My friend, Noha, sat across from me weeping. She had requested to meet for coffee early that day, it sounded urgent from her voice. I’m not one to pry in someone else’s affairs, if Noha wanted to talk, I knew she eventually would.
And she did.
“I can’t have children,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked like a child who just learned that they had lost their parent forever. I didn’t know what to say to comfort her. I’ve only heard of such personal affairs in the old Egyptian classic movies I watched as a child. In one movie, the lead actress, Amina Rizk, gives up her true love and decides to share her husband with another, Huda Sultan, in hopes that her husband’s name will be passed on.
Noha calmed down once the waiter brought our food. She explained that the doctor determined that her husband was the infertile one, not her as they initially presumed. I confess, I was shocked. In Arab culture, infertility is always blamed on the female.
Even if a woman is strong enough to challenge her society and demand that the man take a fertility test, he almost would always refuse. Noha’s husband had a different view, thus the unfortunate results of the test.
I didn’t know what to say: “should I advise her to leave him or encourage her to just accept her destiny/test from God?”
Fortunately, Noha was loyal. She wanted to stay with her husband, no matter what the future looked like. She loved her first love and wanted to be with him, childless or not. Which made me wonder, if tables were turned, would her husband do the same?
Or would he betray her the first opportunity he gets to marry a second or third? Forgive my pessimism, but what I’ve seen/heard from Arab/Muslim men has only solidified my mistrust.
Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, as well as Islamic tradition, encourages couples to raise large families. As a result, infertile men and women are viewed as worthless contributors to their community. The communities will go out of their way to let the infertile couple/individual know that they are different and unwanted.
If the woman is infertile, other women in the community will hurry the poor husband to marry a second wife. One of my dear friends, Ghada, recounted to me how she faced malicious commentary from a group of native women from Pakistan, about her inability to conceive children. They repeatedly, in public, requested her to see a doctor, although they very well knew she had been married for 16 happy years.
Sometimes it’s difficult for some people to understand that you can be a happy couple without children, and that having children doesn’t guarantee eternal happiness.
My friend Noha’s story is repeated millions of times all over the world. It could happen to anybody regardless of their race, gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs and socioeconomic status. According to Wrong Diagnosis, 1 out of 136 women in the United States is infertile.
I believe a new couple should discuss the possibility of infertility in their relationship. They should set a plan for the “what if” situation in which they can’t have children.
Most Middle Eastern and Asian cultures don’t welcome the idea of adoption. However, in Islam it’s highly recommended to support an orphan child in the community.
A couple should reflect on the possibilities and outcomes. What if all else fails? Will they remain a couple, or give up on their relationship? I believe discussing the issue prior will reduce the pain and stress that later might appear. It’s important for new couples to know, infertility doesn’t have to doom a relationship, there are many solutions that cultural practices have often made us neglect.
I am happy to report that Noha’s and her husband’s prayers were answered and they are expecting their first child early this spring.