“Anyone who asks a woman who has been married for several years and does not have a child 'why?' is a monster,” I think to myself as I hang up the phone after calming one of my dearest friends down. She does not have children, has been married for 15 years and is often asked intrusive questions by well-meaning people. Some that break her.
Are you one of them? Can I talk to you please.
Leave people alone.
Your 'innocent' comments may be pushing someone over the edge. You are scratching a wound as deep as her soul that may be healing slowly, cell by cell, and your question just made the wound ooze again, spreading sepsis to her core. Don't you think she already knows she doesn't have a child? That she already knows she should pray or is praying every night for a child? Or that, yes, she has heard that so-and-so was granted a miracle after x number of years a billion times? And waiting for her miracle is the hardest test she has ever had or will have of her faith?
You don't know how many times she may have cursed her empty womb, fraught with guilt, or fought between her desire for a child and her love for a husband who was not given the blessing of siring.
Unless you have personally suffered through this trial yourself, you don't know how it feels. Unless you are ready to hold her hand through hours at the doctor's office, or wipe her tears after the infinite micro-aggressions, taunts or threats of divorce she hears, or feel the pain of the uncountable miscarriages she labors through, or convince her irate husband to get treated himself, then be quiet and stay quiet after she tells you she doesn't have any children.
Do you think that they, as a couple, would not have researched all options? Or that 'get checked up' is news to her?
For the love of God, please.
Aspiring to a Higher Ethos
I am upset because we, as a community, as a civilized society, should be above this. Over and over, I hear stories of women whose lives are made miserable by others – husbands and in-laws, neighbors, extended family, people from the masjid or community center and even total strangers because they have not had a child. We want a community who has a high ethos, a high character, and we cannot tolerate this behavior any longer.
We are better than this. We aspire to Jannah where there will be clean souls and clean hearts; we need to prepare our tongues for Jannah now.
There are general rules of etiquette (akhlaq and adab) that we, as human beings, must adhere to, and then there are specific manners that are incumbent upon all Muslims. Refrain from asking questions of a personal nature, don't ask why/why not. A person's private life is exactly that – private. Unless they invite you into their private life, there is a hurmat (sanctity) that we have to maintain. We learn this from the following verses of the Qur'an:
'Do not enter any houses except your own homes unless you are sure of their occupants' consent' (24:27)
'Do not spy on one another' (49:12)
Many lessons can be learnt about the importance of privacy from the following hadith: it was narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah said:
“Part of a person's being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” al-Tirmidhi (2318)
Abu 'Ubaydah narrated that al-Hasan al-Basri said: One of the signs of Allah's turning away from a man is that he becomes involved in that which does not concern him, as a sign that Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, has left him to his own devices.
Infertility is a medical diagnosis (the inability to conceive after one year of trying or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth) and one with serious psychological and emotional ramifications. It also can be, especially for Muslims, a spiritual crisis.
Infertility is a trial that Allah has given to our brothers and sisters. Yes, brothers too, as infertility is not only a women's issue. Approximately 15 percent of couples are infertile, and among these couples, male factor infertility accounts for approximately 50 percent of causes. According to the Mayo Clinic, male infertility can be caused by impaired sperm production, function or delivery. Female infertility can be related to fallopian tube damage, ovulation disorders, endometriosis and uterine conditions.
It is Allah who chooses who to give a child to and who not to give a child to:
“To Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female (offspring) upon whom He wills, and bestows male (offspring) upon whom He wills. Or He bestows both males and females and He renders barren whomever He wills. Verily, He is the all-Knower and is Able to do all things.” [Qur'an 42:49-50]
Secondary infertility is a huge trial as well, when, after one child, a woman cannot conceive again. Secondary infertility is a test that some couples face when they have the first child easily but have issues conceiving again. Sometimes, however, secondary infertility stems from complications related to prior pregnancies. Changes in the couple's risk factors, such as age, weight and use of certain medications, can also contribute to secondary infertility.
Need for Sensitivity
One common, often-heard jab that women share is, “Keep your opinions about parenting to yourself because you do not have a child.” To those who make this statement, I ask this question: Is this gift of a child a miracle of your own making? Were you blessed with children without the permission of Allah ?
There are many wonderful people who are not parents, but are the best people to have in your child's life. Many childless women have shared that they like to hear about your children, they love being a part of the lives of the children around them, and are often cruelly rebuked or denied taking pleasure in other people's children.
Let your friends who don't have children become the Aishas in your child's life. It will bring all of you great joy.
Some women do say they wish their friends would talk about a topic other than children from time to time.
One of the worst kinds of comments is to mention other people whose suffering was supposedly worse yet they have gotten over it more quickly and grown from it, says a sister who has been trying to conceive for several years; the implication here is that the couple is not meeting a “Muslimy” standard and are at fault for not showing adequate sabr.
There's another type of commentor who won't say anything directly but will try to undermine all other accomplishments/positive things of a childless woman by emphasizing 'how meaningless life is without children'! Don't be that person. A person can lead a very fulfilling life without children.
If you find it socially awkward, then try to find something else to comment on. She may be a great cook, organizer, artist or traveler – comment on that.
Then there is the case of women who do not want children – they know that they do not have it in them to take the responsibility of caring for another human being for 18 years.
So the bottom line is that we need to stop making assumptions.
Here are 12 things not to say to someone who has confided in you about their battle with infertility. Many times you may be a good person and really mean no ill will towards the person. At that moment if you find it really hard to say something or have an impulse to say something that that you shouldn't, just say a heartfelt “I'm sorry” — that is plenty.
Muslim Fertility Project
The Prophet said: “Wonderful is the case of a believer – there is good for him in everything, and this is only for the believer. If he experiences a blessing, he is grateful to Allah – which is good for him; and if he experiences an adversity, he is patient – which is also good for him.” [Muslim]
I hope the men and women who are taunted have the spiritual strength to forgive those who hurt them with their words, and may Allah may it easy for you to continue to bear this test from Him with grace and dignity.
The Prophet said: “Whatever trouble, illness, anxiety, grief, pain or sorrow afflicts a Muslim even if it is the pricking of a thorn – Allah removes in its places some of his sins.” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Many times people have nowhere to turn to grieve, to deal with the belittlement, to share their experiences. This article had been sitting in drafts for a long time, maybe waiting for this wonderful new project:
LAUNCHED: Muslim Fertility Project launches with a survey for Muslim women struggling to have a 1st or 2nd child. Here's how you can help:
- SHARE the video & encourage women to take the survey here: Muslim Fertility Survey
- DONATE to help launch a national support group for Muslim women struggling with infertility. Learn more & donate here: MFP Donations
- FORWARD an email about this study to your friends and email lists. Please email MuslimFertilityProject@gmail.com to request the official email about the study (or message us directly on our Facebook page). And don't forget to
- LIKE this page for updates -> Muslim Fertility Project
Here is a link to a Facebook support group for women who struggle with infertility.