IT is unfortunate that while the birth of a child can bring happiness in a family, the inability to conceive can also weaken the relationship between couples. At the same time, the birth of an unwanted child through unplanned pregnancy can also bring misery in a family. Infertility is a problem that can ruin marriages. It is estimated that out of every 100 couples who are not using any form of contraception, 65 will conceive within six months another 20 within a year and five after two years but about 10 couples will fail altogether in their attempts to start a family they desire.
Apart from that, 20 percent of couples fail to conceive as many children as they want playing a great strain on many marriages. A relationship can become particularly bitter when both partners start blaming each other for this. At times this is done openly or secretly even to relatives.
The fact is that no one should be blamed for the inability to bear children. At times both the husband and wife can contribute to the failure to conceive; after all it takes two to beget children.
First, the man must produce enough healthy, fertile sperms and the woman must produce healthy fertile ova (eggs). There are also a number of intermediate stages and this is why some doctors prefer using the word sub-fertility instead of infertility. Only very occasionally can one or both partners be said to be completely infertile.
For couples who fail to conceive it may require considerable determination by partners, involving interviews, medical examinations and extensive tests. It is only after such tests that a doctor can give advice on the frequency of timing and positions to give the best chance of conception.
The doctor may suggest minor surgery for the husband, the wife or both. He may also conclude that artificial insemination either by the husband or by a doctor as the answer. As a last option he may tell the couple that adoption is the best course to take.
Most couples may fail to conceive completely if they decide that nature must take its course. Others may take advice and conceive but on average only one in eight of these may conceive.
Traditionally in a childless marriage it was the woman who was considered barren and even today, it is the wife who usually takes the first step to consult the doctor and at times may even plead with the doctor not to involve the husband. Half of all the cases also involve the husband. Couples or partners should understand that infertility is different from impotence. Most men who are asked to attend a clinic for fertility tests feel their virility is being questioned, which is totally wrong.
Usually for any infertility investigation the first stage is a semen test, done through collection of the fluids from the woman. Examination of these under a microscope will tell a lot about both partners. Abnormal and immobile sperms are both possible causes of infertility. Before coming to the finality of the issue, the doctor will also carry out an analysis of fresh semen from the husband.
If for example the man is producing healthy sperms, then the problem might lie in the couple’s techniques in love-making. About one in every 20 women attending infertility clinics is found to be a virgin, due to ignorance of certain important techniques by both partners.
It is also important to observe the most fertile time of a woman’s cycle usually about 14 days after the start of a menstrual period. This is the most fertile time of her cycle.
Apart from that, it must be understood that complete or partial impotence which is usually accompanied by psychological causes also makes it difficult to conceive normally. In such causes medical advice or psycho-therapy may solve the problem. Artificial insemination with the husband’s semen either at a clinic or by the couple themselves at home may be used to bring about conception.
Disorders may also occur in the testes themselves, thereby affecting the production of sperm. An injury or excessive exposure to radiation can damage the testes. Among the more serious disorders are mumps after puberty which can affect the testes and cause sterility and late descent of the testes.
The testes normally descend from within the abdomen to their normal position in their scrotum before or soon after birth. If this is delayed until after puberty, total sterility will result. Late descent is evidenced by the testes being too small and soft.
It is important for men to avoid tight fitting trousers or jockey-type underwear which holds the testes close to the body as this will probably reduce sperm production. Wearing looser underwear will probably increase sperm production.
Just like a woman, there are countless reasons that can make a man sub-fertile and hence there is need of a full investigation at a clinic. It is unfortunate that most men pretend to their wives that they have been to the clinic when they have not. It is a pity that problems that can be easily solved together by couples may stand in the way of successfully bringing happiness to childless.
Vaidah Mashangwa is the Provincial Development Officer for Bulawayo, Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development. She can be contacted on 0772 111 592/ 09-889224. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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