“We were all in a club we didn’t want to belong to, but it felt good to have each other” – Asha Hussain, Founder, Fertility Support Community.
Asha Hussain was told that she had a one percent chance of conceiving a baby naturally. He simply said it to himself, but the magnitude of the emotional impact of those two words was cutting to the founder of the Fertility Support Community (FSC).
Diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS, Asha’s chances of getting pregnant were drastically reduced. The couple went to Sri Lanka to see a fertility specialist, as there was none in the Maldives at the time. When their options narrowed down to IVF treatment, the couple’s next three years were spent in an emotional flurry of treatment plans, tests and patience. It was hard to imagine how demanding it can be, physically, emotionally and financially. To cope with her journey, she documented her IVF battles on Instagram as her personal diary. In her words, she felt left out.
The couple is currently blessed with Yuhana, 3 1/2 years old. By becoming a mother, Asha steeled herself to be more vulnerable and made her account public. She began receiving a stream of inquiries from women struggling with infertility.
From what started as peer support sessions, the Fertility Support Community was born in 2020 with 99% women at the helm. They talked about their struggles, miscarriages, stillbirths, treatment paths, misdiagnosis, medication unavailability, and the unexplained pain of infertility. They made a discovery that was both terrifying and exciting, and instantly bonded as a community, serving as a beacon of hope for women across the island.
When Faiha was 14 years old, one of her ovaries had to be removed. A cyst was found on the remaining ovary. Doctors’ advice to marry early was the last thing a 15-year-old wanted to hear. For IVF treatment, the chances of her having a healthy embryo were 1 percent. However, doctors were able to extract healthier ones and November 2021 was scheduled for embryo transfer.
A casual examination in October 2021 revealed that he had thyroid cancer. It was a downward spiral for the couple and they felt like they only had each other to lean on. She went through treatment and although there are no signs of cancer, the couple have to wait until they can be cleared to undergo IVF.
Faiha’s message to society was simple but powerful; “Don’t ask people when they’re going to have babies. Some people don’t want babies at all and some people can’t have them and that’s their choice and situation, and if they don’t choose to tell you, don’t.” I don’t need to know. It’s something that society needs to unlearn because sometimes it’s very offensive and hurtful.”
There were other heartwarming stories shared about FSC members’ infertility journey at the ‘A Night of Hope’ event. Each story was different and each story was emotionally binding, but what remained was the courage that all the women continued to show, never giving up.
“A Night of Hope”, the first such gala event in the Maldives was held on November 2 on the occasion of World Fertility Day. The funds obtained will be used to support the operations of FSC and the IVF Fund, which will help a couple that requires financial support to receive assisted reproductive services, such as IVF, abroad.
The IVF fund was launched with the aim of funding one couple annually for IVF treatment, which can be taxing, both emotionally and financially, for couples going through it. A memorandum of understanding has been signed between Yaami Fertility and the IVF Center’s infertility specialist, Dr. Sankalp Singh and Asha, to fund IVF treatment for two more couples who meet the criteria.
Speaking at the ceremony, Dr. Sankalp urged lawmakers and dignitaries to change certain aspects of treatment in terms of how a diagnosis is made, how a treatment plan is created, and how to proceed with treatment. He highlighted the importance of the necessary mental support for the stressful moments experienced from a medical perspective.
India’s Deputy High Commissioner for the Maldives, Pooja Tillu, congratulated the FSC, commenting that it was a “laudable initiative” taken to support Maldivian couples in need.
“A Night of Hope” is a crucial first step in changing the stigma around infertility. The community is becoming more aware and conversations around infertility issues are more open. Asha concluded: “We need research and data. We need support to help us raise awareness of common causes of infertility and early and correct diagnosis. We need treatment pathways and appropriate policies to protect service providers and patients’ rights.” .