On Monday, March 9, a leading national newspaper published as a “Supplement”a two-page article, what it calls, a “Special focus on standard IVF clinics in Nigeria,” and entitled it, “Scourge of infertility: IVF as an option.” The article “advertised” fertility centres in Nigeria and those behind them. There were also telephone numbers where other clinics can get in touch with it so that they can also be “advertised.”
Pray, is In vitro fertilisation otherwise known as IVF now an exception to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria’s rule against advertising among doctors? One of the clinics in selling itself over its “competitors” said “some clinics claim to do IVF whereas they only do the conventional IVF.”
Another clinic touted “in our 10 years of existence, we have been able to assist in the conception of hundreds of babies and we are still counting.” Still, another said “we are committed to delivering optimum customer satisfaction beyond expectations.”
It’s not lost on me that among the owners of the mentioned fertility centres is a renowned professor in the field of fertility in Nigeria. But as the article itself said, there are still quacks in the field. Every time you read anything on fertility centres, they mostly create an impression that it is a one-stop shop for “all” problems concerning infertility.
Medical science has done great things for humans, but with assisted reproductive technologies, medical science fails far more often than is generally believed. The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology reports that on the average, out of the 1.5 million assisted reproductive cycles done worldwide, only 350,000 resulted in the couple having a child. That puts it as a 77 per cent failure rate worldwide. Even in the United States, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention gave the failure rate as nearing 70 per cent. As Miriam Zoll and Pamela Tsigdinos put it, “Behind those failed cycles are millions of women and men who have engaged in a debilitating, Sisyphus-like battle with themselves and their infertility, involving daily injections, drugs, hormones, countless blood tests and other procedures.”
Almost 37 years after scientists in Britain gave the world its first “test-tube baby,” assisted reproduction is now worth about $4bn a year. But the story is different in Israel where it costs almost nothing. There, until recently when a cap was fixed on the number of cycles a woman could have, it was limitless.
Yet, you can’t miss the marketing aspect of fertility clinics that reminds you it is still a business venture. IVF costs a fortune in Nigeria and many parts of the world. Fertility centres deal with customers who are desperate and vulnerable. “Once inside the surreal world of reproductive medicine, there is no obvious off-ramp; you keep at it as long as your bank account, health insurance or sanity hold out.”
Many couples are in debt because of fertility clinics, and despite many failures are still hoping for the elusive breakthrough. With the journey of infertility, anyone who stops is regarded as a failure in the race. To a childless couple, one out of a million chances means “I still have a chance.” It does not help that our culture sees having children as the purpose of marriage.
Even up till today, no one can say for sure the long term risks of all the invasive procedures and experimental interventions. Zoll and Tsigdinos say, “Ending our treatments was one of the bravest decisions we ever made, and we did it to preserve what little remained of our shattered selves, our strained relationships and our depleted bank accounts. No longer under the spell of the industry’s seductive powers, we study its marketing tactics with eagle’s eyes, and understand how, like McDonald’s, the fertility industry works to keep people coming back for more.” Of course, there will be lucky couples. But no one hears the other side of the story, where clients who refused to give up became addictive, with cycles of debilitating trauma.
Even with all this, in an unfair world as ours, every year it is estimated that 42 million women with unintended pregnancies abort those pregnancies. That is why a little girl who hawks oranges gets pregnant and gets beaten by her parents, while those who want it don’t get it. Much as science can claim to aid conception, ultimately children are from God.
He gives them out how He so chooses. We cannot query Him. If He says He created you to be barren, in that situation, as in all situations, give Him thanks. God ordained marriage for companionship, and not mainly to have children.
Children are only additions to it. You might get them. You might not get them. It does not mean God loves you any less. Nevertheless, for childless couples seeking God’s mercy, it is not a time to ask God “why me?” As a couple, say prayers of agreement, telling God you accept His will, with or without a child. That way, the anxiety is removed. For some women, it is just the stress of childlessness that perpetuates their infertility. Babies will not want to live in a body in constant agitation. They want a peaceful abode. If you want children, don’t be “crazy about kids.”
It is an ironical world where what we don’t want is what we get! I have encountered couples of many years’ infertility, who after counselling them to get their mind off children and put their mind and trust in God, for good or for bad, come back to tell me the “good news.” Of course, with infertility, there will be those couples whose infertility has clear causes, who will need medical intervention. But for a good number you cannot find any clear cause. Even women who have delivered a child before, it does not mean the second child will come automatically.
As a woman ages, her fertility reduces. There could still be other factors. Many, without any medical intervention, but with a large dose of patience, will still conceive.
Those who are running fertility clinics must not raise false hopes. Their clients have a right to know about the risks to their health, the social downsides, and the documented high failure rates even in the best of centres. Clients should be given proper and unbiased advice without thinking about the money to be raked in.