Women, infertility and the price for saying ‘I do’(Part 2)
By Kingsley Obom-Egbulem
As we conclude discussions on the role infertility is playing in swelling cases of violence against women and the attendant health implication especially the spread of sexually transmitted infection, perhaps it won’t be out of place to ponder on the words of Dr. Oliver Ezechi.
In a recent interview with NIGERIAN HEALTH JOURNAL, Ezechi who is consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist and Chief Research Fellow and in the Sexual and Reproductive Health Research Unit of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Lagos said:
“The pressure from society forces men infertile relationships to engage in extramarital affairs to prove their manhood. Now, because of the intense pressure, some women will also go out searching for pregnancy especially if they suspect the fault is from the man. This is so that the woman can be at peace, save her head and shut the mouth of everyone because sometimes the torments from family members can push people to unimaginable length.”
This is puzzling, to say the least. To think that there is a married woman somewhere, currently having affairs with other men(with the approval of her husband; by the way) so she can get pregnant and protect him from society’s ridicule is one of the weirdest thing to imagine let alone do.
It doesn’t make sense to any observer who is not too conversant with the African society and how it is dealing with
African women:when will your jubilee come?
issues of infertility. But these stories are real and like some public health physicians and epidemiologists may have realized, have added to the list of harmful cultural practices believed to be driving the HIV/AIDS epidemic in most African societies.
Part of what this reality suggests is that perhaps, marriage is becoming particular risky and dangerous for an average African woman as it appears that she is even more exposed to HIV in marriage than as a single woman.
Doesn’t this provide the basis for interrogating some of the cases of HIV sero-discordance we’ve had to deal with in Africa?
Dr. Ebun Adejuyigbe, consultant pediatrician and associate professor, Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU) Ile Ife, Osun State would rather say an emphatic yes to that poser and she has a strong case to support her stand.
Just in case you are wondering “HIV discordance refers to a pair of Sexual partners in which one is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative.”
After studying several cases of pediatric HIV infection she and her colleagues have had to deal with over a period of time and the fact that only the mothers of the children were the ones with HIV, Adejuyigbe soon discovered that sterility or sexual impotency and infertility were all at the root of the whole problem.
“We discovered that these women with HIV positive babies apparently were encouraged by their husbands to go out and be impregnated by another man. The choice of man the woman decides to opt for would be determined by the possession of certain physical features that could clear any possible doubts about the child’s paternity. No one would ever imagine that a man irrespective of his medical condition would allow his wife to go out and get pregnant by another man and pose as the father when the child is born”, said Adejuyigbe.
That is the norm in some parts of Nigeria and the women in a bid to shield their husbands from social stigma that comes with sterility or impotence would actually go and have sex with another man and come back pregnant for her husband. But these days, the women are not only coming back pregnant. They are also coming back infected with HIV. And their husbands may never get infected especially for those whose husbands are sexually impotent.
“I never knew this was happening until we started noticing an unusual trend at the pediatric ward in OAU. We were seeing several sick children, infected with HIV and expectedly ,you will have to talk to the parents of such kids and after encouraging the mothers to go for HIV counseling and testing; the result is usually positive”.
That is often the beginning of several revelations according to Adejuyigbe, especially if the clinician insists that the father of the child should also be tested for HIV.
“The women involved would wonder at our display of naivety if we conclude that the man probably would also be infected with HIV. But they will tell us emphatically that their husbands cannot be HIV positive. Of course, you want to ask is he not infected and the women would tell you their husbands can never get infected because “he doesn’t, and can’t have sex with them. If you probe further they will tell you because he is impotent”.
This development was confirmed following further survey and interview of several women visiting the pediatric ward with children infected with HIV. The women are counseled to go for HIV test and if the result turns out positive, they are usually not in doubt as to the source of the infection.
It all started as a problem of infertility and the need to shield themselves from the social stigma that infertility attracts. One partner decides to cover the shame of infertility they both will have to live with and it turns out that she is actually laying down her life.
Again, the question many would want to ask is ‘how can men protect their wives from society’s ridicule if indeed she is medically confirmed to be the one with the problem that has caused the couples infertility?’
Marrying a second wife or even divorcing the woman has been the norm for most men. If a woman could decide to get pregnant by another man just to protect her husband from the shame of sterility(and eventually get infected with HIV)then men should start thinking of a better sacrifice to make when the table is against their partners.