Exposure to pesticides poses many health risks. The chemicals found in pesticides affect many bodily organs and systems, not excluding the reproductive system, which, in turn, leads to infertility. Often the focus is placed on the effects after conception such as pre-term births, cleft palates or stillbirths. But what about those individuals that miscarry or cannot conceive at all?
Infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects traditionally have been the woman’s burden to carry. It must have been something she did or didn’t do… It’s a woman’s issue, right? Wrong. Yes, women are the ones who do or don’t get pregnant, but there’s a 30-40% chance that her partner’s fertility issues may play a role in not conceiving. Let’s face it: there is a stigma around discussing the topic of infertility in general, but in particular when addressing the man’s role due to machismo or just plain embarrassment. Either way, the conversation needs to be had and not in the shadows. This is especially true for the farmworker community.
Silence surrounding infertility breeds contempt, anger, blame, and that can be detrimental to a relationship and those involved. But what happens when you are an otherwise perfectly healthy man working 12 plus hour days hauling buckets of produce to make a living, and you are unable to conceive a child.? So much of how society views men is tied to their virility and being able to produce an heir.
Although the following excerpt from a January 14, 2019 ETimes article is about a couple in India, it represents the sentiments of women and their reality worldwide, and it’s representative of what is happening in many farmworker homes across the United States.
“36-year-old Shipra Singh was ridiculed by her in laws for her inability to conceive a child. They took her to multiple Ayurveda centers but nothing helped. A visit to the gynecologist and a couple of tests later, she got the rude shock that the real reason behind her failed attempts to conceive was actually her husband.”
As a society, we have been conditioned to believe it must be the woman. What if we stopped placing blame on the man or the woman? What if we educated both on the effects of pesticide exposure and reproductive health?
According to research conducted on ‘Safe’ Herbicide in Australia Water Affects Male Fertility, “The last 50 years has seen rapid decline in male reproductive health. Decreased sperm counts, increased rates of testicular cancer and a range of malformations in male genitalia have been reported in industrialized countries across the globe.” We can only deduce what implications those same herbicides and their residues might have for farmworkers exposed to them directly in the fields while working.
AFOP Health & Safety Programs works to provide the farmworker community with the education and tools necessary to protect themselves while working in the fields as well as how to limit pesticide take-home exposures. However, our trainings are large in scope and additional training is needed to educate not only farmworkers but growers on safe use of these pesticides to mitigate reproductive health risk linked with exposures. Infertility is a taboo subject across the majority of races and socio-economic lines, but the silence that surrounds it can be debilitating and lead to greater mental and physical health problems.