As I sit down to write my thoughts and reflections, I pause to think, where should this story begin and how should it be told. It is an accumulation of nine years of emotions and confusion, actions and experiences, reflection and clarity, and acceptance with perspective. It’s a simple story of this chapter of my life as a married woman expecting that the next chapter would be as a mother with children. I waited month after month and year after year for this chapter to arrive. In essence, my story affirms the idea that we may plan, but God is the best of planners. It is a story that is still being lived out and only God knows what the future holds.
If I can offer one piece of advice to family, friends, and the random people, it would be to have some sensitivity to those married women who do not have kids
So why am I writing this piece? To put words to my experiences as a wife without kids. And also to offer a voice to many others who are living a life without kids– kids that they very much desire to have. To offer words of advice to family, friends, and random people who encounter childless women. And, finally, to give perspective to women who share my experience in the hopes that my words offer solace and comfort knowing that they are not alone.
The statistics show that the percentage of married women ages 15-44 who are infertile is 6 percent. Some even say that 1 in 8 couples or 12 percent of married women have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Since the occurrence for infertility are more common than one would think, you may find yourself in a position where someone comes to you distraught and feeling a sense of helplessness. They may be experiencing insensitive comments and questions from family, friends, and random people they meet. It can take quite an emotional toll on a person who is already feeling insecure about being in a state that is not in their control.
Family, Friends, and the Random People Along the Way
So what do all of the above have in common? They are all curious about the question of children. Understandably, it’s one of the most frequently asked questions of married women: Do you have kids? How many kids do you have? And in turn, also the question: Oh, so, how long have you been married? What are you waiting for? Why don’t you have kids? However worded, one or more of these questions raise a slew of emotions for someone like me — a woman dealing with infertility. Who knew a simple answer of ‘no’ would bring with it such a wave of insecurities and single-handedly ruin my day. In the early years, these questions were like darts to the heart and would dampen dinner parties or events and even led to avoidance of social gatherings altogether. As someone who wishes they could say ‘yes’ to people’s questions about having kids but cannot, it is a true test of patience and perspective.
If I can offer one piece of advice to family, friends, and the random people, it would be to have some sensitivity to those married women who do not have kids. How to do this isn’t always clear because every situation is different. But just be cognizant that a woman you are engaging with may be struggling with infertility and may be in an extremely vulnerable state. Feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming. Therefore, it is important to be compassionate and considerate when asking questions about having kids. And, to think twice before asking certain follow-up questions or statements that may make a person feel even worse, such as “Oh, what are you waiting for?” or “You’re so lucky you don’t have kids” or “Enjoy life while you can” or “You’re so young, you have time.” And, I give this advice fully understanding that most comments are made without any bad intent, and can just be a side-remark in a conversation. But what may sound like a simple benign question or comment is anything but that to someone struggling with infertility. It’s tough to know what to say, but one thing I love to hear and is comforting is when people make a dua (supplication), even as simple as Insha’Allah (God-willing), or give me the space to talk about my feelings if I so choose.
Part of the challenge of being in social gatherings with other women is that the topic so often is about kids and child rearing. I realize that it’s a tough position for friends who may not know how to approach or manage the topic of kids with someone who does not have kids. It’s a tough situation to be in all around. It’s a learning curve for all of us. I learned over time not to feel so alienated by these conversations, and that just listening to another’s experiences is good and wholesome. And to those mothers who are interacting with women without kids, I would advise to try to keep conversations tempered with other interesting topics as well, so that everyone can contribute in some way.
Another essential point I would like to convey is that although I may not have kids, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be around kids or that I don’t know how to handle kids. I know this sentiment is shared by so many other women who don’t have kids and who are usually more than happy to help with their friend’s or relative’s kids. When mothers are busy running back and forth with their kids, it can feel very lonely to have nothing to do. So, unless stated otherwise, please know that we like to hold your baby, and it’s okay if they cry or kick or drool on us. We like to play and talk with your kids, it isn’t a burden. Let us decide if it’s something we’re uncomfortable with, but don’t impose these feelings and reactions on us.
Infertility and Faith: Putting Things in Perspective
Over the years, I saw how the intensity of my duas faded. And it’s something I reflect upon often, as to why I wasn’t reaching out to God with all of my heart. I don’t know, it was almost an acceptance of my state and maybe even a defense mechanism, albeit maybe not the best approach to take. But let it be known, I never stopped believing in God nor did I have a crisis of faith. But there were surely many emotional moments of sadness and confusion.
When I used to read Qur’anic passages, hadiths, or listen to lectures and sermons on the high station of mothers, such as “paradise is beneath the feet of mothers,” it used to make me feel sad since I knew that I would not be able to fulfill this role. It often left me confused, asking the question, “Why me?” But, at the same time, I tried not to forget that just because I wasn’t able to fully live through those teachings on being a mother, I could still appreciate its beauty and importance when I saw my own mom or my girl-friends with kids.
Upon further reflection, I’ve also thought about the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (S), of which only one, Lady Khadija (RAA), bore children who lived past the age of two. Otherwise, the wives were all childless. It was very comforting to know that my situation was not a unique one, that this was an experience lived by most of the Prophet’s wives as well. What I also found highly inspiring was knowing that these wives of the Prophet (S) were given a high station as indicated by their title in the Qur’an: Mother of the Believers. Although they may not have bore children, their impact was meaningful and special. They lived lives of virtue and contributed to their communities through social services and scholarship.
What also gave me perspective on my situation was understanding that what we are given and what we are deprived of are both tests from God. It gave me the perspective that I don’t know God’s greater plan. And that truly it is God who is in control. And through it all, to remind myself of the blessings that were present in my life and to be grateful for God’s many gifts.
How to Empathize with a Woman who has not given Birth
A friend recently reached out to me asking my advice on how to console a friend of theirs who was married but did not have kids yet. It was easy for me to relate to her situation because it is an experience that I have had and one that I continue to struggle with. I have been married for almost nine years and do not have kids. I should also note that this woman also represents many others in the community who are married but childless at this point in their life.
Here are some quick and simple tips to empathize:
1) Listen. The woman may want to vent and air her frustrations that she may be bottling up inside. As her friend, they have reached out to you to be that listening ear.
2) Validate. Affirm her struggle and help her regain control of her emotion as best as she can. Remind her to not let other people’s insensitive comments linger for too long. And if she wants to avoid situations or places because of these people, remind her that in life there will always be people who make insensitive comments, so one has to find ways to deal with some of these people. She should try her best to let the unkind words fall away from her. And it surely is not an easy task.
3) Offer words of comfort and solace, invoking simple duas (supplications), such as “May Allah swt make it easy for you.” To those facing anxiety, finding that connection to God’s mercy and grace can be helpful and healing.
4) Ask the person about the blessings in her life and help facilitate perspective in her life. Remind her about how each of us has different tests we face in our lives and others may be facing other trials and tribulations. All our journeys are different and unique, so to always be cognizant of that when feeling a sense of helplessness.
5) Reaffirm her self-worth. A boost in confidence goes a long way in regaining that emotional well being. Also, remind her that many great Muslim women in history may not have bore children, but their impact was meaningful and special. This includes many of the wives of the Prophet (S) who were given a high station as indicated by their title in the Qur’an: Mother of the Believers. They lived lives of virtue and contributed to their communities through social services and scholarship.
6) Know that solutions aren’t always helpful. Assess whether the person just wants to be heard at this juncture. There’s a time and place to offer solutions and treatment options for infertility.
May Allah swt make us all compassionate, loving, kind human beings who are gentle with each other and treat others as we would like to be treated.