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Waiting for the stork

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The male-female competition in office, work pressure... everything adds to the problem. Infertility is a personal tragedy and couples must be helped to overcome it. - Dr. Kannagi.

Waiting for the stork

We are seeing more cases where couples can't perform due to stress. And, these are couples who have the wherewithal to bring up a child. - Dr. Asha Rao

Waiting for the stork

Adoption should be promoted better. Those who cannot afford IVF or have failed to conceive despite that should adopt.- Dr Suma Natarajan

Waiting for the stork

No one can take away the right of a human being to procreate. - Dr. Vani Mohan

Waiting for the stork

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ARE YOU in your 20s or early 30s and planning a trip to a fertility specialist? You are not alone.

Hundreds of young couples are knocking at the doors of fertility centres seeking to reverse, surgically or otherwise, that little flaw which prevents them from becoming biological parents.

Strangely enough, most of them are in high-tension jobs or are under some kind of stress. And, to top it all, in Vatsyayana's India, couples are finding it difficult to find time for sex.

Difficult to digest? Throw a glance across the visiting room of any fertility centre and you'll come back astounded at the age profile.

Years ago, when these centres set up shop, couples in their late 30s and 40s made a beeline to try their chance of becoming parents.

Now, you find those in their 20s or 30s competing for seats with older persons.

There has been an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for infertility and doctors say there are two reasons for this - increasing incidence and more people coming forward for treatment.

From a loving union where the two partners loved being with each other, many marriages turn bitter once a couple is pronounced infertile.

The presence of younger couples in these centres is explained thus:

Earlier, people would wait for the stork to fly over their homes, even if it took a decade or two.

Now, they get it to do so using science.

Says Shaila (name changed), a professional in her early 20s:

"It was a body blow when the doctors told me I suffered from infertility and would require treatment. It took me a very long time to reconcile to the fact that my body was not under my control."

It's not just the women who suffer. "Men do as well. Even if it is the woman who is infertile and has to undergo physical and mental strain, we men are partners in their pain," some say.

Doctors say the sedentary lifestyle of most working people is also responsible for the increasing infertility.

"Look at the kind of stress individuals go through nowadays. The male-female competition in office, work pressure... everything adds to it. And, this is not restricted to urban areas. Infertility is growing even in rural communities," says Dr. Kannagi Uthraraj, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine, KMCH.

Her contemporaries agree. Dr. Asha Rao of Rao Hospital says this generation "focusses on getting a good job before marrying. Even after that, the reproductive function is put on hold in favour of bettering one's career prospects."

Dr. Mridubhashini Govindarajan, Director, Women's Center, Ramakrishna Hospital, says "Increasing obesity in women, late marriages and the early onset of menarche are also to blame for the rise in the number of those seeking treatment."

As far as awareness about infertility goes, the doctors say there are two extremes. One lot comes in at the slightest pretext without giving Nature a chance to work its magic and the other sits put at home, refusing to seek medical help."

When a child is long in the coming, it only adds to the worries of a couple.

Societal and familial pressures apart, the sheer feeling of having failed in something that happens so naturally to many others is hard to drive away.

"Priorities have changed. It is difficult to juggle career and home. Despite counseling, you must realise that infertility is a personal tragedy and couples must be helped to overcome it," feels Dr. Kannagi.

Dr. Mridubhashini says a topic not spoken about often is sexual problems.

"There are many unspoken problems. Lifestyle changes have resulted in many couples lacking the time for intercourse." Dr Asha says

"In the last five years, we are seeing more cases where couples can't perform due to stress. And, these are couples who have the wherewithal to bring up a child."

How does it feel helping these couples? Do these doctors ever feel they are playing God?

"We help create, but are not Gods. Creation takes place, but our role is very small. But, nothing beats the thrill of bringing a child into this world," says obstetrician and gynaecologist Vani Mohan.

Reacting to statements if so much money needs to be spent on fertility treatment in a country whose population has crossed a billion, she says: "No one can take away the right of a human being to procreate."

When it comes to men, environmental reasons for low sperm count are many.

"Pesticides, plastics, soft drinks, aluminium foil, sprays and mosquito repellents... all contain estrogen, which affects male fertility. Y-micro deletion also has a big role to play," adds Dr. Mridubhashini.

And, even among young couples, there are cases when nothing can be done.

How open are they to adoption?

Says Dr. Suma Natarajan, Chief Gynaecologist of GKNM: "Adoption should be promoted better. Those who cannot afford IVF or have failed to conceive despite that should adopt."

The prohibitive cost of treating infertility proves a big drain on finances and doctors say that it has to come under insurance cover.

Also, since infertility medicine does not come under the ambit of life-saving drugs, the procedures end up costing much more.

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