On Being Childless in Syria

Here in Syria, life revolves around the family. You don't move out of the house until you get married, and even then, you probably just move upstairs. You might be as close to your cousins as you are to your own brothers and sisters. And in the evenings, it's not uncommon to see whole families out shopping together, even down to the youngest babe-in-arms.

In a place where married couples usually have a baby within a year, it's often awkward for my husband and me to explain our situation. We've been married for over three years and have yet to produce any offspring. To the Syrians, such a thing is nigh inexplicable. What's more, the topic is not so off-limits like it is in America. Questions about your personal life that would be considered very rude in the States are fair game here.

So for the last seven months, since being in Syria, we've experienced the following conversation time and time again with new acquaintances, co-workers, students, taxi drivers, and storekeepers:

STRANGER (to Jeremy, indicating me): So, is this your sister?
JEREMY: No, she's my wife.
STRANGER: Oh, you're married, how wonderful! Do you have any children?
JEREMY (sighing): No, not yet.
STRANGER (clearly expecting an answer of 'less than a year'): Oh, well how long have you been married?
JEREMY: A little over three years.
STRANGER (indignant): Why don't you want children???

Well, when I finally did get pregnant, I hoped we could at last gain favor in these people's eyes. My husband and I debated the wisdom of telling people that we were expecting so early in the pregnancy. But in Syria, the temptation to finally be able to say that YES, we do want children, and in fact, she's pregnant right NOW, was just too much to overcome. We found ourselves sharing the news with friends, local storekeepers, and students, just to lift the sanctions they had placed on us for our previous state of childlessness. What's amazing to me is how quickly they forgive us, and how genuinely happy they are for us. Syria is not the best place to be married and childless, but I think it's going to be a wonderful place to be pregnant.

Hafez Al-Assad - Over the Rainbow

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