Infertility is a broad term with a rather simple definition: inability to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse. Perhaps in hushed tones, you’ve overheard the phrase being murmured about a family member.
Infertility is a diagnosis that is common, affecting 1 out of every 8 women. Yet, it is one of those conditions that is characterized by a cycle of blame, grief, and stigma.
In women, infertility can be caused by many factors including endometriosis, fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), early menopause, lifestyle factors, and other hormonal conditions. In men, it can be caused by sperm being misshapen (abnormal morphology), poor sperm motility, a low number of sperm, and a short amount of semen.
Numerous publications, including popular magazines, newspapers, scientific journals, and novels, have written extensively about infertility. However, not all marginalized groups have been equally reported and represented in these publications. Let’s discuss infertility in Muslim women, a group that is frequently overlooked in both the public press and scientific journals.
One in eight Muslim women experience infertility, yet educational campaigns seldom focus on them. Additionally, there is minimal support in the Muslim community for couples who are having trouble becoming pregnant. It is rarely discussed in public settings. Muslim women may also encounter a number of challenges when seeking medical care.
One in eight Muslim women experience infertility, yet educational campaigns seldom focus on them. Additionally, there is minimal support in the Muslim community for couples who are having trouble becoming pregnant.
These can include (in addition to barriers experienced by other groups) not being informed about infertility by their health care providers, providers not knowing and therefore not being able to explain treatment restrictions, and even language barriers for those who are not native English speakers.
As a result, these challenges create an unmet need for Muslim women experiencing infertility. Muslim women may face the physical challenges of infertility coupled with societal pressure that stems from culture to bear children.
The first thing to note is that infertility affects both men and women, yet oftentimes, women are blamed for it.
It is a common medical diagnosis that has evolved to become something that is put at the backburner of many discussions. About ⅓ of the cases are due to male factors. Another ⅓ are female factors and a final ⅓ are unknown or combined factors (NIH, 2021). Infertility has both physical and psychological effects. Women have reported feelings of failure, regret, helplessness, and exhaustion (Hasanpoor-Azghdy et al. 2014).
For some Muslim women, bearing children is a popular topic among family gatherings for couples, whether it be the auntie that pesters you with the “you’re not getting any younger” or the family friend saying “you’re next” every time they see a child at a picnic. Although they have good intentions, it can be downright hard and lonely. The good news is that family building is still possible even for those who struggle to conceive.
Procedures used to help with fertility
Infertility is treatable, and many Islamic rulings permit medication, IVF, IUI, and other forms of family building. While infertility treatment isn’t mentioned in the Shari’a, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ordered us to seek cures for diseases. He also said, “Allah did not create a disease without creating a cure for it except senility, so sons of Adam seek cures but do not use ḥarām” (forbidden things).
The only restriction is that the “semen source, ovum source, and the incubator (uterus) come from the legally married husband and wife during the span of their marriage” and there should be no introduction of a third-party (Al-Bar MA and Chamsi-Pasha 2015).
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is where a woman’s mature eggs are removed from her ovaries using a needle and are combined with a man’s sperm in a laboratory followed by returning the embryos to the woman’s body.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) involves inserting specially prepared sperm into a woman’s uterine and is permissible with the husband’s semen. Some may decide to take medications for infertility that actually induce ovulation through medications.
Infertility is a challenging experience for almost everyone. Muslim families struggling to build their families would benefit from additional support through education campaigns, support groups, and greater awareness about Islamic teachings surrounding infertility.
Muslim families struggling to build their families would benefit from additional support through education campaigns, support groups, and greater awareness about Islamic teachings surrounding infertility.
In addition to the obstacles described above, many Muslim families identify as members of other underrepresented minorities. They may also face additional struggles such as their race and class. There are great opportunities for researchers, advocates, and the support community to provide care for these families.
It is up to us as the Muslim ummah to support families and especially women experiencing infertility. Now, is the time for outreach and support for our Muslim sisters undergoing infertility.