Perhaps it’s the cycle of life or what Kenyan society expects that once you get married conceiving a child is the natural immediate step. A year down the road and no pregnancy is noted, gossip begins to spread on the possible reasons that could be the problem for your childlessness. Hurtful comments from a procured abortion to witchcraft. Those with no sense of boundaries or emotionally unintelligent will want to inquire from you the reason for the ‘delay’. Several unsuccessful attempts to conceive thereafter are faced with more jeers and this prompts a visit to the gynecologist where the word infertility hits you.
Two in every ten couples suffer from infertility; the inability to conceive within 12 months. Infertility can either be primary (never conceived) or secondary (inability to conceive but had at least 1 successful conception). The World Health Organization recorded 180 million couples in developing countries suffering from primary and secondary infertility. Though the population affected is vast, the issue is yet to be considered as a health problem.
When childlessness happens, women are often blamed, unlike their male counterparts who are exempt. In most cases, the man is encouraged to get a second wife and if he opts to remain with his wife, he is mocked for ‘shooting blanks’. Unknown to many, infertility affects both men and women equally as 30% of infertility cases are as a result of male factors, 30% due to female factors, and 40% due to unexplainable factors.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, infertility is a result of infection in more than 85% of women compared to 33% worldwide (WHO). Locally, the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynecological Society blamed Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and pesticides consumed in food for the high infertility cases. Other factors also contribute to infertility these include: age, blocked fallopian tubes, uterine fibroids, PCOS, unsafe abortion, endometriosis, and being overweight are the contributory factors to infertility among women. In men, the reasons range from blocked tubes as a result of an STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases), trauma to the scrotum, erectile dysfunction, diabetes, substance abuse, poor sperm quality to post-surgical complications.
Kenya has made strides in birth control programs but not in infertility treatment. About 9 fertility centers exist and the cost is relatively high for the common mwananchi. Also, the technologies available focus on treating women than assessing and treating men.
In the quest of priming reproductivity, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is paramount. Diets high in unsaturated fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and fish have been associated with improved fertility in both men and women. Men especially should consider a diet rich in zinc, copper, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Selenium since semen contains a mixture of secretions with significant amounts of these nutrients. Further, restricting the intake of sugary and high-fat foods as well as steroids is necessary for improving male fertility.
Women should also avoid soy products as they contain estrogen-mimicking properties that result in hormonal imbalance. They should avoid having excess weight, as it increases the risk of irregular menses. Furthermore, they should not be underweight due to the possibility of irregular menses and pre-term births. Instead, women trying to conceive naturally, a diet rich in folate, vitamin B12, and omega 3 fatty acids are encouraged (Researchers from Harvard Medical School). Therefore, fruits and vegetables should always be on your plate. Besides providing the aforementioned nutrients, they supply glutathione which is important for egg quality.
While waiting for your turn to bring forth life, eat healthily, be active, get as much rest, avoid stress, seek psychosocial support (visit the Waiting Wombs Trust for more information) and block negativity around you. May your wombs be blessed and may God heed to your call. To the rest of us, be kind and avoid prying questions!