Motherhood may be mostly behind me now, but the subject still has the power at times to make me want to weep. Newsweek has a story about the effects of childlessness on women in other countries, particularly the Third World:
“It is very, very difficult for people in the United States to deal with [infertility], and yet, when you go to other cultures, it’s even more devastating to people,” says Dr. David Adamson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and a board member of the International Federation of Fertility Societies. Worldwide, the World Health Organization says about one in 10 couples experiences difficulty conceiving a child at some point in their lives.
In some developing countries, the consequences of infertility—which can include ostracism, physical abuse and even suicide—are heartbreaking. “If you are infertile in some cultures, you are less than a dog,” says Willem Ombelet of the Genk Institute for Fertility Technology in Belgium. Women are often uneducated, so their only identity comes from being moms. “It [infertility] is an issue of profound human suffering, particularly for women,” says Marcia Inhorn, professor of anthropology and international affairs at Yale University. “It’s a human-rights issue.”
The article reports that many infertile women in poor nations are shunned and banned from gatherings where they might “spread” their “affliction,” and even if the husband is the one who is infertile, the woman usually accepts the blame — and the ostracism. And, of course, Third World women have few recourses in treating infertility, which often has life-long consequences, since elderly childless women have no one to care for them and few other resources. Says Newsweek:
In the Hindu religion, a woman without a child, particularly a son, can’t go to heaven. Sons perform death rituals. Infertile couples worry that without a child, who will mourn for them and bury them? In China and Vietnam, the traditional belief is that the souls of childless people can’t easily rest. In India, the eldest son traditionally lights the funeral pyre. In Muslim cultures, the stigma follows childless women even after death: women without children aren’t always allowed to be buried in graveyards or sacred grounds
This article reminded me of the moment years ago when I stumbled across a little story in Time Magazine that reported on the estimated tens — and maybe hundreds — of millions of “missing” women in Middle and Far East populations due to abortion, infanticide and “honor” killings. I read and reread the article to make sure I wasn’t mistaking it. It was jaw-dropping.
What does one DO with information like that? I’m tired of being helplessly horrified by what I can’t fix or help. I’ve tried to teach my sons to respect and value women. I go out of my way to empower my female friends. I speak up for myself in the face of sexism and, when I can, for women who can’t. But, in the face of such monstrous discrimination and hatred, it seems so little.
That American culture could create a climate where Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin can be taken seriously should be seen as a victory, I suppose. But maybe the status quo is still just messin’ with us.