“Post five miscarriages, three molar pregnancies, one failed IVF, a brush with ovarian cancer, I finally succeeded on the second IVF attempt. I had a long and rollercoaster journey towards motherhood,” recollects Gitanjali Banerjee, founder of InfertilityDost, about her journey to motherhood.
Gitanjali had an arranged marriage with an army officer at the age of 23, which she believes, was, “simply because one must get married when you reach a certain age and when your parents say”. It took her a decade to finally conceive and going by the social stigma that infertility holds, she had to endure a lot mockery and blame.
“After one year of customary honeymoon, it was time to hit the next milestone – motherhood. And, with this began the 10-long and gruelling years of fighting infertility,” said the JNU postgraduate while speaking to SheThePeople.TV.
“Post five miscarriages, three molar pregnancies, one failed IVF, a brush with ovarian cancer, I finally succeeded on my second IVF attempt”
The kind of pain and social disdain she had to undergo during her infertility journey are unimaginable and humiliating, she said. On the other hand, society appears completely insensitive towards people going through infertility.
“Infertility is a taboo in India. You are not even considered a woman if you can’t bear a child — you, your past karma and everything about you is blamed, judged, and poked into. It is a big emotional, social and physical challenge. Only those who have been a part of the journey or are sensitized can provide the support that a woman undergoing infertility requires,” added Gitanjali.
Born and brought up in Lucknow, Gitanjali was always a protected child by her family. So much so, that she had to fight to study in her dream college of JNU as her father was strictly against her studying in a college outside of her city. But not one to be easily silenced, Gitanjali fought her way through. This was the first instance of victory that she remembers.
The second came when the former Kendriya Vidyalaya teacher overcame her personal fears and started InfertilityDost in September 2016 to reach out to women who suffer from infertility in silence. With her initiative, she wanted to bring forth real stories, make society aware and acknowledge the pain. And most importantly, she aimed to help patients find the right doctor.
The support group started by Gitanjali has grown rapidly in the past five months with about 3,000 visitors each month on the website. Apart from being a support group, InfertilityDost is also India’s first venture that deals with infertility in a holistic manner.
It facilitates couples to brave infertility with support and knowledge. It also provides guidance so that couples can take an informed decision by connecting them to experts. Gitanjali also motivates people throughout their tough phase of life by reinforcing their strength and hope, and helping them stand up and fight against society’s prejudice.
She said that the more we talk about it, the more we realize that we are not alone and get the strength to fight the stigma. “Being in a support group empowers people and clears their head too.”
Elaborating how it’s mostly the woman who has to bear the brunt of infertility, Gitanjali said:
“If a couple is not having a child, why is it that the society invariably assumes that the fault is with the woman –“Kya hua abhi tak baccha nahi hua, bahu ka test karwaya kya” – this is the most common statement – why not men?”
No one even considers it, when in reality, 60% of infertility cases are due to male infertility factors, Gitanjali pointed out.
“Society gets so cruel towards women that it becomes almost difficult for them to enjoy a party or outing without being poked at — ‘You leave your job and career only then you will be able make a baby’ — people will nonchalantly comment and it hurts badly.”
“I personally know a lot of women who were embarrassed in a room full of people who were not allowed to perform a puja, condemning them as ‘banjh’,” she added.
Men, on the other hand, take refuge in their male egos protected by their moms and sisters – “merey beta mei koi kami ho hi nahi sakti” – Even upper middle class and educated men are not ready to even go for a basic sperm test.
“It is surprising that around 56% of visitors are men who silently come and read. They rarely comment or engage in communication”
Men continue to enjoy all the protection while women have to deal with judgmental and condescending behaviour on almost a daily basis.
A significant point Gitanjali highlighted was that her website is also accessed by men on a regular basis. “It is surprising that around 56% of visitors are men who silently come and read. They rarely comment or engage in communication. Well, this is just the beginning and we hope to change society for the better, very soon.”
While it is still a long way to go, male infertility is also being taken into consideration now.
Gitanjali is all optimistic about the future as she believes, “People are warming up to this and I am connecting with women who even send me their test reports for my advice. Through our group, many women have made WhatsApp groups and found friends in their cities who share notes about IVF cycles and they find immense support from it.”
Becoming a biological mother is not a race to prove one’s womanhood
For society, she has only a few words of advice, “A kind word, a genuine concern and a helping hand can save many women from falling into depression and even suicide.”
And for those women who just wouldn’t stop to try, she opined that becoming a biological mother is not a race to prove one’s womanhood.
“One should keep their mind open. Analyze the situation carefully and take a healthy decision. Just because the third cycle of IVF worked for someone, it is not necessary that it will for you too. Look out for adoption or even be consciously child-free, but start living life. Take the right call,” suggested Gitanjali.
But to bring women to this kind of decision-making stage, they need to be empowered.