Forget the auntyjis and cultural pressures; just look after yourself!

Beta (child), you have been married for one year now and still no baby – is something wrong?’ As British Asian women we’ve all heard these comments from countless auntyjis before. Whilst politely delivered, they epitomise a culture which magnificent at times, is also deeply judgmental and still not open about many issues, including infertility.

Having fertility issues is utterly overwhelming, all-consuming and is often something many of us, regrettably, deal with in secret. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment, disbelief and confusion. This is even more so in the British Asian community because of the immense cultural pressures to get married and have children. There is limited awareness of fertility issues and treatments, leading to those who struggle to conceive often being outcast and ignored.

That’s exactly what happened to me, and I know to many others across the Asian community. And this experience has made me hugely passionate about breaking the taboo and social stigma surrounding infertility in ethnic minority cultures.

After three years trying to conceive, endless visits to the GP and countless heartbreaking negative pregnancy tests, my husband and I conceded that we would need a helping hand from science to have a baby. Because being a mum and having children naturally comes to define your success in many South Asian families, regardless of anything else you may have done, we weren’t able to share our struggle or the anxiety and sadness we felt, with our own families.

Even when we tried to subtly hint at the fact that we had been trying for some years, our struggle was met with confusion, and a hint of disappointment, that we weren’t as perfect as had always been assumed and expected of us.

This lack of awareness and taboo around fertility struggles in ethnic minority cultures unfortunately means couples from BAME groups don’t have the same support networks as white couples. We’re not able to talk to our parents or friends about our issues as openly as others, and we don’t get to tell those around us not to keep asking us personal questions about when we’re having kids. Cultural pressures and long standing protocols, which are wrong and need to be challenged, mean we continue to face a barrage of insensitive questions and comments, and this can often have a negative effect on our mental health.

After changing Doctor and one operation for me, we finally got the answers we had been looking for, a simple issue with one of my tubes had been the problem all along, and not endometriosis, stress or irregular ovulation as had been assumed by many doctors. Hearing this was incredibly difficult; I felt like a failure and inferior to every other woman – how could I not do the one thing that is so natural – bear a child! What made this even worse was the disappointment and embarrassment this would bring on my family and on me amongst the in-laws. I just wasn’t going to be good enough anymore. I felt defective. And so we told no one; we suffered in silence.

In the midst of all of this, our siblings announced their ‘happy’ news. The pressure on us was no immense, and the impending babies were being talked about endlessly without any sensitivity for our situation.

The Asian auntyjis were in their element too, remarking how ‘You don’t want to be left behind or people will start to talk about you’. Yet no one asked how we were doing; we were left feeling lonely and belittled. And all this, just as I was about to start my first IVF cycle.

But we remained resilient! So that nothing, especially not cultural pressures, would disrupt our treatment and our chances of having a baby, we took the decision to stay away from all the aunties, family or friends who were insensitive or judging us. It was difficult but so important and it really helped.

After the rollercoaster of multiple appointments, blood tests and weeks of taking injections every day, the day of the IVF finally arrived. However it wasn’t all good news. Because our embryos were of a high quality, to give us the best chance possible the embryologist advised us to freeze them and for me to have another procedure.

Two months later, after another operation, much needed holiday, and another cycle of injections, we finally had the embryo transfer. I was fortunate enough that my embryo implanted. Nine months later, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family.  We planned to do another frozen cycle with our remaining frozen embryo. However, 15 months later, we were unexpectedly blessed with a natural pregnancy and I gave birth to non-identical twins last summer.

On some days I still struggle with the deep scars dealing with fertility issues amidst social stigma and cultural pressure, has left behind. And three years later, I’m still learning to process what happened and find a peace and acceptance in our situation. I hope by sharing my story I’m able to provide insight and support to others, and most of all, I hope by starting a conversation about the taboo subject of infertility, I can begin to change attitudes and break the stigma.

I want to say a huge thank you to Pooja for sharing her story which highlights the additional stigma and challenges faced by those experiencing infertility in the Asian Community. I hope others who are feeling unable to share their struggles can read stories like this and know that they’re not alone. You can read more blog posts from Pooja at http://www.auntyjisbanglesfertility.com, or you can follow her on Instagram @auntyjis_bangles_babies .