This Ramadan, as I embarked on the return to salat in earnest as I discussed before, I knew that it would become a fixture because of this moment, and all of the moments left to come.
We decided to officially start trying to conceive two months ago.
For us, the decision was marked with affection, anticipation, furtive excitement…and fear. I’m a physician who attends deliveries. I follow women from preconception visits to their deliveries to their well child visits thereafter. I’ve seen almost everything that can go wrong at every step of the way: infertility, miscarriages, molar pregnancies, complications and illness, fetal demise, catastrophic birth defects, extreme prematurity…alhamdulillah, I’ve never seen stillbirth, maternal mortality or witnessed the death of a newborn. As I begin every patient visit with an intention and a “bismillah,” so do I every delivery I attend.
There have been bad outcomes, but thankfully, and again, by God’s grace, no deaths of either mother at baby at the moment of delivery.
So at every stage of family planning for us, I experience a twinge of fear. When we first started trying, for example, I feared that maybe I did not inherit my maternal family’s fertility. My maternal grandmother had 11 pregnancies and 10 children, but she also wasn’t able to bear children anymore at 35 years old. I am in my 30s, and I have been menstruating for the last 21 years. Had I used up all of my eggs? Did I have primary ovarian failure? Did I have large fibroids obstructing my fallopian tubes and otherwise preventing implantation?
Not to mention male factor. I know that at least 20% of fertility issues couples face are attributable to male fertility, and another good percentage is attributable to reproductive compatibility of the couple. My husband is older. Was he not producing as many (quality) sperm? Were his boys less healthy? Would my body be allergic to them and reject them instead of allowing them to fertilize my ovum?
Ramadan and the eve of us beginning to try to conceive was the perfect time for me to learn how to submit. At my rug and bowing in prayer, I forced those fears to sit to the side for a time, sought connection with my Creator, and saved them for the end once the connection was forged. And I prayed. I prayed for everything we want in this process, and everything I want.
I read once somewhere that all prayers are answered during Ramadan. This was always a bit off-putting for me, because I believe that all prayers are always answered–the answer is just not always what we request.
For example, when I prayed at 13 to meet my childhood crush again when we turned 20 so that I would know whether or not we were meant for each other, and I did, indeed, meet him again 7 years later…and he was not the business…that was an answer to a prayer, but not what I expected.
In another instance, I prayed and prayed that I would get to marry my college unrequited love interest, until, after it seemed those prayers went no where, I finally prayed that he end up with who is best for him, even if it weren’t me. He thereafter married his wife. Over 10 years later, I’m still learning all of the ways that prayer was answered, actually. I didn’t want to marry that man. I thought I did. I wanted to marry who I believed he was and who I believed he would be for me. I was naive. God knew.
Regardless, at first I believed in my heart that if I supplicated during Ramadan, returning to the prayer rug like a prodigal child to her childhood bed, and Ramadan being the month of blessings, my prayer to conceive right away would be answered, right then and there. The time for my period would come and go, and my husband and I would be expecting the healthy child we prayed for after just one month of trying.
We went on our honeymoon after Ramadan. I was excited. As the plane lifted off for our destination, I felt a bit more motion sickness than before. I convinced myself that my bust had increased in size. We were walking together, hand-in-hand, in the heat of the day and my period was a day late and I thought, this is it, alhamdulillah.
I saw the first drops of blood that afternoon. I didn’t fret at first, thinking that it could be post implantation bleeding. Nope. Aunt Flo released herself in all of her glory moments later. The pregnancy test I took 3 days before my period was right. I was not pregnant.
That was a moment of test. But hadn’t I prayed to get pregnant the month of Ramadan? Hadn’t I used my period app, calculated my probable date of ovulation using cervical position, mucus, basal body temperature and a chart of my cycles from the last 9 months? Hadn’t I timed things just so and covered it in prayers and fasting?
As I prayed during Ramadan to conceive, I thought I would be devastated. I wasn’t. I began to prepare for it when the pregnancy test was at first negative three days before my missed period. I told myself I’d wait until the return from our honeymoon to perform the test again. I didn’t need to.
I could have harped on the reasons why. Had I not consumed enough calories during the month of Ramadan and had that reduced my fertility? Was it due to the fact that my relating to my husband was confined to a finite time in which fast was broken? Was a supplement that had caused me endometrial thinning on its withdrawal the issue? Was either of our fertility to blame?
It’s funny, but even as a doctor who knows that a woman my age has a 20% chance of conceiving each month, I still have these anxieties.
But I didn’t dwell on these things. I didn’t lose faith in prayer, nor disbelieve in the blessings of Ramadan. I just reminded myself of my surrender, the definition of my religion, my submission. Maybe I wasn’t pregnant by the end of Ramadan, but maybe I still would be soon–in essence, my prayer was not unanswered.
I then became less specific, at least in terms of time, recognizing that pregnancy would come to us in due time, in God’s time. I submitted to that.
The next month, last month, I was much more relaxed. I casually observed cervical mucus and basal body temperature to approximate ovulation, but could not be bothered with tracking early pregnancy symptoms or cervical position like I had been the previous month. As it happened, we had guests on the days immediately surrounding my suspected ovulation, and as a gracious host, I did not subject my guests to the sounds of their hosts’ baby-making, so we deferred. I figured that this last month was a bust, but my fertile days would fall on more fortuitous days the following month.
Maybe we’d try on each of my fertile days that month, if we were anxious. My husband even joked that perhaps “his boys” weren’t up to the job.
And then, the day of my next period came and went. I was all prepared with my period paraphernalia, and I was eluded. I was feeling cramps just like my period was about to start, but waves of dizziness and fatigue. It was stronger than last time. I wanted to wait until my period was a week late (now) to test again, but the anticipation got to me. My home pregnancy test was positive three days after my missed period. I could tell my husband what what I had practiced saying in his native language a month earlier–I’m pregnant.
I calmed myself, I submitted, and I have gotten to this juncture. But this is only the beginning of surrender. I am a little under 5 weeks pregnant right now. Before me I face the possibilities of miscarriage, tubal or molar pregnancy and birth defects. I pray that these do not happen, of course, fervently so. As a physician who does prenatal care, I know the very specific things that go wrong to pray against. I surrender to whatever the pregnancy outcome is, but I certainly do pray that it is safe, comfortable and healthy for me and our seed come to fruition.
I used to say that the process of me finding someone and marrying would be the defining event in my faith. I was so nearsighted. There is so much more life to live. This whole process of childbearing will be the first test of my nascent surrender.