Today’s Strong in the Broken guest post is by Lori F and it is beautiful in its honesty about grief and infertility in a cross-cultural setting.
When we got married our goal was to work internationally. We spent the first five years of marriage paying off school loans, pursuing more education and training, and generally equipping ourselves for life in a culture very different than ones we were used to. We intentionally held off starting a family, wanting to be settled in our new home before starting that kind of adventure. When the day finally arrived for us to fly to our new home in a closed, ultra-conservative Islamic country in Asia it was the start of a new, exciting chapter in our lives. Of course, best laid plans and all – we ended up arriving in country on September 11 – yes, that September 11. But that’s not what this story is about.
Despite multiple evacuations, political instability, constant violence from extremist attacks, kidnapping threats, extreme heat, limited availability of basic utilities, a constant turnover of coworkers, and a closed, completely segregated society we managed to dig in, learn language and thrive in this wondrous new world. Except we couldn’t get pregnant.
During our first few years I was so overwhelmed trying to learn to communicate and in general functioning like a toddler myself, I didn’t worry too much about our lack of fertility. But as I grew in understanding of the culture around me I also grew in grief. In a culture where women rarely leave the confines of their walled compounds, are married off by arrangement, and are prized almost solely for their ability to produce heirs (read male), I stood out. Daily I was asked why we had no children. Women would belittle me to my face, recommend second wives for my husband, demand to know what was wrong with me. In short, on a daily basis I was told I was subnormal, deficient, useless, and worthless. Men would commiserate with my husband over our lack and suggest he divorce me and find a wife that would fulfill her duties.
And while we truly loved our adopted homeland this daily psychological warfare took a heavy toll on me. In time we went through all kinds of fertility testing – its own kind of special humiliation – only to find no explanation for our barrenness. We went through fertility treatments to no avail and then moved on to a multi-year adoption saga that left us defrauded financially, broken emotionally, and still childless. In the midst of all this sorrow I was still contending with the daily drip, drip, drip of being found wanting as a woman.
There were days where I just needed to shut down, close out the world around me and console myself with the fact that despite everything I had a loving husband who cherished me. We were together for better or for worse – something my local friends could not cling too. Women like me, who found themselves unable to conceive within the first one or two years of marriage would quickly find themselves either divorced in disgrace and sent back to their father’s home, or shunted along to become a second or third wife, trapped in a loveless marriage, forever a servant in her own home.
Although my grief over childlessness did not diminish (and never will) I found it to be a key that opened the hearts of women around me. The culture was inherently hospitable but also extremely stand-offish towards strangers. Many women assumed that a privileged, ‘wealthy’, white, foreign woman could have no problems. As I learned to open up and share my grief with them, they reciprocated – pouring out their hearts to me, giving me a glimpse into the darkest parts of their lives – the abuse, the shame, the fear, the hopelessness. They trusted me with their hurts because they saw mine. They often asked how they could find a husband like mine who loved me despite what their culture said about my failings. And while I would not wish infertility on my worst enemy it did bind me to this culture of hurting, hidden women in a way perhaps nothing else could.
A TCK from Venezuela, Lori has spent the last 16 years working in several Asian countries together with her husband. Along the way she has acquired an aversion to packing suitcases, a fascination with languages, and an abiding love for tea and spicy food.