We are constantly told, by way of culture or Bollywood, that we need to get good grades so we can go to college, graduate and get a good job and somehow also find a husband who we will spend the rest of our lives with, and create a family. We have to be cutthroat careerists, but also gentle housewives and ever-present mothers. It’s the paradox of the Muslim woman.
There are so many complications within each of those plans. Life happens. Health issues happen. In our community, talking about sex is taboo. Being in a Middle Eastern country, I looked over my shoulder before I typed those three letters. Some of our moms called it a flower. The actual clinical terminology still makes me feel uncomfortable. Many girls say that anytime they think of it, it feels mysterious and scary. Society wants us to not give our reproductive parts any focus until we get married and then, boom, on your wedding night you need to know how to generate a baby.
We go through our lives knowing very little of these sex organs that occupy so much negative space in our community; a loud, silent elephant in the room. When I was 10 years old, my sister used to tell me that I could get pregnant after going on the toilet after a boy, so that’s why the bathrooms are separated at school. I believed her and avoided all genderless and family restrooms for way too long.
As women, we have this superpower inside us that is supposed to give life, build families and we don’t even talk about it. What about those women that struggle with pregnancy whether conception or miscarriages and take it personally? What about families that fall apart because of intimacy issues that stem from this hushed tip-toeing around the subject of sex?
I would love to have 2.5 babies with the names Bollywood helped me pick out — half versions of my partner and half versions of me. Some of us have these specific ideas of how we want to be as a mother: strict, but fun… clear but cool, a “woke” mom. The boys will help in the kitchen, and the girls will play sports if they want, and there will be none of that stigma we grew up in.
But there are two problems with this: one, what if pregnancy isn’t happening? And two, what if you or your partner decide you don’t want kids?
There are many different reasons why pregnancy can be hard — society blames it on diet, stress, working a full-time job, strength of connection to Islam… but what if it’s just not biologically possible, whether right now or ever? When people ask newly married couples about their pregnancy plans, those statements can hurt.
When divorce happens, whispers go around of whether she couldn’t give him kids. Maybe they were not a good fit, and that is the least of their concerns.
I had a client who was married for 2 months and tried everything to get pregnant. Her mother-in-law gave her a long list of prayers to repeat five times a day, specific dish recipes in a huge binder, and checked in with her everyday about her eating habits. She struggled in her relationship with Allah (SWT) because she felt she wasn’t praying enough, or not well… or missing something within her iman (faith) and God was punishing her. Two months turned into one year and she was so caught up in the stress of it, she couldn’t even enjoy herself socially.
She didn’t want to leave the house to go to religious gatherings or weddings. When she did, the aunties commented on her weight, hair, and skin to ask if she was pregnant, imposing their own health regiments and diagnoses “guaranteed” to give her a baby overnight. It all felt so heavy to bear on her shoulders to not be a good daughter-in-law and not a good wife. Her husband saw a shift in her mood and assured her that when it is meant to be, it will be fine. Even still, she felt she wasn’t a good wife because she couldn’t give him a child.
We are told our entire lives not to engage in sexual activity, not even to think about it. Abstinence is assumed as the only solution. What if you followed all the rules, and still you just want to be a mother and it isn’t happening? Depression, anxiety and insecurity all further increase when you are going through stressful moments like this.
Yes, stress can have a huge impact on your bodies — but it’s important to see a doctor and have an understanding of the way our bodies work: the way our vaginas and uteruses and organs interact for an experience that is supposed to be a biological miracle.
When a couple tries to create a family, the burden should not fall on the wife. It is a partnership where both people together create a child.
There are so many health issues that can affect our ability to conceive. These may not always be terminal issues, it could be that we are experiencing normal health issues that we need to fix, not just to be pregnant – but to be healthy. When a couple tries to create a family, the burden should not fall on the wife. It is a partnership where both people together create a child. When she is scared to ask questions to a fertility doctor, he should be right there next to her holding her hand asking even more. He needs to reassure her that even if either of them are unable to conceive to have a child right now, that there are other options they can explore to build a family.
These are important questions to talk about well before the Nikkah. If either partner doesn’t want children, it is crucial to be honest about it. We need to be transparent with the person who is supposed to be our other half for the rest of our lives. A wedding isn’t just a glorified party, it is celebrating a commitment between two people to build a life together, to build a future together being there for each other with not only the good, but the bad.
As Muslims, we need to talk about all of the layers of what a marriage partnership means. Women aren’t just machines to produce for our Ummah. They are human beings that respond to unreal expectations, are affected by stigmas, and have hopes and dreams of their own.
We are building a beautiful, loving, and compassionate Ummah together with care and attention.