What I wish they wouldn't say
It is difficult for those who are fertile to truly understand the impact that their words and actions have on infertile couples. Generally couples tend to take it for granted that they can produce a child easily and their comments to infertile couples reflects such thinking. There may not be any ill intent on the part of a fertile person when things are said to a woman or man treating infertility, but in many cases their words and actions cause large wounds. Some sisters have been kind enough to share with me the most hurtful things their own sisters in Islam have said to them, and some times their own families. It is my hope that fertile couples learn to think twice, three times if needed, before they say what appears to them as a non hurtful comment.
I asked some sisters to list the five most annoying things said to them by fertile couples. And if they could say something to couples what would it be that they would like them to know. I will add my comments in hopes that fertile couples understand how such seemingly innocent comments are hurtful.
"1) you don't have kids, you don't know what it's like /don't understand /don't know what you're talking about or what do you know, you don't even have any children
2)you're better off without kids
3)it's obvious you don't have any children
4)you're so lucky you don't have kids
5) just think of all the things you can do without kids
6) when you have kids, you'll know what it's like"
It is important for fertile women to understand that just because a sister is infertile it does not disclude her in knowing how to raise children. To brush her off simply because she doesn't have children is very demeaning, especially when one takes the time to consider her plight of infertility to begin with. Her desire is to have children, but due to the will of Allah she has to work harder to achieve pregnancy. I'm sure many mothers fantasize of having the time alone to do things without their children, for a woman struggling to have them this is not a plus in the situation. She has more time yes, and this more time is generally consumed with doctors appointments, charting her temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical changes daily, taking drugs, sometimes she'll have to inject them herself, and dealing with family pressures to have children. This is not a fun free time for the infertile and couples should keep this in mind when they make such comments.
"The worst response I have ever had was when asked when are we going to have children, I commented we are trying hard... The response was... It is not that difficult you know...
We are still waiting for those two to produce something..."
Procreation is one thing that many fertile couples take for granted, they don't think of all that has to be put into it in order to produce children. It truly is not an easy task if you consider what has to occur in order to produce a fertilized egg, and bringing a child to term is a whole other issue, that is hardly easy. For infertile couples it is at least 100 times harder to produce children, add with women who undergo IVF treatments we are talking a task that many couples are not emotionally or spiritually able to go through. So the next time you refer to procreation as an "easy" task, take a few moments and recall the difficult tasks that women undergo just in order to determine an infertility problem.
"1)What are you waiting for?
2)Since your husband likes children, he should marry another one!!
4) Afraid you will lose your figure
5)Family Problem hugh?
6)How? Did you conceive this month? or Are you pregnant?
Friends should understand that no women dislike children and everyone would love to have at least one on their own. It's very difficult and emotionally depressing when one goes through infertility problems. When, I hear my frenz talking about their children, it's nice to hear and you wish them well, but when you are alone, you badly think of having one for ourselve."
I find it utterly amazing that any sister would suggest that a brother take on a second wife because a woman can not produce children. Although this is an option for infertile couples, the self blame that women go through when dealing with infertility is enough without adding social pressures that she is in some way denying her husband. Taking on an additional wife is not the business of the community, nor is it a decision of any other sister. I would suggest that before such a thing is suggested that one take a moment to entertain the idea that the husband is not looking to take on another wife. That he is supportive of his wife, is loving and caring and accepts that if it is the will of Allah through treatment to bring a child into their life than so be it, and if not he wouldn't trade his wife in for any other woman even if she could produce a small tribe.
I personally recall several comments that have really took my breath away. One was a discussion with a sister, who had several children of her own, asked "do you really think that infertility is a disease?", this asked in relation to the ahadith that for every illness there is a cure. This type question invalidates couples seeking treatment. This question assumes that the plight of Muslim women who are infertile to seek treatment is in vein and she should just accept it in some fatalistic fashion and choose to do nothing more about it. Yes infertility is a disease and yes in most cases there is a cure known, but with all diseases we may not know all cures. And with all diseases the treatments may not necessarily be successful. If we wish to take a fatalistic approach in our ummah when it comes to treating infertility, I would ask that we all be a bit more honest with such interpretations and apply it to every other disease. So if one has any other illness simply don't pursue any treatment and accept it as the will of Allah.
Another attitude is that if a woman has children, or if she has had children with successful infertility treatments that she is not "infertile" and associating herself in such a light is wrong. Infertility is defined as not being able to achieve pregnancy with unprotected sexual relations within a year. Having a child does not make one fertile, there is what is known as secondary infertility. Women who have had children with no medical intervention in the past, but are unable to do so again. Even with women who have had successful treatments and had children this does not make them fertile. These same women in most cases will have the same diseases, and will have to undergo the same treatments to have children in the future.
There is also an overall attitude in our ummah that one should seek a "natural" treatment for infertility. We should not look towards medical intervention, but loads of dua'a, herbs, Qur'anic healing and other "natural" means. This gives an impression that medical intervention is somehow "unnatural" and is not a valid means of treatment. This also assumes that dua'a, Qur'anic healing and other "Islamic" treatments are not being used. However as most of us know we are to tie our camels. So yes, while seeking treatments we should do so Islamically, this includes our total reliance upon Allah and seeking His blessings, but it also means that we can and should peruse the means which Allah has blessed us with knowing in ways of science. "For every disease there is a cure" <sahih Muslim> the cure comes in many forms, it may simply be a dua'a or two, it may be reciting and believing in the words of Allah, or it may be herbal treatments, or it may be surgery, prescription medication, IVF and a slew of other treatments in which Allah alone has provided the cure.
I do hope that before fertile Muslims make comments to infertile Muslims that we all stop and think. We take a moment and reflect how this may effect the one we are saying such things to. How one may react to your comments, suggestions and actions will be dependent on the one who you are saying it to. If you are unaware of how that person may react it may give you a hint that you simply don't know that person well enough to make any comments what so ever, so possibly refraining from saying anything is your best choice.
So what do you do? Ask the person if there is anything that you can do, let them know that even though you can't imagine their plight that you will be there to help in anyway that you can. Be open to the suggestion that what you say is hurtful by letting them know you are unaware of what to correctly say or do, so if you do anything that is wrong or say anything that is hurtful to them it is truly unintentional and you prefer the sister or brother corrects you so you can be more support for them.
Equally important in this issue, is that our ummah needs to understand that women are not souly defined by their wombs. No one can deny that our wombs do play a role in our lives, but we are those who submit to Allah first and foremost. We are created to worship Allah, and created as Khalifah for this earth everything else is secondary. Ones inability or ability to produce children has no true affect on our status as Muslims, as true submitters to our Creator. Perhaps if we remember that our spouses and children are fitnah for us, than we can begin to understand that our identities as Muslims are not defined by them.