Breaking infertility stigma
WOMEN EMPOWERMENT: Tshepo Maphanyane and Merck Foundation CEO Kelej

African women speak out at ‘Merck, More Than a Mother’ gathering

Merck Foundation hosted Merck Health Media Training 2018 for the African journalist on 10th July 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya focused on the international standards and media ethics for reporting sensitive issues like infertility in Africa.

Designed to benefit the journalists in understanding the infertility issue in African communities and to teach best media practices to cover such issues and raise awareness by following international standards of reporting and media ethics, the training attracted over 40 journalists from Southern Africa.

At the meeting women from different countries shared their experiences with infertility.

Linda Haiduwa, Health Assistant (Odibo Health Centre)

Although celebrated for her bravery in sharing her story, 36-year-old Linda Haiduwa from Namibia admits that talking about infertility is difficult.

“At my age, it is expected that I would be married with children. However, that is not my reality!”

The last born of three children, Haiduwa says as the only unmarried and childless one, her relationship with her family is strained.

“Though my family tries to spare my feelings, it is clear that they don’t quite understand why I don’t have children,” she says with a sombre sigh.

Despite undergoing a series of tests, Haiduwa says there has not been a conclusive diagnoses.

Through a colleague she got to find out about the ‘Merck More than a Mother’ programme and decided to get involved.

“It has been helpful to know that I am not alone and there are many women faced with infertility. It allows for open discussion and support; for the first time I feel understood,” closes Haiduwa, her features lighting up with the brightest of smiles.

Koketso Dlongolo, Enews Channel Africa (eNCA) Field Producer

“Family is very important to me having been raised by a single mother. My parents divorced when I was still in primary school, which left quite a mark – as a result, I value family,” Dlongolo tells Voice Woman.

“I have always dreamed of having twins and unconventionally am very open to adopting at least two children. As a young black professional, the pressure to settle down is a constant reminder but I do not put any pressure on myself. I believe it’s important to do things at one’s own pace and I only plan to settle down once I have met a compatible partner who shares the same values as I do,” she continues adamantly.

Dlongolo explains she has seen first-hand the effects of a woman being barren, as two close family relatives are unable to conceive – hence her sensitivity regarding the issue of having children.

“I have an aunt who can’t carry her own children. She asked her sister to be her surrogate and has two children now as a result. I have another aunt who is not married nor does she have children. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to having children and we need to share this message,” stresses Dlongolo, who has co- produced a film called ‘Journey to Motherhood’ with esteemed South African filmmaker, Molatelo Mainetje.

The film explores life as a woman dealing with infertility in 21st century South Africa.

“I plan to use being a part of the ‘Merck More than a Mother’ campaign to bridge the gap and shed light on the issue of infertility on the African continent,” adds Dlongolo.

Breaking infertility stigma

Boitumelo Seitebatso

“Having had two children, I can’t help think how lucky and blessed I am to have my daughters. Infertility never crossed my mind because I fell pregnant ‘effortlessly’ and was surrounded by friends and family who also had children without any challenges.

“Hence I do admit that I too have had a hand in passing judgment towards childless women,” confesses 39-year-old Seitebatso.

Like her counterparts, Seitebatso admits that infertility is not a subject openly talked about.

“Infertility has always and is still a taboo subject. Culturally, in most communities we tend to believe that women are at fault and often label them as failures and call them names such as ‘Mmamosadiseopana’ (a character from a primary school book who was barren).

“One wonders what lessons were to be derived from the book at such an early age. This is what drives the stigma associated with infertility and what is disheartening is that women are the perpetrators of this stigma. Women chide others for not falling pregnant. They are the first to point out this perceived weakness!” reflects Seitebatso sadly.

“However, global statistics indicate that infertility affects women just as much as men. The role of the media in this regard is to educate and talk more about infertility to break the stigma surrounding infertility. Society expects women to have babies forgetting that it takes ‘two to tango’,” she finished fiercely.

Breaking infertility stigma
Breaking infertility stigma

Media personality Gaona Dintwa says she grew up fantasizing about having children by the age of 30.

“I wanted two girls and a boy – by the time I turned 30 I would be working on getting my ‘figure’ back, lol! I laugh out loud because life has since shown me that things don’t always happen as we anticipate. As they say, ‘we make plans and life happens’.

“Having struggled with infertility as a result of stage 4 endometriosis, over the last couple of years, I have found myself reflecting and introspecting on whether I really do want kids or I felt I needed to because that is what defines you as a woman – ‘mosadi tota’ ka segarona.

“I was one of those people that would ask newlyweds when they would have kids,” Dintwa remembers, adding she would even go on to remind friends they were ‘running out of time’.

“This was until I underwent the same pressure as a married woman, while I was secretly battling with the disappointment of negative pregnancy tests month in, month out.

“My experience has given me a deep level of empathy for not just women or men dealing with infertility as individuals, but couples who are struggling to conceive in general. I have come to the realisation that babies are a blessing from God, a blessing that none of us has earned or forfeited by any good or bad deed, but those who receive it receive either way, because reproduction is a fundamental feature of life and we all exist as a result of reproduction.

“I therefore wish we would ease off the pressure on each other and allow nature to take its course, the way it should, in its perfect timing!”

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Infertility is a very big issue when you start to feel the urge of becoming a mother and then suddenly… you can’t. After many years of trying (almost ten years), we went to an infertility institute called Ingenes in Mexico, and finally had our baby girl. I hope people stop thinking infertility is taboo and we can all help to get a solution.