Over a year ago we were visiting my husband’s sister. The last night there when we were saying good night to her lovely sons the younger one of them asked, “Where’s your baby?”
We were both surprised and taken aback by the question.
I replied with a smile, “We don’t have a baby.”
His question was soon followed by another question: “Is it coming soon?”
“No, not yet,” I said.
The next morning he told me he was looking forward to when the baby would come!
Bless him. My heart just melted. And I silently whispered to myself,
“So do I.”
You see, this young boy had picked up on what we all think about how our life is going to play out. Go to school, get an education, land a good job, maybe travel around — then meet the right one, get married, and eventually have children. It’s all a part of life, right?
But then life doesn’t always go the way you plan. Not everyone lands a dream job, not everyone gets a chance to travel the world. Most of all not everyone is blessed with children. Those who are blessed with children, some of them often have a long path to walk before they become parents.
The Struggle of Being Childless
Infertility is increasingly becoming a problem worldwide. According to research on prevalence of infertility (published online by the Public Library of Science) at least 50 million couples worldwide experience infertility.
In Norway, where I live, infertility affects 80,000 couples. In healthy young couples the probability of achieving pregnancy during a woman’s monthly cycle is 20-25%. In one third of these cases the cause of infertility is found in the female reproductive system. In another one third it’s in the male. In the other third the cause is unknown. In some cases it can also be a combination of male and female factors.
The national fertility rate was all time historically low in 2017. Since then it has kept on decreasing. [Statistics Norway]
Those of us who don’t have children (yet), either because of infertility or circumstances, are called childless. Some people are childless by choice and others by choice of fate. Those who are so by their own choice prefer to call themselves child-free. This term may also be used by anyone who doesn’t have children, by choice or not by choice, since it’s more positive. Here I will be using the traditional term “child less.”
The “child less” group of people often gets “forgotten” in society, and those without children feel they have no voice; talking openly about infertility is not the norm. In our community it’s sometimes even a taboo. Therefore, I want to shed some light on this issue.
InshaAllah, this will be of help for those without children, and also for those around them who want to be more understanding and supportive.
Behind the Smiles
There’s a great deal of stigma around the childless. It can be really painful for those who involuntarily receive this label, either temporarily or permanently.
Children, absence or presence of them shouldn’t be all that defines a person or a marriage. Unfortunately, some childless people get this phrase thrown in the face by people who want to tell them that they’re “missing something” and “falling behind”.
When we remove the “M” from “Motherhood” we get “Otherhood”
Women facing infertility and childlessness often feel like outsiders when they’re not a part of “Motherhood Club”. Sure, there are those of us who’re fortunate enough to have some thoughtful friends and family around us. But even then, you feel the need to connect with other women who’re going through the same struggle. You search for a “positive tribe”. A place where you don’t feel like an outsider, a place that doesn’t feel like a sad “otherhood”.
Sadly, many give up their search for a place to feel connectedness. They feel lonely and keep suffering in silence.
When family members, friends, and even strangers are wondering whether you have children, or when you’re going to have children, you just respond calmly, “InshaAllah, one day.”
Those who ask this question don’t know that behind this answer there’s a pain that the woman standing in front of them is carrying around. It’s a pain that has been with her for a while. A year, maybe two, three or even a decade or more. The pain she carries is of trying to make a dream come true: The dream of becoming a mother.
Doctors aren’t always able to help. The likelihood of succeeding with IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment at a Norwegian public hospital is approximately 25% per attempt. Depending on your age, The success rates varies.
You do what you can. In the end you know that it’s all up to Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى . He knows best. And you try to be strong throughout it all.
Still being human, you can get anxious and frustrated with all the questions, comments and unsolicited advice from others.
You may end up with low self-esteem, blaming yourself, thinking there’s something wrong with you.
You’re reading up all the mom blogs, looking at reviews of mother and baby products, checking out the best fertility diet on YouTube. It mounts up the sadness eventually leading to anxiety and depression.
Infertility has a huge impact on your mental health including both men and women. But women of course are affected to a greater extent. The psychological stress that comes with infertility can be long-lasting. It’s difficult to give up the life you had planned and hoped for. It feels like a huge loss.
Now, let’s look at how to get over all of this and move forward.
Step One: Honesty
It’s very important to be honest with yourself and and also with others. You should be able to say: “Yes, I find this difficult.”
You should be able to accept and say that you find family gatherings and reunions with friends difficult. Being questioned or commented on is not easy.
Some people can be insensitive when they say: “Your biological clock is ticking away, you should get started on making a family!” Or, “You’ve been married for so long and you don’t have kids yet. Is there something wrong with you? Have you been to the doctor? Are you getting IVF? You should just adopt!” Or worse still, “You won’t know real love until you have your own child.” Such comments can really get to you.
You need to be honest about it and be able to say: “This is a private and sensitive matter for me, I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” This way you can set healthy boundaries. By being honest with yourself and others you are able to send out a clear message about what you are OK with and what you’re not OK with.
When it comes to being honest with yourself you should be able to say things like: “I’m having a hard time spiritually because I feel this is tearing me down.”
The most important thing is to be able to seek help when you need it. When you’re in distress it’s important to be able to dare to talk about your situation — with the right people, when you’re ready. It’s important to work through it. If you don’t do this you end up with deep wounds, which you walk around with for the rest of your life. Don’t count on them to disappear by themselves. They don’t go away on their own, not even when you get through infertility carrying a child in your arms.
Step Two: You and God
It’s interesting that whatever the situation, when things don’t go smoothly many people start thinking that it’s because Allah is angry with them. As a result the person might end up feeling guilty. The person might start thinking of their situation as a punishment from Allah. Yes, it’s good to check on yourself, making sure your life is centred around what Allah ordains good and bad. And yes, through tests we get expiation from sins. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Allah is angry with you, and punishing you. Let’s not jump to any conclusions.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
فَأَمَّا ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنُ إِذَا مَا ٱبۡتَلَٮٰهُ رَبُّهُ ۥ فَأَكۡرَمَهُ ۥ وَنَعَّمَهُ ۥ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّىٓ أَكۡرَمَنِ (١٥) وَأَمَّآ إِذَا مَا ٱبۡتَلَٮٰهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيۡهِ رِزۡقَهُ ۥفَيَقُولُ رَبِّىٓ أَهَـٰنَنِ (١٦)
“As for man, when his Lord tests him, and thus gives him honour and bounties, he says, ‘My Lord has honoured me.’ But when He tests him, and thus straitens his provision for him, he says, ‘My Lord has disgraced me.’”
What we might perceive as reward and blessing might be a test from Allah. What we perceive might perceive as hardship and difficulty might also be a test.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
مَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُصِبْ مِنْهُ
“If Allah intends good for someone, then He afflicts him with trials.”Reported in Sahih Bukhari
Keeping that in mind lets look at what we say several times on a daily basis:
“In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
Lets trust in His Mercy.
Remember, having children is a test. Being childless is also a test. It’s not a deficiency or a burden. Remember, there’s wisdom in everything Allah does. There’s wisdom in all that Allah gives and He doesn’t.
When you find yourself asking the question “But why not me?”, remember that Allah is the Most Merciful. What He has given us is perfect. What He, the Merciful has given you, is something other than what He has given me, and it’s perfect for you. What He has given me is something other than what He has given you, and it’s perfect, for me. What he has written for us, He grants us, and it is perfect in that given time in life.
Step Three: You and People
What happens when you go out and see other people? Or when you’re on social media? You’re constantly seeing what others have, how their life is. Suddenly, for a day you see pregnant women everywhere you go! You see baby prams and cute baby clothes, and it triggers a feeling in you when you’re reminded about what you don’t have.
Some feel less feminine because they’re not able to have a child of their own. They don’t know who they are if they can’t be a mother.
This all is actually a result of comparison. We all do it to some degree. The more you do it, the worse you feel about yourself and your life. You need to eliminate this kind of comparison.
When you decide to put an end to comparison, you focus more on your blessings, and you grow in gratitude. With that, you’ll build yourself up with a new definition of who you are, and it will show in how you carry yourself.
Step Four: Contentment
After doing some proper inner work you’ll find this easier, you will find contentment, inshaAllah.
Feeling completely content gives you peace of heart and mind. The transformation shows in your demeanour and in your words, in your conversations both with people and with Allah.
Instead of focusing on “What if?”, you focus on “What is.” You focus on your present, what you have right now and you try to make the most of it.
You can still have hope. There’s a balance between acceptance and hope. The one doesn’t exclude the other. You can be truly grateful for the life you have, and also say a sincere prayer to Allah, asking for righteous children.
Decree has two categories. There’s the absolute decree, which is what Allah has willed in eternity. Then there’s the conditional decree, which can change. Dua’ is a means to seek Allah’s facilitation in changing the direction of your apparent destiny.
Regardless of how your prayer is answered, you maintain your state of contentment. Because you know and believe in what our Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
عَجَبًا لِأَمْرِ الْمُؤْمِنِ إِنَّ أَمْرَهُ كُلَّهُ خَيْرٌ وَلَيْسَ ذَاكَ لِأَحَدٍ إِلَّا لِلْمُؤْمِنِ إِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ سَرَّاءُ شَكَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ ضَرَّاءُ صَبَرَفَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ
Reported in Sahih Muslim
“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.”
After having gone through these four steps, there is one additional thing I encourage you to do: Find your positive word. Whether it’s before the process, during, or after. Find your word. Or words, for that matter.
I’ve used the established terms “infertility,” “childless” and “childlessness” throughout this post for practical reasons. I don’t really like using them. I don’t think anyone does. Let’s go from “childless” to “hopeful”. You may embrace the term “child free” depending on where you are on your journey.
So what is it I will be saying the next time someone asks me about children?
“Right now, we’re a happy family of two.”
This is important because we all know words are powerful.
When you find those powerful words you will be able to talk about your journey with more ease. Whether it’s an adult or a child you’re speaking to.
Let’s take charge and redefine what makes a person. Redefine what makes a marriage. Let’s redefine what makes a family.
About the writer:
Zakia Anwar is a certified transformational coach and NLP practitioner.
She is passionate about helping women with their personal growth and strength, especially women struggling with infertility and childlessness, to lead a content life.
You can connect with Zakia here: facebook.com/zakiaanwarnlp
You can join her support group for childless women, if eligible, here: facebook.com/groups/livingcourageously