It’s 2021, and people in Trinidad and Tobago are still reluctant to talk about infertility.
Lead clinician and medical director of the Trinidad and Tobago IVF & Fertility Centre Dr Catherine Minto-Bain said even with all the information that’s available on infertility, the stigma, embarrassment and fear associated with it are still unbelievable.
“It makes me so sad that nothing is changing. People still aren’t feeling comfortable to tell their close family and friends, and are suffering in silence.”
She said a recent online survey by the centre revealed just how guilty, misunderstood and judged some people with infertility issues feel.
The poll found:
• One in three people have not told their close family and friends they have infertility
• Men still do not talk about infertility. Ninety-six per cent of the poll respondents were women
• Six out of ten people say infertility is embarrassing
• Six out of ten people blame themselves for their infertility
• Seven out of ten feel they are a failure for having infertility
• Six out of ten people feel that people in Trinidad and Tobago are not sympathetic or understanding towards infertility
• Only four out of ten people are able to talk openly about their infertility
• Half of the poll respondents said infertility has ruined their life
April 19-24 is Infertility Awareness Week, and Minto-Bain said the centre will be using every opportunity to continue raising awareness about the issues surrounding the condition.
“We want to encourage more talk with people who are struggling with infertility. We have a Facebook support group and we want to get people to talk about their stories, to support women who have fertility problems and let them know we are here for them.
"We are also going to continue to appeal for public funding for infertility treatment and speak with insurance companies about coverage for fertility treatment.”
She said infertility can be the source of a great deal of stress, and not the other way around, as many people believe.
“A lot of people think if a woman is having difficulty getting pregnant, that if she relaxes it will happen. There is zero per cent evidence that stress causes infertility,” or that the covid19 vaccine causes infertility.
She identified the top ten infertility causes in Trinidad and Tobago.
The first, she said, is abnormal sperm.
“The male factor comes out on top here in Trinidad and Tobago, where in most other countries it doesn’t. Based on our research, six out of ten men, in a clinic setting, produce abnormal sperm. I can’t say for sure about people walking outside on the street, and we would love to do a national survey.”
Age comes in at number two.
“A lot of women coming to the clinic with fertility problems are over 42.”
She identified three and four as problems with fallopian tubes and growing and releasing eggs respectively. Low egg numbers or quality followed, then pelvic problems and scar tissue outside the fallopian tubes.
“There are lots of things that can cause scar tissue: miscarriages, surgery, infections, endometriosis, STDs.”
The seventh cause, Minto-Bain said, was problems with the womb, including fibroids.
“But most fibroids do not cause infertility, just the ones located inside the uterine lining.”
Erectile dysfunction was next in line, followed by early menopause, which she said can be genetic or caused by things such as chemotherapy in cancer patients or surgery for polycystic ovaries.
“Menopause generally starts at 52 and early menopause happens to one in 100 women.”
The tenth reason for infertility is “unexplained."
She said the fact that people go to doctors who are non-specialists in fertility for treatment also contributes to the problem.
“Sometimes there is more than one thing that is affecting fertility, and when you go to doctors who are not specialists, you waste time, because they may just focus on treating one thing. You need the proper tests at a specialist.”
Minto-Bain believes infertility conversations need to start and continue, and that men need to join in.
“I think it’s wrapped up in so many things. They don’t think people will understand, or will blame them for their condition, or think less of them. Things will change if people start talking about it and breaking down the barriers. The people who are suffering will realise they have support. We don’t know how men feel, because they are not talking. One hundred and 50 people responded to the survey questions, and just about three or four men participated.”
She hopes when she does s survey again in five years she’ll see positive changes.
But, she said, although people are not talking about it, they are silently taking steps to try to get pregnant. The centre is busier than normal and is booked solid till July.
“Last year people started pulling back because we didn’t know much about the coronavirus, and people didn’t want to rush in treatment. We stopped temporarily in March, and by May we were running tele-help clinics and saw a big increase in people wanting treatment.”
She said she is always willing to do everything she can to help people struggling with infertility to try to realise their dreams.
For more info on infertility visit the Trinidad and Tobago IVF & Fertility Centre on Facebook.