“It’s a girl,” the doctor said and a horror ran through the mother’s body; deep grief showed on her face like the world had ended, the same feeling as you get when you’re waiting for your kankoor exam result and you find out that you have failed.
The mother started crying. “Again I have a girl. How am I going to face my husband and his family and society?” She hated her baby. Her eyes were filled with tears—tears of sorrow and regret. The baby had brought misfortune and tragedy.
The baby was lying there like a little angel, like a snow peak, soft as silk, her eyes closed. Unlike all the other newborn babies, she wasn’t crying or asking for food. She was silent and calm as if she already knew what life had planned for her. She seemed to already know that there were so many challenges waiting for her in life, starting the moment she was carried out the hospital door. She was special but in a different way; wrapped in her blanket, all I could see was her pale little face with her tiny cracked white lips. Her silence shouted that she didn’t want to live, that she had surrendered and didn’t want to fight. She wanted to go back where she came because her tiny shoulders and hands just didn’t have the strength to carry the load of being born a girl.
Lying next to her was my nephew. He seemed pretty confident because he was a boy and knew his value in Afghan society. He knew he was wanted and needed. You could already see the arrogance in his eyes as he looked around with his half-open eyes. Both babies had only been in the world a few minutes, but culture had already created the dividing wall between them. The baby girl was labeled a burden and garbage.
I thought mothers were the kindest creatures on earth: they stay up all night so their babies can sleep in peace, but it was the other way around in this case. I went closer to this mother and asked her why are you so sad when you were supposed to be happy because you have a baby and she replied, “I can’t have another girl, I already have four and my husband warned me on our way to hospital that if I give birth to another girl he will throw me out of house along with my daughters.”
I said, “But she is such a cute and innocent baby. See, she isn’t even crying!” I got the most awful and cruelest reply, “Yeah, because she knows nobody cares if she cries.”
I stood there so stunned and so helpless. I felt so disgusted. I wanted to grab the baby and take her away, to share her grief and tell her that the society she is going to step into is filled with beasts and monsters who are not going to miss any chance to torture her, abuse her and violate her rights. I wanted to tell her that no matter how ugly this world is, she must suffer and struggle, but never give up. She must wipe her own tears and console her soul. She will have to fight for dignity, respect, education, and even meaningful work in this society.
The doctor came into the room and said to the mother, “Jamila, you can leave now. Your husband is waiting outside.” Jamila started moving like the loser on a battlefield. Her head was down and she looked defeated. No one even came to escort her out with her baby. Giving birth to babies seemed like an everyday task to Jamilla. She picked up her bag like nothing had happened, wrapped the baby in a blanket, and said goodbye.
My mother and I had spent the entire night in the hospital. The doctor came in and looked at my nephew and said he is a lucky baby to have been born a boy, but the other baby is the most unfortunate baby ever, because she is an unwanted girl and on top of that, she is disabled. The last sentence felt like a punch in my face. I asked what is wrong with her and the doctor said the baby’s right hand is paralyzed, but they did not tell the mother.
Life had played a good prank on that baby. Her entire life was right in front of my eyes: an unwanted baby with a disability, she would either die in early childhood because of no attention or some disease, or even if she does make it to live some years, she will eventually be sitting on a road side or knocking door-to-door begging for food in this extremist and fundamental society and someday in the crowd of life, where intact and full men can hardly make it ahead, she would get crushed under the feet of hustling society. All this for what? Just because she was born a girl!
I was born as a healthy baby and brought up in an open-minded family where everyone loved and supported me. But in this society most girls are deprived of their rights and thousands of girls are disabled from years of war, and I know what it feels like to be unwanted or disabled. It’s not hard at all to put myself in their shoes. So when I saw this little baby girl in the hospital, I became her for a second and anticipated what troubles are waiting ahead of her.
In an Afghan society women are accused of being women, even though they were not asked what gender they wanted to be; they had no role in choosing their sex. Sometimes people say to me that I am just like a son to my father. I don’t take this as a compliment because I am proud of being a woman.
God created everyone equally. The Quran says there is a purpose behind every individual’s existence. This makes me confident and tells me that women are a crucial part of society. We are not created useless, and no matter how difficult it is, we have to fight all the challenges and prove to this male-dominant society that we play a big part in the future of our country.
If I ever have a daughter, even if she is disabled, I will tell her that before anything else, she is a human being. Being born as a girl makes her even more special and she should always be proud of who she is.
By Rabia A.
Photo by CBS.