Never Enough

Never Enough
By Eden Haddad – Senior Editor

I had never understood what it meant to be content.

I was always either elated or angered beyond belief, hateful or depressed.

I lived in extremes.

It was only during that brief moment driving through the streets of Chiyah with my Mom and her friend, that I might have glimpsed it, grazed it, in all its own ferocity.

The sun was shining high in the clouds—a rare respite from the clouds veiling our skies and raining down light drops of water whenever I’d happen to find myself without an umbrella.

I was going home for the weekend and had taken the bus to meet my mother at her workplace so that we could leave together. It was a long week at uni, midterms conspired against the students by positioning themselves on the same day and I had exhausted myself beyond belief—night after night pouring over my notes until the words turned into a jumbled mosaic.

I had been excited to go home, despite the latest news regarding the electricity generators.

My apartment had gone from 7 hours a day with no power to 13. The government gave us one hour of power every 2 weeks which caused the laundry to pile up and the internet to run out. It’s been so long since I sat in my room with the comfort of familiarity.

 

When I got down from the bus, I saw my Mom waiting on the corner of the street in front of her car. We exchanged pleasantries and a quick hug that sent my skin crawling before I went to open the passenger door.

“Wait, Fatima is coming with us, we’re driving her home so sit in the back. Eib for her not to sit in front.”

Eib—shame—formed the foundation of every Arab family’s interactions both within and outside of its unit.

I didn’t mind obviously, I much preferred sitting in the backseat. The roads of Lebanon are rife with both cars and motorcycles driving through the streets and sidewalks in every manner they imagined, even and especially if it was the wrong side of the road.

Sitting upfront only made me more aware of it as I saw vehicles whizzing about, setting my heart on the edge of a cliff as I waited for the inevitable crash to occur.

Plus, I liked Fatima. She was a kind woman who, when she found out my favourite foods, made a point to cook them and send them for me, and when she found out I liked spice, she made and sent me a mixture unique to her village. Every word flowing out of her lips was entrenched in warmth and a hard edge she fully capitalised on in the workplace whenever her authority was challenged.

As I set my bag aside and relaxed in the back, Fatima walked out of the building and toward my Mom.

She had matched her hijab to the flowing blue dress she wore and walked with vigour and excitement. My Mom gestured for her to sit in front and when she saw me in the back, immediately shook her head and insisted I take the passenger seat. It was the usual dance that resolved itself shortly after a few headshakes and insistent nods. As both she and my mother got in the car, Fatima turned around and smiled at me so brightly you wouldn’t think she’d spent the last 9 hours sitting in a cramped office with no lights and coworkers each more corrupt than the next.

“Kifik, habibti? Everything good with you and uni?” She asked, as my mother turned on the ignition and pulled onto the road.

“Hamdella, kifik ente? Thank you so much for the mjaddara last week it was so good, you really shouldn’t have.”

“What are you saying, don’t mention it, it was nothing walaw.” She chided, the corner of her eyes crinkling with her widened smile.

“Fatoum, you’re gonna need to guide me, I only vaguely remember where your house is.” My Mom said.

As Fatima twisted back to sit properly, she and Mom conversed about the current ongoings of the country.

No power, no medication, no government, no gas, no water…

I had heard each and every adult repeat this exact montage growing up, and when I joined university I found myself parroting it as well. I couldn’t not to, otherwise it felt as though I was implicit with the corrupt, helping them hide their dirty work as though over 6 million people were not suffering from it.

I had always been a tired child, but now as I stand aware of the world around me, exhaustion has seeped into my bones and made me a husk for it. I could no longer stand most things, the only actions I was capable of taking was staying in bed and staring at the wall, a prisoner to my own thoughts.

My Mom’s laughter broke my reverie. I didn’t recognize it at first, having so rarely heard it.

She and Fatima had moved on to talking about some idiot they work with who got to his position by virtue of his connections alone. I don’t know what Fatima said exactly, but it sent my mother roaring, shaking with mirth and smiling as equally wide as her friend was previously.

We had never been particularly close, my mother and I. Too many mistakes made, too much history had widened the chasm between us until all I could do when I saw her was brace myself and count the minutes until I left.

It was always a quietly antagonistic relationship. As a child, I longed for the mother the TV screens would show, and when my mother failed to live up to it, I developed a grudge against her. She failed me in a time when I only had her to count on.

Similarly, I was never the daughter she wished for. I was always angry and judgmental, I was mean and never cared much about anything and only ever wanted to either be at home or be with my friends. We could never agree on anything, we barely talked besides the occasional text on my part telling her I’m going home for the weekend.

I hated her in the way you can only ever hate someone you love.

 

But, as we passed through the rundown buildings in Chiyah, memories of the blast still vivid like an infected scab in the structures that received little to no help after it occurred, and driving through a desolate country that abandoned its citizens and in turn, was abandoned, my mother laughed with her friend, like she might have laughed before the war, the deaths and mutilations that plastered each inch of the city. Before the fear and the feeble escapes each bomb shelling, before the loss of all her money and her family and her reality. Before time began to move slowly and ghosts and regret became your shadow.

If only I’d known her back then…would she like me as I am now?

 

“Take your right, I’m the building with the-”

“Dekken in the corner, I remember now.” My Mom finished the sentence. She looked at me through the rearview mirror and told me how when Fatima first moved to the place 20 years ago, they had celebrated the move in her apartment with an abundance of food and sweets.

The image just further added strokes to the picture of the stranger in my head. I couldn’t imagine my mother celebrating something or even being outside of the house past 6pm.

Even eating was something difficult if she was alone and someone wasn’t partaking with her.

Loneliness lived in her bones as exhaustion thrived in mine.

She parked haphazardly given the numerous cars already piled up randomly and moved to say goodbye to Fatima.

“Come up for some coffee, at least,” She said to my Mom and I. “Please, you have to, eib.”

“Another time, Fatouma.” My mother declined with a smile on her face.

There would be no other time.

After a few more dances back and forth, Fatima waved goodbye to me and went up the stairs of her building’s stairs.

Years passed by in seconds as the stranger before me disappeared and deflated back into my mother.

We drove home in silence I could not breach—not with the ghost of their laughter in the back of my mind.

 

 

“Oh, come on, That’s insane! In what world would that work?!” My friend exclaimed loudly, hands flailing as the scene continued playing on TV in all its implausibility.

“It’s the power of friendship! The power of love is at play!” I shrieked a few seconds later.

My friend slouched on the couch, eyes wide in disbelief as the credits began rolling.

“All that build up for nothing,” she sighed, “they ruined the whole show in 5 minutes.”

I patted her shoulder comfortingly, at loss for a proper reaction.

Her head lolled to the side, eyes meeting mine.

“Well, that was a waste of emotional investment. I’m gonna head home before it gets dark, we need to pick a new tv show to watch.” She announced, bouncing back to herself immediately and hopped to the front door where her shoes sat.

“Let me know when you get home, dakhilik.” I said as her hands fumbled with the laces, inciting a grin out of me.

“Eh, eh, of course, AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR DORM YOU STINK OF GARLIC.” Her finger accusing me in the air. How dare she act as though she didn’t stress eat toum herself during the finale.

“Yeah, yeah lek meen aam yehke, you fucking idiot.” I leaned forward and huffed out a breath next to her nose.

“NOOOO!!” She aimed to defend herself but lost balance and fell back.

I laughed harder than I did during her commentary on the finale. She looked like an angry badger.

“Evil, traitor, ayri fike.”

“Bye, bye.” I sung as the door opened, her glare and middle finger centerspace before her smile matched my own and she disappeared behind the door closing.

I slowly exhaled before turning to see my room, a mess of rumbled sheets and empty food cartons littered the floor.

A ringing slowly came in, a familiar sound that only deigned to appear when I had no one and nothing to distract me.

My limbs turned sluggish as it took all I had to simply make it to my bed, collapsing on the mattress.

 

I’m not sure how much time passed but my phone lit up with a notification. My friend texted me that she was home. I had forgotten I told her to do that.

It seemed like forever ago that she was here. I was so tired and everything seemed so remote from where I lay now.

Right below her text, another one caught my eye. Between the ever growing chats piling up—

A text from my Mom:

Hope ur gd…take care of urself

The Marginalization of Infertile Women and Trans-Women

The Marginalization of Infertile Women and Trans-Women
By Razan Matar – Staff Writer

As a woman, from a very early age, it is customary to hear the phrase “when you become a mother”. It’s never “if you become a mother.” It’s ingrained in our being that women are meant to reproduce at some point in their lives. In the MENA region, the idea that women will eventually be mothers is a construct that has been adopted into the gender for centuries. Motherhood is considered a rite of passage, an unavoidable direction within our womanhood. As Arendell mentions in his essay, womanhood, and motherhood are treated as “synonymous” identities and experiences (Arendell, 2000). Hence, being a mother in another form that isn’t within the “biological” idea of a woman is rendered as not “real” or invalid. Motherhood is constructed under a binary definition. This binary definition suggests that only people able to partake in heteronormative biological processes of conceiving and giving birth can be considered mothers. This biological process is what essentially dictates whether a woman is worthy of becoming a “real” mother. If you are unable to fulfill this biological process and become a mother through an alternative method, societies label you as unworthy of being a mother.

“There is a special bond between a child and their biological mother.” That’s a sentence you hear repeatedly whenever someone has been adopted or doesn’t have a biological parent. However, there is a much broader conversation to have here. Why are women who don’t fit the checklist of being biological mothers always labeled and deemed as “less than” mothers who can have children biologically? Why is there a specific connotation to the word motherhood?

Definitions and practices of motherhood are seen as dynamic social interactions and relationships that have been organized by a “gendered belief system” (Arendell, 2000). Hence, women who are unable to play their part in this gendered system, whether it be through infertility or other circumstances are considered unworthy of their gender as women, and their role as mothers. As our society evolves, so should the meaning of motherhood. Despite some progress, our comprehension of what it means to be a mother is still outdated. As Arendall explains, the act of mothering is linked with women, because universally, it’s women who do such an act (Arendell, 2000). Furthermore, motherhood is connected with notions of femininity and a specific gender identity which reinforces mothering (Arendell, 2000).

The term ‘motherhood’ is used unconsciously, with little regard for what it genuinely means to brace that title. In an article by Miriam and Ann about viewing motherhood through the lens of infertility, the authors note that the word ‘Infertility’ itself is not a neutral term (Ulrich & Weatherall, 2000). It doesn’t project any negative or positive connotations. However, when used in reference to women, infertility is considered a deficit. The reason for this is due to the induced belief that motherhood is only truly valid when it’s based on biology. This belief rests on the idea that being a mother is hindered by a “blood tie” or lineage, rather than by a bond that is developed and enriched through nurture and care (Miall, 1987).

This fixed view of motherhood not only limits women’s roles as mothers but also restricts and damages a child’s understanding of their mothers. Since society continuously deems infertile women as not “real” mothers, it conjures a harmful and unnecessary hierarchy, with mothers who conceive children as being more legitimate than those who do not or resort to other means. Therefore, the essence of motherhood should lie not in biological notions but should focus on characteristics of nurture, resilience, and care. These qualities are what is truly essential to motherhood, regardless of how it is achieved. Mothers who have children biologically may fail to cater to a child’s growth because of neglect. Motherlike characteristics are not present only when a biological component is included.

In an article that tackles the topic of adoption, it is stated that parental experiences, whether someone is a parent through adoption or not, rely on the same method of parenting (Miall, 1987). Marginalization within motherhood doesn’t come from a lack of knowledge about motherhood itself, but from the judgemental attitudes that society endorses towards non-traditional forms of motherhood.

Infertile women are constantly put in a position in which their inability to conceive is recognized as a personal failure. It’s innate within womanhood that their rite of passage is to partake in motherhood. The pressure to bear a child is amplified for infertile women, who go through extensive processes in an attempt to conceive a child. However, even when these women do become mothers, they are usually isolated and excluded from traditional experiences of motherhood because they opt for adoption.

This stigma surrounding motherhood is not limited to infertile women who adopt children. Even mothers who can conceive but choose to adopt are labeled and criticized as not fulfilling the role of a “real” mother.  For example, a society rejecting other forms of motherhood is seen in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. In the show, Frankie’s adoption of her two children is belittled by Grace. Grace suggests that Frankie doesn’t fully understand the struggles and experiences of motherhood, because of her infertility. This doesn’t only undermine Frankie’s role as a mother, but also her role as a woman. Yet, time and time again throughout the show, Frankie’s characteristics of being more fanatic and warm-hearted of the character of the duo encourage Grace’s children to have more unfiltered conversations with Frankie.

The idea of motherhood being only certifiable through biology is not an individual construct, it is a reflection of societal attitudes toward family and reproduction. Cultural narratives, medical discourse, and social norms all aid in this narrow view of motherhood. Furthermore, infertile women are constantly pitied for their circumstances, while trans women are often mocked and denied being recognized into motherhood altogether.

This shallow perception of infertile women somewhat mirrors trans women’s experiences. Except, infertile women do not necessarily challenge the expectation and norms regarding gender and motherhood. On the other hand, trans women initially face obstacles to being accepted into womanhood, by being mocked and mislabeled. According to Barber and Yarbrough, trans mothers usually have children before they transition (Barber & Yarbrough, 2014). Yet, trans women whether they have children before or adopt after are still excluded more particularly when they become mothers. To society, they deviate from how a mother should look and behave. They are made to feel as though they do not deserve the title of motherhood not only because of their inability to give birth but also because they are not cisgender women.

Transphobia and cisnormativity are the leading factors that cause trans women to be shut out from traditional motherhood experiences. Unlike infertile women who are seen as “real” women, but not “real” mothers, trans women are categorized as both neither “real” women nor “real” mothers. As a result, trans women are never truly a part of either, a lot of the time they are classified as “others.”

This discrimination towards trans women is an added layer of marginalization that infertile women do not face. The legal frameworks that govern motherhood are designed with heterosexual and cis-gendered couples in mind. Furthermore, they face additional legal barriers and economic inequalities that aren’t set for cis-gendered mothers. Adoption and surrogacy are significant challenges for them. All these factors contribute to the erasure of the opportunities for trans women to participate in motherhood.

With all the following in mind, these individuals showcase a few of the different faces of motherhood. Hence, they are all real and valid mothers and shouldn’t be excluded based on semantics. Parenthood and the dynamics of a mother and father have changed, and so have the dynamics within motherhood. Hence, we need to reframe our perception of the term, without it being hindered by one specific gendered identity. A mother is a parent and a guardian first, where gendered identity and biology should not be the primary focal point of the term.

 

References:

 

  1. Miall, C. E. (1987). The stigma of adoptive parent status: Perceptions of community attitudes toward adoption and the experience of informal social sanctioning. Family Relations, 36(1), 34. https://doi.org/10.2307/584644
  2. Ulrich, M., & Weatherall, A. (2000). Motherhood and infertility: Viewing motherhood through the lens of infertility. Feminism & Psychology, 10(3), 323–336. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959353500010003003
  3. Arendell, T. (2000). Conceiving and investigating motherhood: The decade’s scholarship. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(4), 1192–1207. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.01192.x
  4. Barber, M. E., & Yarbrough, E. (2014). LGBT mothers. Motherhood, Mental Illness and Recovery, 109–117. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-01318-3_8

Like a Match to a Flame / She Gave but Never Lost

Like a Match to a Flame / She Gave but Never Lost
By Jad Abou Serhal – Staff Writer

She grew up under missiles, hoping that every tribulation would only write her a stronger story for what is to come hereafter. She was raised under the influence of the patriarchy, only to become a human definition of feminism. Reclaiming motherhood from those who spelled it out for her, she wrote her story and fit it into the lives of the generation she raised at home. Reclaiming society’s ideology of femininity, she became an educator who broke the glass ceiling for several generations of women to come.

Her last name was Kabrita, Arabic for match–and the flame was inside of her. The second of three daughters, she refused to follow the trend of eloping in exchange for a life of being a financially supported housewife. That was not the kind of mother she wanted to be. The stronger the war got, the brighter the flame was for her to make it out of the country. Her family was unable to support her education, her mother confined to the house and her father reduced to selling chicken on the road over periods of truce.

“For the most part I only remember war and messy stuff. Messy “yaane” running from one place to another, escaping unpleasant situations. There were years where we had to flee in refuge to schools because the areas we lived in were bombarded. To wrap up, it was not a nice experience environment. I don’t really have clear memories, but I do know it’s a very dark period of the past that… I don’t like it.”

One scholarship after the other, she climbed her way up to a Master’s degree, which opened a door for her to pursue a PhD in the United States.

“I applied for scholarships and got full ones. Same thing when I got to graduate school. I had an assistantship, and same for when I went to the US. I also had to work in a teaching assistant post both before and after I traveled. This also helped, or else I wouldn’t have afforded going”.

Along the way, she found love.

His last name was Daou, Arabic for light–and she lit the flame. She fell in love with an officer, tied by occupation to the homeland she tried to escape. Her ambition to carve a name for herself, rather than passively take on that of a man who did it for her, forbade her from succumbing to the patriarchy. The light believed in her so much that he wouldn’t let her put out her own flame either, not in the name of society.

At the end of the day, there could be no light without a match. After their engagement, she took her burning flame with her to the United States, tied by a ring to an officer who waited six long years for her back home. Away from her folks and fiancé, she earned her family’s first ever title–a woman who had earned her family’s first ever title.

“I wanted to get my doctorate degree. It was definitely fueled by the desire to get out of Lebanon. There were so many things that supported that, mainly that the doctorate degree program at AUB closed during the war. So I didn’t have that option to start with, plus “inno ana” I always worked towards leaving the country.”

From then on, it was Doctor Kabrita to society. A woman who wrote her own story over the handwriting of those who transcribed a certain life for her.

Unfortunately, the patriarchy still managed to pull her by the leg. As she was a signature away from becoming a US citizen, background noise called her back to what used to be home. Society had given her a six-year grace period to fulfill her dreams, but there was a catch: “It was time she became a wife”. It was the only time she had succumbed to the pressure of society’s stereotypical expectations of womanhood, and she made sure it would be the last.

Their last name became Kabrita Daou and light finally met the match after six years. She came back a brighter flame, the light waiting for her to walk down the aisle as a doctor in white, except this time it wasn’t her lab coat. To her tough luck, the walk had to be postponed due to the death of a loved one–a time she could have spent working on her US papers. A time she had lost, all due to her mistake of falling for the patriarchy’s trap. She felt as though being able to do all what she did was too good to be true, and that she had suffered the consequences.

“For staying, my husband was working in the ISF, he was bound to Lebanon. As for the nationality, I simply needed to complete my 6th year in the US, and I was half-way there, but I had to come back as soon as I got my degree to marry my fiancée. However, the wedding got postponed for a year due to the passing of a family member. So overall, the nationality thing just did not work out.”

Through redefining motherhood, however, she found purpose once again. With that, she was back to being stuck in her country, not as a married woman, but a woman who was married. A woman who had placed a chair for herself among all the men in the workforce.

The lit flame slowly spread. She became a mother of many children; two of them biological, and the others, students across several consecutive generations. She worked two simultaneous shifts, as a college professor in class and a teacher of life at home. However, despite the war being over, it was as though her story was a broken record.

“When I came from the US, I thought it was over because I didn’t understand the political play back then, but it was just a refractory period. It is a mechanism that has been going on for ages… recurrent but growing in amplitude.”

She came back to a seemingly peaceful Lebanon, up until history was re-winded. An economic crisis hit her family, but it wasn’t strong enough to break the foundation she had built for herself, her family, and eventually her country. She became the breadwinner of the house, as the country mistreated those who fought for it, namely her husband. The woman, however, kept on fighting on behalf of Lebanon’s citizens. She carried her own children on one shoulder and the future of other families on the other. Not only did she have to manage making her children’s dreams come true amid all roadblocks, but also had to guide students through their careers to be able to help their families overcome the crisis. Just like she had the opportunity to learn and find independence, she was committed to pass that opportunity on to her students, many of which were also mothers sitting across form her in class.

She, to this day, has been passing her flame on to generations of young, liberated minds for 24 years. She interpreted motherhood as an opportunity to find a purpose of her own, one that she can inspire her own children through, but the mother inside of her did not let her stop there. Raising minds became a mission of hers, whether at home or in a classroom. With that, chapters can only ever be added to a story like hers. A story that reclaims motherhood in a context of patriarchy and redefines it through the eyes of a working mother to her children and people.

 

Motherhood: A Choice or an Expectation

Motherhood: A Choice or an Expectation
By Marwah Al Sakkaf – Staff Writer

Many conservative societies hold the expectation that every woman is destined to be a mother. This has led to a view of motherhood as the ultimate expression of femininity. These societal expectations regarding motherhood lead to increased pressure on women to have children. In other words, any woman who decides to break away from the norms (shaped by religion, and history…) risks being judged, stigmatized, or even ostracized. Regardless of cultural pressures and established gender roles, motherhood should be a personal choice, not a predetermined one.

The stigmatization of voluntarily childless women can be observed in our daily life where childless women are often met with criticism from family, friends, and even strangers, as well as in research and reports. For instance, in a 2015 article for BBC, writer Holly Brockwell shared her experience of facing societal pressure and criticism for her decision to be sterilized and not to have children. According to Brockwell, she has been labeled as “selfish” and “unnatural” and has had to deal with assumptions about her personal life due to her choice. Several of the phrases used by those insulting her, according to Brockwell, were gender-specific and would not have been used with a man in the same scenario.

Furthermore, in “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids” book, the author Meghan Daum addressed the double standard that exists between childless men and women. Childless men are often met with a dismissive eye roll at worst, while women are often subjected to criticism and seen as unnatural, immature, or even traitors to their gender.

To further dive into the issue of stigmatization, it is important to acknowledge that traditional gender roles related to motherhood have been reinforced by ideas such as the quote attributed to Sigmund Freud, “Anatomy is destiny”. It is crucial to recognize that a person’s biological body does not solely determine their life choices, particularly when it comes to women. To suggest that anatomy is destiny is to ignore the many ways in which social norms and expectations shape our lives and limit our choices.

Another aspect of stigmatizing childless women is seen in the language that is used to describe motherhood. The word “motherhood” is often associated with specific terms such as sacrifice, burden, care, child-rearing, and teaching, all of which are aligned with the concept of suffering and challenges. Society portrays motherhood as an act of endless and unconditional sacrifice, where a mother loses her identity to raise her children and accepts that suffering. Society glorifies and exalts motherhood that meets these conditions. This can create a sense of obligation for women and mothers to sacrifice their options in life to fit this role, or else risk losing the respect of those around them and being stigmatized.

Moreover, the expectations placed on women to be mothers can also lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy when they struggle to meet these societal standards or struggle to resist them. This pressure to prioritize motherhood above everything else can force women to choose between their personal goals, desires, freedom, and career, and their role as mothers. I remember a formal speech by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, which argued that the woman who rejects motherhood is incomplete, deficient and she gives up on her femininity. This sort of discourse reinforces the notion that motherhood is not simply an option, but a vital part of a woman’s identity, which can be extremely hurtful and stigmatizing to individuals who choose not to have children. Furthermore, the concept that a woman’s femininity is linked to motherhood reinforces gender stereotypes and the belief that women are primarily responsible for child-rearing.

In conclusion, societal expectations and pressure on women to become mothers must be critically examined and challenged. Every woman should have the right to decide whether to have children, without fear of being stigmatized, judged, or ostracized. It is important to recognize that traditional gender roles related to motherhood have been reinforced by societal norms that limit women’s choices and opportunities. We must respect and support women’s reproductive decisions and work towards creating a society where women are not defined by their reproductive choices. It is also essential to acknowledge that parenthood involves shared responsibility between both parents, and we should promote a more equitable and fulfilling approach to parenting. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive, equitable, and empowering society for all women.

 

References:

  1. Gee, A. (2015, November 25). The trouble with saying you don’t want children. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34916433
  2. Daum, M. (2016). Selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed: Sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids. New York: Picador.
  3. Turkish president says childless women are ‘deficient, incomplete’. (2016, June 06). Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/06/turkish-president-erdogan-Childless-women-deficient-incomplete

Exploring the Multifaceted Nature of Fertility: The Intersection of Social, Psychological, and Medical Aspects

Exploring the Multifaceted Nature of Fertility: The Intersection of Social, Psychological, and Medical Aspects
By Reem Wehbe – Staff Writer

“Barren womb, dark spaces,

Bearing a child, I am appreciated.

Loneliness prevails, I am searching to embrace,

Where are you? I am already hated.” (Sheikh, 2021)

“Mom”, “my daughter”, and “my son”, women are calling their children. Other women listened only because they did not have children to call, and here stigma, psychological issues, and social disturbances come into place. The relation between fertility and motherhood as well as motherhood and womanhood is still questioned to be pre-requisite to each other. Social constructs have encouraged women to have children, which is viewed as inevitable. Moreover, from a psychological perspective, reinforcing the idea that motherhood and womanhood go hand in hand led to endorsing those beliefs in women to have a healthy and happy life viewing infertility as pathological and unnatural (Ulrich & Weatherall, 2000). On the other hand, the infertility rate around the world is increasing. Global infertility rates are on the rise where a study conducted by the WHO in 2023 revealed that more than 48 million couples and 186 individuals are suffering from infertility trying to have children categorized under child-wish couples (WHO, 2023). However, researchers and healthcare providers specialized in OBGYN are trying to find solutions for infertility by providing alternative solutions such as in-vitro fertilization, hormonal therapy, and even artificial wombs, but the question of ethics surrounding these treatments has influenced women’s decisions to opt for such solutions. Other services may be provided for infertile women wishing to have children as adoption, but social stigma also plays a role in decision-making when opting for this step. Here, women wishing to have children and become mothers face hurdles telling them to stop trying. Women in the infertility cloud face storms from medical, social, and even psychological areas.

 

Medical Angle:

Motherhood was limited to biological and gestational mothers, but the context of motherhood nowadays is translated in complex terms, taking into consideration the wide range of medical inventions assisting reproduction. Many women around the world who are struggling to conceive find hope in the possibility of a life-changing transition that may occur after receiving any form of assistance or treatment for their infertility. However, it is important to note that these treatments are not always successful, and the root cause of infertility may not always be identified. Indeed, modern medicine has adopted assisted reproductive technology (ART) and at least five million infants were born by ART (De Geyter, 2019). In 1978, the first in-vitro fertilization (IVF) child was born in the UK, but this case triggered huge protests, negative comments, and insults for such medical interventions (Aspulund, 2020). The concerns surrounding IVF are since the child has the right to be born safely and the woman has reproductive autonomy. While in-vitro fertilization (IVF) offers single women or same-sex couples the opportunity to have children and start a family, some ethical considerations suggest that this method may be unfair and compromise the anonymity of the donor’s genetic material. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine employed equality in all requests for IVF, disregarding sexual orientation or partner status (Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 2013). The use of IVF is very common around the world, especially after the integration of women into the workforce.

Other medically assisted reproduction includes embryo transfer, cryopreservation, and insemination. The medical field is in progressive research for further interventions to solve infertility problems. But what is infertility and how is it diagnosed?

Many cases of infertility cannot be easily defined by medical terms alone, leaving individuals to make difficult decisions about whether to continue trying to conceive or to accept the possibility of not having children. The absence of a clear-cut answer, such as a definitive “yes, there is a solution” or “no, we will not be able to have a child,” can create a sense of hopelessness, leading to regret or prolonged suffering. Therefore, the definition borders of infertility are not set, and it appears highly limited to medical diagnoses which most women do not understand or classify as dreadful. In brief, research about fertility in medicine is still ongoing, but in the meantime many cases of infertility remain undiagnosed, setting the couple in a reluctant situation to proceed in further trials or to give up.

 

Social Construction:

Even after attempting several medical interventions that may have failed, many women continue to have a strong desire to become mothers. In such cases, adoption can provide these women with an opportunity to experience motherhood while also giving children in need a chance to experience a better life. Adoption is a way for these women to build a family and provide a loving and supportive home for a child who may not have had the same opportunity otherwise. However, adoption has several steps, including legal and social aspects that differ from country to country. On the other hand, there is a stigma falling around women who choose to adopt, including rejection, negative social judgment, and exclusion. An example of the benefits of adoption can be seen in the case of a woman diagnosed as infertile due to Type 1 diabetes. Despite facing the challenge of adoption, including its often-lengthy process and logistical difficulties, this woman chose to pursue it as an option, particularly as she had an adopted cousin herself. While acknowledging that adoption is not without its challenges, she also described it as a “bittersweet” experience that can be both challenging and wonderful at the same time (Megala, 2021). Many women who choose adoption experience a mixture of emotions, including acceptance of their decision, hesitation, and worries about the possibility of the child being taken back by the biological parents. For example, one woman who adopted twin babies for five weeks had to give them back when the biological parents decided to reclaim custody, which left her with emotional scars and affected her future adoption decisions. Motherhood is a complex journey, involving numerous social and legal issues that can present significant obstacles, causing women to either fight and persevere or give up and return to their previous situation.

Moving forward, many women classified motherhood as an instinct that feminist theories have criticized, as it limits women to motherhood. A study conducted by Ulrich and Weatherall (2000) interviewed women with infertility conflicts. One participant explained her reasons for the many trials she endured to get pregnant and said that she felt something in her like nature. On the other hand, another woman interrupts this discussion to confirm that she feels that she needs to have her own biological children to be a “normal woman”, but what is normal and how do you define a woman? These social expectations follow women and restrict them to their role as mothers.

 

Psychological Theorizing:

Infertile women often experience significant psychological distress, including depression and anxiety. Research conducted by Peterson et al. (2014) has shown that the prevalence of depression and anxiety is twice as high in infertile women compared to control subjects experiencing these conditions for other reasons. Another study illustrated that the level of psychological distress experienced by infertile women is the same as that felt by cancer patients. his distress can lead to women discontinuing their treatment or seeking alternative solutions, which is particularly common in the early stages of treatment (Sax, M.R, & Lawson, 2022). Statistics reveal that approximately 40% of infertile women experience psychological distress during assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures (American Psychiatric Association, 2019). Another study by Volgsten et al. (2010) showed that there was a progressive increase in the risk of depression among women who had negative tests after applying IVF treatment, as well as with women who had unexplained infertility. Such distress puts women at a higher risk of discontinuing fertility care, increasing the chances of experiencing depression.

All the above-mentioned cases indicate the need for the integration of multidisciplinary treatment for women struggling with infertility, especially psychologists and mental health experts. Therefore, it is crucial to increase the scope of awareness about mental health needs for infertile women and the significance of the integration of mental health professionals in the treatment process. By screening their psychological status, early identification of mood disorders can be detected early allowing for psychological support as needed. In addition, mental health care services for women experiencing infertility can improve their emotional well-being as well as help them gain a better understanding of the treatment process, resulting in better outcomes.

Conclusion:

The experience of infertility can have a profound impact on a woman’s life, affecting her psychological well-being, social identity, and medical status. Despite medical interventions, many women face unexplained infertility, which highlights the importance of considering multidisciplinary teams in fertility care. While medical diagnoses are crucial, they should not be the sole focus of treatment. Raising awareness about the significance of integrating mental health and social support services in the care plan can help provide holistic care for women trying to become mothers. Additionally, separating the concepts of womanhood from motherhood and fertility can offer a wider perspective on the complex issues women face. Although fertility is a significant aspect of motherhood, it should not define a woman’s identity or worth.

 

References:

  1. American Psychiatric Association (2019). Infertility: The Impact of Stress and Mental Health. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/infertility-the-impact-of-stress-and-mental-health#:~:text=Up%20to%2040%25%20of%20women,compared
    %20to%20the%20general%20population.
  2. Asplund K. (2020). Use of in vitro fertilization-ethical issues. Upsala journal of medical sciences, 125(2), 192–199. https://doi.org/10.1080/03009734.2019.1684405
  3. De Geyter C. (2019). Assisted reproductive technology: Impact on society and need for surveillance. Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism, 33(1), 3–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beem.2019.01.004
  4. Ethics Committee of American Society for Reproductive Medicine (2013). Access to fertility treatment by gays, lesbians, and unmarried persons: a committee opinion. Fertility and sterility, 100(6), 1524–1527. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.042
  5. Megala (2017). ‘I adopted a child-here’s what it was like’. Women’s Health. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a19957606/adoption-stories/
  6. Peterson, B. D., Sejbaek, C. S., Pirritano, M., & Schmidt, L. (2014). Are severe depressive symptoms associated with infertility-related distress in individuals and their partners?. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 29(1), 76–82. https://doi.org/10.1093/
    humrep/det412
  7. Sax, M. R., & Lawson, A. K. (2022). Emotional Support for Infertility Patients: Integrating Mental Health Professionals in the Fertility Care Team. Women, 2(1), 68–75. https://doi.org/10.3390/women2010008
  8. Sheikh (2021). Infertility – infertility. PoemHunter.com. Retrieved from https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/infertility-1/
  9. Ulrich, M., & Weatherall, A. (2000). Motherhood and Infertility: Viewing Motherhood through the Lens of Infertility. Feminism & Psychology, 10(3), 323–336. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959353500010003003
  10. Volgsten, H., Skoog Svanberg, A., Ekselius, L., Lundkvist, O., & Sundström Poromaa, I. (2010). Risk factors for psychiatric disorders in infertile women and men undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment. Fertility and sterility, 93(4), 1088–1096. https://doi.org/
    1016/j.fertnstert.2008.11.008
  11. World Health Organization. (2023). Infertility. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/infertility#tab=tab_1

 

 

Rebranding Patriarchy: The Divine Feminine

Rebranding Patriarchy: The Divine Feminine
By Malak Mansour – Senior Editor

Internet trends that originate from and are propagated by social media have always been an indicator of the current cultural zeitgeist. To analyze and critique these trends, it’s critical to understand that dismissing such internet phenomena as simply trends that rise and fall can be reductionist. Trends mostly related to aesthetics eventually coincide with and mold the consumer’s identity. As such, consumerist culture leads to the conflation of what we want with who we are, or at least, whom we should strive to be. With every post, trend, or overnight ‘micro-celebrity’, one wonders how our online behavior is going to reflect in our offline social interactions. One way we can visualize this manifestation is through the field of aesthetics, especially when it comes to those who identify as women or have been socialized as one. Aesthetics have never been constant throughout eras and the platonic ideal of what is beautiful is quite turbulent. Aesthetics are propagated throughout younger generations by selling the idea of individualism and uniqueness. It is the idea that everyone is living unique, independent, and never-seen-before lives, which might sound appealing at first sight but is false, and to take it a step further, alienating.

Women online have seen it all: clean girl aesthetic, cottage-core, dark feminine energy, e-girl aesthetic, it-girl aesthetic, trad wives, light or dark academia aesthetic, and more oddly specific derivatives of femininity that are niche enough to grant a false sense of individuality and differentiation. Maybe you are in your Fleabag era or in your manic pixie dream girl era, whichever you feel like you relate to the most for the month. However, these aesthetics are not restricted to what you wear or how you present yourself but extend deeper into your lifestyle, emotions, and thoughts. Nuance and complex personhood are reduced to identity labels that are mass-produced via viral trends, so you are another Type of Girl. One interesting manifestation of this internet phenomenon is the Divine Feminine aesthetic; a vaguely feminist way (at best) of reclaiming traditional femininity but in a cool girlboss-it’s-my-choice way, not in a misogynistic and patriarchal way, of course.

The divine feminine is the feminine counterpart to the traditional patriarchal figure. The person who embodies the divine feminine is in touch with their femininity or ‘inner goddess’, which is to say that there’s a spiritual aspect to it as well. The aesthetic encourages being in touch with nature and routinely practicing self-care. On the surface, these preaches are quite helpful; there can’t be downsides to taking care of yourself. While this is true, it takes a few minutes of watching ‘how to tap into your divine femininity’ videos to realize that the philosophy of the aesthetic is simply re-packaged gender roles. When you are nurturing, giving, and receiving love and affection, and being understanding you are radiating feminine energy, and when you’re being productive, chasing goals, and being assertive then you are tapping into your masculine energy. But the divine feminine is not just adopting certain behaviors or principles, it can also be largely consumerist because it is based on aspirational beauty, which can never be fully attainable. It heavily relies on how you present yourself aesthetically i.e., what is considered beautiful. Not shockingly, the idea of beauty is parallel if not congruent to what traditional feminine beauty is: no wrinkles, clear skin, hourglass figure, voluminous hair, and so on. Below is a collage of some screenshots from TikTok videos that include #feminine, #feminineenergy, or #divinefeminine as hashtags. The videos allude to womanly hygiene (which includes manicures and shaping eyebrows), being a high-value woman, how to prevent smile lines, wrinkles, crow’s feet, and other natural signs of aging or having a different body type.

 

For feminist activists that have been involved in the movement for a while, especially during the early 2010s, all the strides that have been taken to challenge and deconstruct such beauty standards and ideals of femininity have been revoked, which can be exhausting and tiring to see. The aesthetics of the divine feminine have been preached and encouraged for decades, especially regarding the fact that the standards remain Eurocentric! Moreover, if we were to deconstruct it from a class point of view, much of what is practiced can be financially inaccessible. Maintenance of feminine beauty is costly, and the heads of beauty corporations will be proponents and advocates for such movements if it means more supply and thus, more profit.

At the fundamentals of such trends, we keep going back to the same concept: an obsession with beauty. Adopting archetypes and aesthetics signifies an inability to exist outside of performance, and we end up handicapped by how we are perceived, what other people think of us, and what we hope to embody. We commodify ourselves to appeal to the constant surveillance of beauty and to a perceived audience. What is really required of us is to engage mindfully, actively, and critically with what we choose to consume. Choosing to express a curated aesthetic is really a personal choice, and it can be a fun one as well. But allowing trends to consume us and affect our self-esteem is dangerous because if there’s one thing the internet has taught us, it is that trends are ephemeral, but can greatly affect our identities. Engaging in aesthetics and beauty is not only inevitable but also natural. We connect with and are attracted to what we think is beautiful because it’s indulgent and surrounds us naturally. The problem becomes attributing beauty with morality i.e., what is good and bad. Aesthetic trends seem motivating because they are what drive us to take care of ourselves and to feel better, but they are detrimental in the long run because we never will attain them given that we are complex individuals, and not a carefully curated Pinterest board of idealized images.

 

References:

  1. ‘Our Obsession with Beauty is Dystopian’ https://youtu.be/55MshtmGsP0
  2. ‘Social Media’s Obsession with Aesthetics and Curated Identities’ https://youtu.be/31NDzvFtNnI
  3. ‘Gender Performativity and the Surveillance of Womanhood’ https://youtu.be/clt3Nj6dHwk
  4. ‘Being a queen is your birthright’ https://youtu.be/t9506JGYNDs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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