Rada Akbar-Afghan-Mother-Afghanistan

Dealing with childlessness stigma as an Afghan woman

Wadia Samadi

I lost two pregnancies – one in 2014 and one in 2015.

I felt grief, but I also experienced other emotions which I was not prepared for. Like many women, I always thought that after university and finding some financial stability, I would marry and have children. I guess the fact that I grew up in a progressive and supportive family made me forget that the experiences of Afghan women are unlike those of many women around the world. I forgot, for a second, that as a woman unless you can have children, your education, career, and marriage are considered meaningless. I was not prepared for feeling that in the eyes of my community, my only worth as a woman is to bear children in the end.

I suffered from an ovulation disorder called blighted ovum which leads to miscarriages when a fertilized egg unsuccessfully attaches itself to the uterine wall and the embryo fails to develop. For the first time, I entered the world of Afghan women in a childless marriage.

Even though I had support from my husband and my in-laws, there was always someone reminding me that my marriage had no meaning without children. There was always someone giving me that look of pity. There was always someone bringing up her topic of pregnancy time and again in front of me; perhaps, wanting either to stimulate my motherly instincts or make me envious of her pregnancy. Suddenly all my accomplishments were meaningless because I had “failed” in the one task considered central to women’s identities.

“I didn’t marry you so you would give me children,” my husband told me.

His words helped me overcome the mental torture some people around me would put me through every single day for a long time. But, not every Afghan woman is as fortunate as I am. Infertility or childlessness in Afghan society is considered a taboo and almost always women are blamed for it. In fact, often people only take the woman to the doctor when problems with infertility arise. Sometimes, men marry a second or third wife to get children, without checking their own health, because it is assumed that the problem must be with the woman.
Conceiving soon after marriage is highly glorified in Afghan society. Women continuously quit their jobs or drop out of schools because of the societal pressure to prove they are able to have babies soon after marriage.

A young woman I know planned her wedding exactly during her ovulation cycle to make sure she gets pregnant shortly after her wedding. Sadly, four years have passed and she is still childless. Her husband does not love her the way he used to. Her in-laws are considerably unhappy with her and tend to be verbally and physically abusive. The abuse and negative attitudes she receives from people around her only compounds her emotional grieving process.

She had to beg her husband to get himself tested because Afghan men firmly believe that it is always the woman with fertility problems. In Afghanistan, when a man has reproductive system issues, the family will do anything to sweep the story under the rug. But, when a woman can’t conceive, the story is discussed everywhere, in her presence and absence. Moreover, the husband gets all the sympathy from the family members for marrying a barren woman. Shockingly enough, his family members openly discuss the prospect of finding him a second wife.

Her story is not an exception. In many parts of Afghanistan, infertile women are abused in their homes, deprived of their inheritance, sent back to their parents, ostracized or have their marriage terminated. Not being able to conceive puts a couple through a lot of stress- mentally, financially and emotionally. It makes it even more painful for the woman when her infertility is constantly discussed, when she is treated as inferior and when her privilege as a wife and a daughter-in-law is taken away.

Having lived through it, I can attest to the fact that childlessness in Afghanistan is scary and traumatizing. Women experiencing infertility must bear the brunt of societal norms. But I will continue to ask, why is a woman’s worth tied to her chances of conceiving? Can’t a childless marriage still be a meaningful marriage? Can education and career ever be given the same sense of urgency and worth as having children?

Feature image courtesy of Rada Akbar.

To read this piece in Persian click here.

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Daughters of Rabia is a collection of Afghan women's writings in defense of their human rights. The book was published by two Afghan activists, Noorjahan Akbar and Batul Muradi, in 2013. Following the book's success and distribution in six provinces in Afghanistan, Noorjahan Akbar created the Free Women Writers blog to continue publishing women's writings in Persian, Pashtu and Uzbeki. Since then, the blog has expanded to include hundreds of articles, poems, narratives, essays and paintings about gender equality, environmental concerns, economic inequality, democracy and other social justice issues. With a weekly readership of more than thirty thousand, the blog has reached tens of thousands of Afghans. This website is the English translation of these writings. Read the Persian book here: http://bit.ly/DaughtersofRabia