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Remaining Childless Should Not be a Cultural Taboo!

Our culture is one of procreation. Regarded as blessings from God, we are told our progeny will spread Islam and further our barakah.

Delaying marriage, waiting to begin a family, or experiencing infertility all amount to disregarding this sacred duty.

Childlessness is taboo in many cultures, including Muslim cultures. But what viable options exist for couples who are unable to conceive naturally or choose not to adopt?

What space does our culture provide for women who are either unable or unwilling to marry or suffer from infertility?

Remaining Childless Should Not be a Cultural Taboo! - About Islam

Women typically bear the brunt of the cultural stigma of infertility. Societies look down upon them for failing to provide an heir for their husbands.

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A woman struggling with infertility and repeated miscarriages blogged about her struggle to reconcile her physical state with her psychological one:

On an intellectual level, I knew that I was neither defective nor a failure as a woman. I knew that my worth transcended my ability to procreate. But shame and inadequacy hit me on a level where reason does not tread.

J. Samia Mair

Why Me?

Reproductive infertility is, in fact, caused by several factors. Some are circumstantial and others biological, and almost none of them are under a person’s control. Yet shame and inadequacy are exactly the feelings a woman experiences first and foremost.

The Mayo Clinic researchers posit that we can attribute one-third of infertility cases to only men. Another third of cases are due only to the female, and the last third can be linked to both partners.

Circumstantial factors often play a role. They can include a woman’s age, a sterile partner, cancer treatment, female sexual dysfunction, medications, and an improperly functioning thyroid.

Two of the most common biological causes of infertility are endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

It is becoming increasingly common within the Muslim community to find couples struggling with these conditions. Unfortunately, an adequate emotional support system remains unavailable.

What About Him?

Within the Muslim community, infertility is almost a taboo topic, and rather than offer empathy and understanding, many families unknowingly contribute to the pressure.

Women are often immediately blamed for infertility, and this isn’t corrected! Their husbands normally do not even get tested to determine if they are culpable.

It’s not uncommon for divorces to occur only when men remarry and are still unable to conceive.

To examine the impact of this added stress through a cultural lens, a study was done in 2001 of 49 women (between the ages of 18 and 39 years old) at the University Clinic for Obstetrics and Gynecology in Vienna, Austria.

They compared non-Muslim Austrian women and immigrant Muslim women of Turkish and Near Eastern descent. Both groups demonstrated the same levels of infertility caused by the same circumstances or health conditions.

However, Muslim women endured far greater pressure to have children, in turn contributing to a diminished quality of life.

The Muslim participants in this study were often illiterate about their reproductive health and history.

They felt uneasy speaking candidly in the physician’s office; in fact, sisters and husbands often answered on their behalf, which further compounded these women’s stress (Schmid, 2004).

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About Ayesha Akhtar
Ayesha Akhtar is Director of Policy & Research at HEART Women and Girls Project. HEART empowers women through: Health Education (increasing access to accurate information and resources about one’s body and health issues), Advocacy (advocating for culturally-sensitive health care services & education for faith based communities), Research (conducting research to generate data and information about the status of women and girls from faith based communities), and Training (training women and girls to become leaders of wellness in their communities).