Day 8: The Pressure to Procreate

I always wanted a big family, ever since I can remember, and I used to wonder why my parents only had 4 children especially when they married so young. I had envisioned that after finishing studying, I would get married and have lots of children, and it never crossed my mind that things might not be as straight forward as this.

It also wasn’t a surprise, that pretty much every time we went to a wedding, within the first year the couple had their first child, and within the next few years they would have had a few more. It was the same story when hearing about cousins and relatives getting married back home in Pakistan, soon enough we would get news that babies were being born, and the topic of infertility or difficulties in trying to conceive never came about.

As I got older, and started really paying attention to the world around us, it began to bother me that so many people were invested in singletons getting married, and subsequently newly married couples having babies. It was as though there was only one purpose to women in life, and that was to get married and procreate, while the men went to work to provide for the family. What was worse was the fact that anytime someone would say they didn’t want children and wanted to first enjoy married life, people would raise their eyebrows and question their motives.

Let’s put things into context here. As Muslims we are not allowed to date in the traditional sense. We can have chaperoned meetings with potential spouses for the purpose of marriage, but that’s about it. This means that our unchaperoned “dating” period will inevitably start after the Nikkah when the religious marriage contracts have been signed. There are couples who decide to sign the papers and have a big wedding and reception at a later date, meaning the couple can then “date” in the interim. Knowing all this, it’s hardly surprising that many couples decide post-marriage they would like to spend a few years just enjoying each other’s company!

My husband and I also decided to wait about a year or so before deciding on having children. By this time I was in my early 30’s, and could already hear people asking questions about why we hadn’t had children already, and how we should really be factoring in our age rather than delaying things. Three years later, and there was still no baby, and the questions kept coming in thick and fast, and all we could do is nod and say yes Insha’Allah (God-willing) soon.

See what people didn’t realise was that every time they asked that question, all I would think back to was the numerous pregnancy tests I had taken, the desperate hope to see the “positive” sign and for my period to not start, the disappointment when it did, the thought of having to go through this all over again the following month, and that ever-increasing overwhelming feeling that maybe something was wrong.

My husband is a true believer that God’s timing is never wrong, and always told me that if we were destined to have children we would have them when the time was right. Despite his words bringing comfort and peace, when my monthly cycle started to become longer and longer, I decided it was time to get checked. Unfortunately the news wasn’t great, and I was told it would be difficult for us to have children naturally. We ruled out IVF and other options, and in the end decided that if we didn’t have children then that was what was planned for us, and we would accept that maybe we were in this world to spread good in other ways.

We didn’t tell anyone about our difficulties in ttc, as that was personal to us, and when people continued to ask us about having children, we still nodded and said Insha’Allah. A year and a half later, we were blessed with the birth of baby A, conceived naturally, and we finally became parents. Thankfully this also meant the questions stopped! As we navigated through parenthood, and the ups and downs of baby A’s health, I realised how tough this job really was. I got through each day of her first year of life by telling myself this is only going to difficult once, and as “the days are long, but the years are short” I will miss her baby years. It was in these moments that I decided I really didn’t want any more children and I was very grateful for the one child I did have.

…and then the questions started again!

Now baby A is “asked” if she wants a brother or sister, and we’re told that she should have one close in age so they can play together, and reminded that in a few years I’ll be approaching the big 40 so that’s an obvious factor in this too. I have started nodding again, and nervously laughing at the suggestions being made, but the pressure keeps mounting. It’s as though everyone has started watching me again and are waiting to hear “the news”. Lockdown has saved me from a number of big family gatherings this year, and I’m glad. I’m glad because I don’t have the time or energy to explain my reasons, and more importantly I shouldn’t have to. The truth is, we want to enjoy our present without everyone rushing us into a future they’re trying to enforce on us. We want to watch baby A grow and develop, and listen to her talk, and go out and make memories. We what to be fulfilled having spent time with her in these early years, before we think about having another.

And I know for a fact, if we did have another now, a year or two later we would be asked about a third…and then a fourth…! Thankfully my husband would only like one more, and not yet. But I know it’ll be at least a few years before I even contemplate discussing it – and even then I don’t know if I will ever be ready to have another.

Our nikkah day

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