Friday, 14 January 2011

Infertility is Universal

Sandy from how beautiful are the feet and her husband are currently working in Namibia in Africa as teachers at a school for AIDS orphans. Sandy's story is of Watjantja a woman she first met almost ten years ago in remote Namibia, but it's also the story of millions of women around the world as infertility affects roughly 1 in 7 women worldwide. As expats we often talk about what is different from home, but some things, unfortunately, are universal.

I usually write about life in Namibia and what is going on in the lives of the students that my husband and I work with. Not many people know about our struggle to get pregnant, and it is not something I have discussed on my blog. When Blondie presented the opportunity to write a guest spot for her I thought it would be a great way to share some of the things I have noticed in dealing with IF in a foreign country.

In 2002, when I lived in Namibia, I met a lady who could not have children. Her name is Watjantja, she lives in Swartbooisdrif, one of the most remote villages in Namibia. There are no medical doctors there; in fact, there are no fertility specialists in the entire country of Namibia. In the Himba culture (recently showed in the movie “Babies”) children are life. Without children you are doomed to be forgotten. Her husband did what almost any Himba husband in that situation would do, he took a second wife who bore him many children without any problem. At the time I was sad for her, but I could never grasp the full force of the devastation behind her expression as she told us all of this.

Fast forward to 2009, my husband and I are about to finish college and we are finally ready to begin our family. I remember that day like it was yesterday, we sat in a restaurant and decided that it was finally time to start trying. The absolute possibilities of what that decision meant for our future made both of us cry. Now here I sit at the beginning of 2011, it has been almost two years and we are no closer to having our family than we were that day in the restaurant. In the last two years I have had several diagnoses thrown at me from doctors thousands of miles apart. (Including PCOS, Endometriosis and Anovulation “here have some Clomid!!!”) Who knew that trying to have a baby included so many needles and an absolute stripping down of one’s dignity?

In 2010 we returned to Swartbooisdrif, Watjantja’s village. She was still there, as barren as ever. When she saw me her eyes lit up, then she looked down at my arms searching for a child. When our eyes met again she read me like a book, her expression said : “You are like me aren’t you?” In an instant she recognized the pain, the emptiness, the hopelessness, and the loneliness in my eyes and in my empty arms. Watjantja can speak no English and through a translator she said “Don’t be like me!” To this day it is one of the hardest and most comforting things I have experienced on this road of infertility.

The one lesson I have learned in dealing with IF and travelling across the world is that women of every culture language color and economic standing share the same feeling of emptiness and heartache when it comes to IF. Anywhere on earth you will be able to find someone who has been touched by this relentless pain and someone who , without having to say anything, can understand the hurt that you are feeling.


Kate said...

I think sometimes when we struggle with something in life, we get to thinking that we are the only ones who struggle with it even though we may go to work with a smile on our face. It's hard to remember that everyone struggles with something no matter what color their skin is or where they live in the world or how big the silver spoon is that feeds them.
You are exactly right that IF doesn't choose who it affects; and I have to say that I disagree that it affects 1 in 7 women. I know more than 7 women, and if IF affects just one of those people in my life, then it affects me too because I am that woman's friend.
I'd like to hear more from you and your journey.

MrsBro... said...

What an amazing post. It brought tears to my eyes.
Of all the things to be universal..infertility should not be one of them. What a heart breaking bond to share between two beautiful women.
Great post and I hope to read more from you.

The Echols said...

Thank you so much ladies! This IF journey would have been unbearable without the support of other women who understand the pain.

k-mart said...

This post was so touching and true. It's very unfortunate that Infertility is universal, but it also gives all of us a bond that no one else can relate to. We understand each other and are able to support each other. I wish neither one of you had to go through this.

Lorry said...

"I know more than 7 women, and if IF affects just one of those people in my life, then it affects me too because I am that woman's friend."
Well-stated, Kate. I can't pretend I know what it's like to experience IF directly, but I remember that moment when I finally realized why my parents "waited" to have kids for eight years. And then when I realized why my mom and her sister had such a large age gap. It wasn't remarkable growing up, but now it breaks my heart to think about.

Thank you for sharing, Sandy. A very powerful post!

The Echols said...

K-Mart, I didn't know you had a blog! So awesome to find it! You may know me as Ondjima :)
My blog is at

Cat said...

What a sad but touching story. We struggled with IF. It can and does touch so many women and their families, regardless of where or who they are.

Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you get there.

Anonymous said...

First, this story brought me to tears, thank you for sharing your story. Second, I'm sorry you are going through IF. It's terrible that so many women all aroung the world share something so horrible. I don't know what I'd do without the support of other IFers. I pray you are blessed with a little one very soon. (((hugs)))

mtendere said...

I spent some time in Africa myself (Malawi) and one of my closest friends was "single" because her husband had left her after she was unable to to have children. Thank you for sharing your journey and for reminding the rest of us that it is not just a "Western" issue.