The History of Infertility
Frustration survives the centuries, but ignorance does not
More than 4.5 million couples experience infertility each year. There have been millions upon millions of couples that have had to cope with infertility throughout the ages. Many of these couples are famous, historical figures.
From Humiliation to Hanging
The Book of Genesis speaks of two sisters: Rachel and Leah. Rachel was beautiful and desired. Leah was plain and unloved. God made it possible for Leah to bear children while her sister remained childless. Despite all of her best efforts Rachel did not become pregnant for many, many years. When she finally did give birth Rachel cried out, “God has taken away my disgrace by giving me a son.”
Rachel’s belief, that her infertility was disgraceful, is a belief that has persisted among infertile woman for centuries. Even today, in modern times of advanced medicine, higher learning, and deeper social awareness, women still feel disgraced and humiliated when they confess they have fertility issues.
If suffering from humiliation is painful, it is not nearly as painful as some of the punishments netted to woman through history for their inability to conceive.
In some ancient cultures it was an acceptable practice for men to hang their wives if they failed to produce an offspring with in the agreed upon time.
In Regency England a man could publicly denounce his union and “set aside his wife” if she failed to produce an heir.
In more recent times, women have been victims of “kitchen burnings.” This Indian practice calls for the disgruntled spouse to tie his wife to a chair and set her afire in their kitchen. The only explanation he need give is that he was not satisfied with her—this could be for any number of reasons like being a lousy cook, a poor lover, or even an infertile spouse.
Knowledge Is Power
Queen Mary of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, said, “Knowledge is foremost to power.” This was a personal philosophy that would see her through many trials and tribulations, including infertility.
Mary inherited the throne despite furious opposition to the notion of a female ruler. One of her most important goals was to have a child to secure her line. The years ticked by slowly and agonizingly for Mary “the Barren Queen” of England. Though she would convince herself she was pregnant, once suffering from a phantom pregnancy wherein she gained the requisite weight, stopped menstruating, and suffered with morning sickness, she never truly obtained her goal. Mary knew, however, that there was more than one way for her to be fruitful in life. She filled her time reading and learning all she could about medical treatments and her religion.
Mary set an example that all infertility patients could learn from: Though your body may be barren your mind is not!
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