Opinion: Childlessness; stop the stigmatisation

Opinion: Childlessness; stop the stigmatisation
Source: Reality Zone With Vicky Wireko | vickywirekoandoh@yahoo.com
Date: 04-11-2019 Time: 08:11:43:pm

Ours is a culture that would need a lot of tweaking to align with 21-century thinking when it comes to women-related issues. Some such issues, including childlessness in marriage, leave a lot of women traumatised because culturally, they are considered as failures and therefore misfits no matter their other life achievements.

And so, it gladdened my heart to hear our head of state, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, a family man and a father of five daughters, speaking passionately against the stigmatisation of childless couples due to infertility. The President spoke my mind, and no doubt the minds of many discerning women when last Tuesday, October 29, 2019, he called for the elimination of stigma associated with infertility in Africa.

The President was speaking at the 6th Merck Africa Asia Luminary and the second Merck Foundation annual conference in Accra.  The conference with our First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo as a co-Chair was attended by 10 African First Ladies and about 1,000 participants from 58 countries around the world.

Infertility in marriage

In his address, the President dropped a hint, quoting from a World Health Organization (WHO) source. He said, “even though infertility in men is the cause of 50% of cases of a couple’s inability to conceive, the economic, psychological, social and cultural burdens fall disproportionately on women.” Unfortunately in our part of the world, and particularly in Ghana, we seem stuck to a culture that looks down on couples who fail to produce children years after marriage. The worse bit is those quick assumptions which are made most of the time that it is the woman who is at fault.

With undertones, such women are mocked abused and stigmatised, making them feel irrelevant in their societies. Pressures are brought to bear on the women and regrettably, those who are not so strong and do not have the support of family and friends succumb to self-pity and depression.   

In some communities, the self-pity sometimes gets into the victims to the extent that some resort to fake pregnancy, and secretly go away for some time. They would sneak back weeks or months later with adopted babies to celebrate as new mothers. I witnessed a case of the sort a decade and a half ago but unfortunately, the man found out and the marriage broke down. Others also plan to and go ahead and steal or buy babies from maternity wards or elsewhere and go back to their communities purportedly with their own babies.

Medical advancements and adoption

While medical advancements are today making it possible for artificial insemination and borrowed wombs as in surrogate mothers, childless couples should be educated about the possibilities of holding their own babies one day. Those kinds of education would soften the soreness of the emptiness in their lives. 

But perhaps the most important move for us in the 21-century Ghana is to polish up and simplify our legal adoption procedures with enough education so capable childless couples could take home babies and other children who need care. One is aware that there are many orphans and abandoned children waiting in homes and other care facilities under the Department of Social Welfare around the country. These children would be better cared for and grow up in family settings with a mother and father figure in their lives.

Much as some men in childless marriages may not be willing to accept to go for medical assessments, no marriage should end in divorce simply because there are no children. Though statistics are not readily available here in Ghana for divorce rates of childless couples, WHO sources say 85 per cent of marriages of childless couples in Ethiopia end in divorce within five years after marriage.  Couples should be encouraged and counselled to look for other available options if they are desirous of having children rather that live in despair.

Perhaps the most telling effect on childless women is when their husbands pre-decease them without a will to cater to them. There have been cases, at least two that I know of, where such women were thrown out of their marital homes by their late husband’s relatives. The question is would the relatives have done what they did if the couple had surviving children?

We all as caring citizens have a responsibility to help lift childless relatives, friends and neighbours out of self-pity and depression.  We owe it a duty to assist such people to live their lives as normal and as productive as possible. We should all begin to influence a cultural change and mindset to stop the stigmatisation of childlessness in our society.