Plaza Voices: Cultural Expectations--Let's Talk About Babies

Our regular contributor Naghem S. writes:

I believe in sharing stories, because many people have similar experiences. This next story will get personal about a difficult subject that affects millions of couples worldwide: fertility. 

I consider myself a religious person, but recently I have found myself limiting my visits to the mosque. The cultural environment is draining. Imagine having an overbearing aunt or older sister. Now multiple that by 100. My stress level goes through the roof because every single one of these ladies (whom I actually call "auntie" as a sign of respect) has a piece of wisdom for me. But recently it seems more like criticism.

At first it started out with simple questions, like:

“Are you interested in anyone?”

“Have you thought of what you are going to do now that you’ve finished school?”

But the questions slowly evolved into something completely different.

“You’re 23, right? When are you getting married?”

“I love you like a sister, so I feel like I have tell you this. You aren’t getting younger. You have to get married.”

Within a month of my getting married (not because of their insistence, mind you, but because I fell in love with an amazing person) the questions became invasive: 

“Are you pregnant yet?”

“When are you having a baby?”

“You work too much, that’s why you’re not pregnant yet.”

“You are too skinny and weak which is why your body can’t grow a baby.”

I usually take these comments with a grain of salt. Culturally speaking, these women aren’t out of bounds. Because we have such a small Iraqi community here in Denver, everyone knows each other’s business. I complain to my mother and she doesn’t understand. She always tells me that these ladies mean well and they are just worried about me. I ask myself, if I had lived in Iraq without ever coming to the United States, would I even be bothered by these questions? Maybe I would be the one asking a friend why she isn’t pregnant yet. I wonder if  my “hybrid status” is effecting me negatively, not letting me connect with my native culture.  

I love the freedom of identifying with more than one culture. I love being able to borrow skills and attributes and use them as I see fit. Usually I can flawlessly change masks when navigating these cultures. I know what is appropriate to say in different settings and I know when to shut up. 

But the baby topic is tough for me. I never thought that my husband and I would have a hard time conceiving. After endless hours of research, I have come to find that infertility isn’t as uncommon as I once thought. Over six million American couples experience infertility. And many insurance companies don’t cover treatment, so it becomes very expensive for couples who need help conceiving.   

Infertility is a sensitive topic, and it seems that very few people talk about it in a way that is helpful. Speaking from personal experience, infertility can be depressing and isolating. The approach my culture takes is to talk things through, while praying for the best and going to the doctor. The problem is that some women take it too far. They lay blame on me and my lifestyle because it’s somewhat foreign to them. I have talked to friends from all over the world, and many of them are going through the same thing. 

I’m not discouraging talking about infertility. I’m just cautioning people to be aware of cultural expectations and how they might affect others. And if someone's expectations are bringing you down, speak up for yourself. Celebrating your culture doesn’t always translate to being quiet and letting people walk all over you. Speak your mind, and celebrate who you are.

Books I would recommend about infertility:

It Starts with the Egg
Taking Charge of Your Fertility 
The Fertility Diet   

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Amma R. on October 11, 2017


Josh @ GVR on October 13, 2017


Amazing blog as always. I know all too well the cultural hybridity to which Naghem refers.