Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 23 seconds
It is Egyptian mother’s day, and it always makes me think of motherless children and childless mothers. Such a holiday (well not holy, not a day off, but a day we mark as an occasion) of exclusion but of course moms deserve to be celebrated every day, and everyone takes their mom for granted every now and then, so there is still value in this.
There is no fathers day in Egypt, not officially, and it seems our culture, for all its patriarchy, goes with it. In Islam, a well-known saying by prophet Muhammad is that the person we should value he most in the world is “your mother, then your mother, then your mother, then your father” and there is a saying that heaven is under a mother’s feet. I note that all of this is a kind of elevation of motherhood but not being a woman per se, though I think there are many ways in which women who are not others do the work and care of mothering. I was such a woman.
From a young age, for some reason, when I saw documentaries of women with fertility challenges I always imagined I would be one of them. There is no good reason for this, because I have few instances of people around me that I knew had fertility issues,,though now I guess my mom’s best friend was one (who had so many miscarriages before she had her first child, and one more before she had her second). But I always imagine it would be hard for me to get pregnant and this turned out to be true.
Fertility and motherhood are so central to the way society sees the role of a woman that as son as I became a wife I felt the pressure of it. Aside from my own irrational yearning to have a child (I love children, I always had mothering instincts in the way I treated people in my care), but I was never really stuck on having a biological child. I would not have minded adopting, but in Egyptian culture, this is so difficult, and it is partly related to Islamic culture that allows a kind of adoption that doesn’t fully adopt a person so that it has to be clear that the person is adopted and not your real child
To be very fair, my husband was really patient and sweet with this. He never ever made me feel like this was a big deal, he never put pressure, never even really expressed that he as dying to have a child or anything. It was whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and he would do it with me, but only what I wanted. I don’t think I realized how important this was until the moment I was pregnant and we did our first ultrasound and he saw our baby’s heartbeat, and the wonder and love in his eyes in that moment showed me how much it meant to him. And of course, since she was born. But usually, my experience is that men don’t realize what fatherhood means til they become fathers.
Anyway back to IVF. First of all, it is one of those things that people tend to not talk about. Until you go through it, no one who has done it before talks to you about the gruelling process, how your body feels violated, how much you have to do in terms of medications and injections and check-ups every day, and so much could go wrong, and you have to do two procedures and then it might not work out, and then you have to wait a bit and try again, and the psychological up and down of it, not just from the idea of what you are doing but also from the actual hormones that induce a temporary menopause before injecting fertility hormones. It is horrible. And it is demeaning, but women do it because they want kids. And women do it without a support system, so I made a pact (after having read up on it while I lived in the UK where NHS had a great website with info) that I would become a “support group” with other women I met at the fertility clinic, and I was. Instead of going there and being just angry and frustrated and reading a book, I befriended other women and swapped stories and helped debunk some medical myths. I also was open about it, and that is how I discovered that some of my close friends who had fertility issues as well were going through it, and we went through it together. Amazingly, several of my friends and I got pregnant with IVF at the same time.
The thing is, being infertile or subfertile as my late uncle used to say more gently, is a kind of invisible and internalized oppression, feeling less than, like part of your body doesn’t work properly, and he processes of IVF are really an act of violence on the body to make it work… I am grateful for the child I have as a result of it, but not for the process that got me there. I got so obsessed with trying to to everything “naturally” after all the artificial conception process (and the C-section birth which I was forced to have). I insisted on being awake during the C-section with an epidural so I could carry and breastfeed my child ASAP (rare in Egypt), insisted on having her sleep beside me from day one (this ended up as her sleeping on top of me because I was exhausted and this seemed to comfort her… for all of 6 months since she was born!) and insisted on continuing to breastfeed for a while… like an evangelist. Which was a little too obsessive and faced a lot of resistance from others because it’s not widely done here.
In any case… I’m not sure why I’m writing this, or whom it would benefit, but it was what was weighing on me this morning, and I started writing it, then wasn’t able to finish it before I got to work… and it’s now the end of my work day… and I’ll hit publish 🙂
Featured image chosen with my child of a Gorilla mom and child (nursing, though we chose it because of the way they’re looking lovingly at each other like human mom and child) from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/gorillas-mammals-young-child-1097143/