(MENAFN– The Post) MASERU – WITHOUT a child in her first five years of marriage, the dreams of marital bliss faded for ‘Malinkeng Matlakala.
“They were years filled with unhappiness. My only choice was to be strong and pray that one day I would be able to conceive,” said the 44-year-old resident of Mathebe in Mafeteng district.
Although her husband was supportive, her nagging in-laws were putting pressure on her. Many times, the pressure turned into abuse as they used scornful words to refer to her.
Matlakala’s case is not isolated. Many Basotho women can relate to her ordeal. In a patriarchal society such as Lesotho’s, a childless marriage is often considered a curse and the woman usually takes the blame and resultant abuse.
Matlakala later had a baby, but the abuse had already made her feel worthless.
“The marriage was just a mess. I even thought of going back to my maiden home,” Matlakala told thepost this week.
Matlakala said her husband, who was employed as a private teacher at the time, stopped her from leaving.
“My mother-in-law would gossip about me telling everyone that she wanted grandchildren as my husband was her only male child. I endured this pain and suffered for five years.”
The fact that he lived under the same roof with her in-laws made the abuse a daily routine.
“It was impossible to escape the gossip and the ill-treatment,” she said.
“My mother-in-law would say her son has brought nyopa (an infertile woman) into the family,” she recalls with a sore heart.
Matlakala’s experience is one in millions of infertility stories across the globe.
Infertility happens when a couple is unable to conceive children.
In the case of Lesotho, the blame is usually shifted to women and witchcraft, resulting in the break-up of many marriages.
Thamae Mohatsela, an herbalist from Mafeteng Likhoele, is one of those who believe that infertility is linked to witchcraft.
“Some people do not believe in witchcraft because they think they are sophisticated, they are too Westernised. Yet more often than not, infertility is man-made,” said Mohatsela, positing that it is a result of being bewitched by people whose desire is to wreak havoc in a family.
“For a male, he could be married to a spiritual wife and he can dream having sex with that woman while in deep sleep. But when he wakes up, he finds out that he was in dreamland. While dreaming of having sex and ejaculating, his sperms would be taken by evil spirits and mixed with herbs so that they are spoiled,” claimed Mohatsela.
The only remedy, he claimed, is to seek the help of traditional leaders“while there is still time”.
“These things are real. They are there,” Mohatsela said.
“The unfortunate part is that blame is shifted to the woman when there are no children in the family. She would be called all sorts of derogatory names like nyopa (one who cannot conceive) and ‘Mamakhoaba (another derogatory term that is used to describe a woman who is unable to conceive). All these names are derogatory and hurtful to the woman,” he said.
Mohatsela claimed girls can also be bewitched and assigned spiritual husbands well before they get married.
“Then in future they are unable to have children when they are married. That would be the end of their marriage,” he said.
Motsoko Mahlasi, a traditional doctor on the Berea plateau, is also of the view that infertility is a result of witchcraft that is meant to destabilise marriages.
At times, this is due to jealousy, he claimed.
“When a man with a bright future or is from a well-off family leaves girls in his village to marry a girl from other villages that causes pain for the girls in his village. The parents of the girls would want to cause unrest for the bride,” he claimed.
“That is where witchcraft comes in,” Mahlasi said, claiming that the witches would“try to block the veins of the couple in the marriage so that no children are born”.
He said“proper herbs are needed to unblock the veins” so that the couple can have children.
However, medical experts think otherwise.
Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane, a health practitioner, said there are several causes of infertility and both men and women can be affected, hence the need for medical examinations.
“It is unfortunate that women are usually blamed when there are no children in the family. Sometimes men can have low sperm count,” said Dr Monyamane.
In the case of women, it could be a problem with their hormones.
“It is best to find out if her hormones are functioning properly. The woman’s hormones in the ovary may be blocked, making it difficult for her to conceive,” said Dr Monyamane.
When this happens, Dr Monyamane said, the couple should seek the services of a gynaecologist.
Another reason for infertility, according to Dr Monyamane, is nutrition.
“Eating properly can boost a man’s chances of having children,” said Dr Monyamane.
He said age can also affect the ability of both men and women to have children.
“The older they become, the more the chances of infertility.”
The Family Planning Programmes Manager in the Ministry of Health’s Family Health Section, ‘Makhotso Tšotetsi, said infertility is identified when a couple is unable to conceive a child after long, regular unprotected sex.
Tšotetsi said infertility is stigmatised in communities where women are called derogatory names.
She said infertility can be classified into two forms: primary infertility and secondary infertility.
In primary infertility,“the couple has never had a child while the second form relates to a situation where the couple is able to conceive once but are no longer able to have more babies after the first one”.
When such a problem arises, health professionals should try to unpack the life history of the couple, noting that many factors can lead to infertility.
She said the structure of the body could lead to the blockage of the tubes resulting in infertility.
She said the man may be ejaculating the fluid without sperms making it difficult for a female to conceive.
Tšotetsi said there may be some scars or injuries in the reproductive organs making it difficult for a couple to conceive.
This, she said, may be a result of an accident that would have affected one of the couples.
In the case of women, there may be hormonal imbalance where the ovaries may not be able to produce enough hormones.
Men with low testosterone may be unable to produce sperm healthy enough to make a woman fall pregnant.
She warned that abuse of alcohol and drugs could also lead to infertility.
She says some partners may use some drugs because they want to enhance sexual pleasure oblivious of the effects of such substances on their bodies in the long run.
Tšotetsi said some couples may think that they are infertile only to find out that their timing of having sex was wrong.
She says a couple should have sex when the body of a woman is fertile so she can fall pregnant.
“Through consultations with health experts, the couple may find out that it is not that they are infertile but they make love at the wrong time,” said Tšotetsi.
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