On the eve of July 23 2013, I lost my first pregnancy.
I had been married for three months and 19 days on that day, and only nine weeks on with a baby that was never meant to be. I stayed at the hospital overnight and was discharged the next day with no special recommendations and a minimal amount of medications, really only a couple of vitamins and iron pills.
Physically, I felt fine, in fact, exactly the same as before. I could walk perfectly and do all sorts of activities that any normal 23-year-old girl could.
I was OK.
Except for the big, empty hole in my heart.
Before that incident, I had always taken pregnancy and birth as a fairly ordinary thing; something that happens to every normal couple, something so commonplace that we hardly even acknowledge it for the miracle it is.
The very few, childless couples I know are discussed in hushed tones at family gatherings, with every self-important aunty of the family speculating the 'actual cause' behind the childlessness, as if it is the couple who are somehow responsible for their predicament.
Merely four months into my marriage, I was carrying the stigma of a miscarriage like a black mark on my forehead. The same self-important aunties of the family took it upon themselves to investigate the cause of this unfortunate incident.
"Was it something you ate? Probably something with a 'garam taseer'." (To this day, this concept of thanda and garam foods preventing and causing miscarriages eludes me. What are these foods, anyway?)
"You must have lifted something heavy."
"That job of yours! You work 10 hours a day! How can a baby survive in such a hectic routine?" (As if I worked at the flour mill and not at a hospital as a pharmacist.)
There were countless other supposedly sympathetic remarks and inquiries that failed to hide the fact that in the eyes of society, I was to blame for my miscarriage.
The remarks about how childbearing and rearing is the most important thing in life, the pinnacle of womanhood, the raison d'être of the female gender; all wrapped up in a thinly veiled tone of accusation that sent me into a merciless bout of depression.
It came to a point where all I could think about was the miscarriage.
And how could I not when a certain aunty of the family called me almost every day to ask when I was planning the next pregnancy?
My top 10 searches on Google were along the lines of ‘healthy pregnancy after miscarraige’, and ‘causes of miscarriages’.
I was depressed, and obssessed, to the point of ignoring everyone around me and neglecting my job. I started blaming myself and my job. Never mind that the doctor told me, ‘These things happen and are very common.’
How could something like a miscarriage be ‘very common’ when I seemed to be the only person in my family who had had one?
My husband – the only voice of reason that my depression-mangled brain processed in that period – tried in every way to be my strength, to make me understand that it wasn’t my fault and this will not be my destiny. God bless him, he was my only solace at that time. He brought me out of my state slowly and methodically, until I started to feel normal again, and began to speak about the miscarriage without feeling ashamed or guilty.
And that’s when everything changed.
Colleagues, classmates and even family members came forward with their own stories of miscarriages and how they suffered, how far along they were in getting over it and how much time it took them to have a subsequent successful pregnancy.
Suddenly, my doctor’s words about the frequency of miscarriages stopped sounding like a myth. I found solace in the fact that everyone with this shared experience went on to have multiple children afterwards.
Finally, the black hole in my heart had begun to shrink.
In this day and age, where talk of female empowerment is all the rage, our society needs to sort out its priorities, weed out antiquated values and beliefs to replace them with tolerance and understanding.
A woman is not to blame if she miscarries. She is not to blame if she is childless and she is not to blame if she chooses to remain childless.
I feel empowerment is not about being accepted by men as equals.
I often ask ladies who seek empowerment: Do you consider your fellow females to be your equal? Do you have it in you to accept them for who they are, to tolerate their choices, to empathise with their unique situation and not judge them?
And what I understand from those interactions is that the women of our society need to be liberated first ... from themselves.