very True.. thanks for bringing up this taboo.. thanks for trying to create awareness..Infertility- whether primary or secondary is a diseases/physical condition.. whether male or female..it’s a diseases.. let’s accept it.it does not make anyone less human or less capable..it’s the stigma attached to it which brings such depression and death..Let’s put a strong face against this. Let’s talk about it.. let’s hug females going though this trauma..let’s not shy away..and yes if adoption is an option then why not?… but the society we stay in.. can they make peace with the adopted child.. I feel I am not capable to deal with the trauma that the adopted child might go through if they discover the truth…we shall have to read child psychology mostly related to adopted child.. before anyone takes that plunge.

  2. While I agree that adoption is a very good way to extend one’s family but please, PLEASE do not EVER ask a woman why she is putting herself through IVF when she could adopt. Many women would like to experience a pregnancy and childbirth, not just have a baby. Leaving the social pieces aside (resistance to adoption, pressure to have kids etc.), IVF is a very good option for couple who are trying to have a baby and need some extra help. Actually, it is articles like yours that reinforce the shame about infertility treatments.

    *I am referring to the second incident described in your article about Anusha’s appearance and relating it to IVF.

  3. Pingback: The Mumbai Couple Suing for Their Right to Die | JSTOR Daily

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