Statistics from a local fertility clinic are showing that an increasing number of women who are unable to give birth are experiencing serious physical, emotional and psychological violence meted against them by their husbands and in-laws. At least one woman is nursing blurred vision in one eye with another nursing a maimed hand.
Close to 40 women from all social classes who have gone to seek for fertility services at the Nairobi IVF Centre complain of being subjected to physical and verbal violence by their partners.
Two of the four women interviewed said their husbands had married second wives while the other two claim their spouses were keeping mistresses who they want to have babies with. Others said their husbands have deserted them to go stay in other towns or forced them to abandon their jobs to be housewives as a way of inflicting pain.
“What is worrying us is the number of those reporting to have suffered violence, some having physical signs of what they have gone through,” says Joy Noreh of Nairobi IVF Centre.
Joy says at least 60 percent of the women who have delivered 124 births at the clinic, and the 70 who are pregnant now, have a story to tell about the violence they have been subjected to.
The clinic is now spending many hours counseling these women before they start the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process. Interestingly, while some of the women have paid by themselves the Ksh 300,000 required for the assisted reproduction service, their husbands are dragging their feet or unwilling to give them sperms.
Under the In Vitro Fertilization, the man is expected to give his sperms, which are used to fertilize, in the laboratory, the eggs retrieved from his wife.
“On several occasions, my husband has violently refused to give his sperms after the clinic requested him to do so. He told me I am worthless and he cannot spend such huge sums of money on me,” says one of the women who took six months to get her husband to agree to give his sperms.
When he did, the sperm analysis found he had sperm of poor quality, and that is why the wife was not conceiving. Fertility investigation shows that many such men to be infertile have no sperms or poor quality sperms yet they pressurize their wives to have children.
“Men always believe if they cannot get children, the problem lies with their wives and that is why they marry other women to try and have babies with them.”
To save their marriages, women are flocking in record numbers to clinics offering assisted reproduction to conceive.
“What I just want is a baby and do not care whether it is a girl, boy or has deformity,I only want to prove that I can too give birth,” said 36-year-old Miriam, sobbing as she narrated her story.
Another woman, who just identified herself as Kanini, said her husband was going to divorce her if she did not conceive.
Those interviewed said they are ready to do everything to conceive and stop the violence including taking huge bank loans, using their savings, or disposing off some of their property to raise the Sh 300,000 required to undertake an IVF procedure.
The stigma around infertility, and especially when the man is to blame, makes many women not talk openly about it. Immediately they start bringing out the topic, their male partners feel the discussions are an indirect way of questioning their virility. And that is when some of them turn violent.
“Men are comfortable and happy when the problem is heaped on the woman. But when it comes into the open and people start questioning the man’s role in all this, things get nasty,” says June Kanini, who conceived lat year through IVF.
Yet, even as they turn violent against their wives, figures from various fertility centres in the world attribute close to 50 per cent of infertility problems to the man.
At the Fertility Enhance Centre at Nairobi Hospital, 55 per cent of the infertility causes are said to be due to male related factors.
While at the Nairobi IVF centre alone over statistics presented early this years shows that 40 percent of the infertility problem are attributable to the man. Of those who have done a semen analysis at the centre, 12 per cent had Oligospermia- condition when the sperm count is below 20 million per millimeter, a threshold recommend by the World Health Organization for a fertile man.
Another 8.5 per cent had Azoospermia- where no sperm in the ejaculate- and 3.5 per cent had had Asthenozoospermia-sperm with poor motility. Also, of the 104 treatment cycles done by the Centre, close to 80 percent of the cause of infertility were attributable to the man.
This figures could be high than if men came out to know their fertility status. For now, to help many women who might be going through violent relationships because they cannot deliver reproductive health experts want the government and other players in the health sector to find ways of assisting them.
In 2007, the government formed a task force, which, among many others things, is expected to come up with ways of subsidizing the IVF cost to make it affordable to the poor. The team is yet to present its recommendations. Meanwhile, the women continue to be battered.