Chido (not her real name) began the journey to pursue motherhood eight years ago. When it became apparent after those years that she and her husband Tawanda were not naturally able to conceive, they were shattered.
In a bid to conceive, they searched high and low for remedies to their predicament.
Chido (30) and Tawanda (37) of Harare consulted herbalists and prophets but to no avail.
“It was both devastating and hurtful to realise that we were wasting our money seeking remedies which didn’t produce the solution we sought,” explained Chido.
“And because we desperately wanted to conceive, the herbalists and prophets we consulted capitalised on our desperation.”
In many cultures, childless women suffer discrimination, stigmatisation and ostracism. This forces many infertile women in developing countries to conclude that without children, their lives are without hope.
Most African cultures, Zimbabwe included, demands that for a woman to be socially acceptable, she should have at least one biological child.
“During social gatherings, women talk a lot about their children or being pregnant. Those were the moments I felt extremely isolated,” said Chido.
“So often, people do not regard you as human. Many-a-time I have overheard other women talking about me being cursed. Luckily for us, both our families understood our situation and reassured us that it wasn’t yet God’s time.”
Chido and Tawanda consulted a doctor in 2012. They were told them that Tawanda had poor semen motility.
The doctor then prescribed some medication for him, but to no avail.
“As hard as it was, we had accepted our situation as it was until last year,” Tawanda said.
As fate would have it, Tawanda’s female colleague was facing a similar fertility challenge. Together with her husband, they had underwent a successful in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
IVF is a process of fertilisation by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo is then transferred to the uterus.
“My colleague encouraged us to go through the same process. I discussed with my wife and then sought the necessary medical advice,” added Tawanda.
The couple was referred to Dr Tinovimba Mhlanga, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, who ran several tests, including hysterosalpingography (HSG). The doctor established that Tawanda had no problems. Instead, Dr Mhlanga said Chido’s fallopian tubes were blocked.
“Dr Mhlanga explained that there’s no way I was going to conceive normally with blocked fallopian tubes and recommended IVF,” said Chido.
Tawanda and Chido were elated that there was hope to become parents.
Although they were not financially prepared to go through the first cycle of IVF, the couple embarked on a quest to raise the required funds.
“We were desperate to have a child and we didn’t have money but it was done,” Tawanda said.
Locally, IVF costs between $3 500 and $4 000.
“We went through the process on April 26, 2017. We were administered a number of medications in preparation for the retrieval of eggs and sperms which was then done on May 24,” explained Chido.
“Then on May 29, implantation of the embryo was done.”
As standard procedure, Chido had to wait for 10 days before being tested for pregnancy.
“The waiting killed me. The 10 days felt like a year. I’m just glad that after my first IVF cycle, I became pregnant,” Chido said.
As of last week, Chido was 15 weeks pregnant.
“I can’t explain the feeling but I thank God that I’m pregnant,” she said.
Infertility affects up to 15 percent of reproductive couples worldwide.
Although male infertility has been found to be the cause of a couple’s failure to conceive in about 50 percent of cases, the social burden falls disproportionately on women.
Almost all cultures across Africa put pressure on the woman when a couple fails to conceive.
“For many infertile women, particularly those with problems such as blocked or severely scarred fallopian tubes where surgical tubal repair is either not successful or not advisable, IVF can help,” advised Chido.
“I can’t wait to hold my child,” added Tawanda.
Between the 1980s and 1990s, a total of 52 babies who are now adults were conceived through IVF in Zimbabwe after it had been pioneered at The Avenues Clinic by Dr Tony Robertson.
Earlier this year, a baby boy was born through IVF at The Avenues Clinic since the procedure was reintroduced last year in the country.
The re-introduction of IVF has been made possible through the efforts of Dr Mhlanga, embryologist Mr Tinei Makurumure and Sister Florence Marechera under the tutelage of Dr Robertson and Mrs Robertson.
The team is receiving help from partners in Australia who run a similar programme in Melbourne. The dominant image of IVF technology is that it is a tool for delivering little bundles of joy to parents who have been unable to conceive naturally.
Dr Mhlanga explains the IVF process.
“We put the woman on stimulation protocol — these are powerful drugs that cause women to produce multiple eggs. We then follow them up with scans and they are then taken to theatre to harvest the eggs,” explained Dr Mhlanga.
“These eggs are then fertilised outside the body with the husband’s sperms. Embryos form and are put back in the uterus after three or five days.”
In 1978, the first “test-tube baby” — Louise Brown — was born in Manchester, United Kingdom. The second successful test tube baby birth occurred 67 days later in India. And since 1981, more than five million babies have been born through IVF.
Since its infancy, IVF has been highly hogged by scrutiny and stirred up plenty of moral controversy and debate.
While IVF allow couples to conceive, this view of IVF has always been only one side of the story.
Not all IVF criticism hangs on bad outcomes. Others consider IVF innately wrong because it is “unnatural”. However, these critics have been silenced over time.
Some critics argue that IVF scientists are attempting to “play God”. In a statement from the Vatican, the Catholic Church states, “(Impregnation) must be carried out according to nature and through reciprocal and responsible love between a man and a woman”.
Others are worried that the so-called test-tube babies can be rejected as social outcasts.
The local IVF centre recently acquired a new version of the Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) microscope which is used when injecting a sperm into an egg in the laboratory.
“This is used in cases where the sperm quality is such that fertilisation couldn’t occur without a direct injection of sperm into the egg,” explained Dr Mhlanga.
IVF pregnancy rate is 40 percent worldwide.
“We are pleased that our pregnancy rate matches the international standard,” he said.
However, Dr Mhlanga added that he feels depressed by the current IVF pregnancy rate.
“My job is gloomy at times when patients fail to conceive in the first cycle. But we encourage couples not to give up,” he said.
Unfortunately for most women in developing countries, infertility services are not widely available and IVF is unaffordable.
As the cost of establishing advanced infertility centres is very high, only a limited number of centres are established in low and middle income countries and most remain in the private sector.
The situation is further exacerbated by lack of insurance coverage — seeking fertility care often means a lonely path for women wishing to conceive.
However, Egypt offers affordable infertility services. About 51 private and public infertility treatment centres have mushroomed in the past three decades.
The busiest public centre in Cairo located at Al-Azhar University provides fertility care, including subsidised IVF cycles for $600 per cycle to serve hundreds of Egypt’s infertile couples every year.
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