I want to start out by saying to my daughter that I love you and you have a very special place in my heart separate and special from your brothers place.
Tomorrow is Tariq’s 33rdbirthday if he had been alive. I have tried not to think in numbers so far but his 13thdeath anniversary and 33rdbirthday have been hard for me to ignore, and the remembrance of the nine months and few days that I carried him kicks in with a clarity as if it was yesterday.
I am on the bus from Fez to Marrakesh and Sheikh Mohsen is talking about the five lives of man. I am alerted when he talks about the life within the womb. He talks about the duty of the men in the family to protect the mother from sadness, anxiety, worry and cruelty mental or physical.
On the bumpy eight hour ride with the illuminating and engaging presence of Sheikh Mohsen talking about the five lives of man I am cast into the memory of the days when I carried Tariq.
I am in Germany at the faculty dinner for the World Federation of Neurology and have just finished presenting the largest study on the ultrasound findings in the brain of neonates with brain injury.
I am literally being mobbed by a throng of senior and junior faculty from many different countries they all want to know more details of my presentation.
I am eight months pregnant with Tariq and have a two year old daughter and physician husband accompanying me to this Conference. We plan to go to Pakistan after the Conference.
I try to introduce the mobbing physicians to my husband before dinner . They politely turn to him and shake his hand and say: “how do you do?” and ask him “And what is your specialty” when he responds “family medicine” they would lose interest and return back to me with a hundred technical and clinical questions regarding my research paper. I am non plussed I never thought the paper was a big deal when I was doing the research but apparently it was because it had not been described before I had sent the abstract.
Much later my husband tells me that he is no longer going to accompany me on my lecture visits to exotic locales even though they may be fully paid because:”………. I don’t want to babysit in a hotel room” and that was the last time he came to a meeting where I presented or presided at any of the 32 countries where I was invited.
Some one at the meeting remarked that my hair was beautiful and it was, glistening with the glow of pregnancy , health and happiness. All was good in my world at that time and I seemed to have gotten over earlier disappointments.
The disappointments had started earlier in my pregnancy. Soon after I found out that I was expecting a baby I let my academic bosses know the due date and they were reassuring regarding coverage and told me not to worry.
I was into the middle of my pregnancy when I discovered a vascular abnormality on ultrasound in kids with a certain brand of Anemia. I wrote up a grant proposal attached some photos and sent it to the major group that was applying for a multimillion dollar grant for the study and care of those anemic patients. They were extremely excited and invited me to present the findings to the Primary Investigator and his team.
At this time my bosses called me in and asked me to hand my photos and write up to a new and fledging physician that I had trained in ultrasound. “Why” I asked “because you may not be here when the grant has to go in” i.e. I would be in the last days of my pregnancy and may deliver prematurely etc.
I was appalled, and insisted that I wanted to present but was met with a stone wall. As it so happened the larger research group sent the fledging doctor back saying that he had no credentials in the area of expertise.
My husband was supportive of me and soothed me out of the anger and disappointment at being shortchanged academically and my pregnancy was going well.
Some times male egos do not allow a wrong to be righted thus I never got
to present and my name though was on the grant to give credibility but I
had no decision making power nor was I at the receiving end of any
grant dollars. I was extremely frustrated at being marginalized and as
most women when they are marginalized I became aggressive but
to no avail.
Sometimes Allah sends you signs to get you out of a toxic swamp but those of us who have the hard workers ethics of immigrants do not see the signals. we have been brought up to believe that if we work a little more harder we can achieve what we need to achieve and overcome the obstacles, and thus did I.
After Germany I used my vacation time to go to Pakistan. My bosses said that you will not be allowed to fly and discouraged me from going but my Obstetric Doctor declared that I was fit as a fiddle to fly eight months pregnant, so I did.
Through out while I carried Tariq I did pregnancy aerobics, I ate healthy food and was generally happy except when I was in the academic toxic waste that I seemed to be stuck in.
In Pakistan my sister in law from my third brother was also expecting and it was a girl Laila who was born a few weeks before Tariq. She later arrived in the US to study but that is pretty much where the relationship ended as on Tariq’s death I never got a condolence call or note from her nor a visit since then. When a great Personal tragedy strikes the wheat is sifted from the chaff and people including blood relations fall into those who care and those who don’t. It is only the call for Sila Rahmi in the Quran that prompts me to continue this one way street of caring, otherwise it is enough to call it a day for many whom I considered close but turned out they were not.
Thus in the final analysis the only one you call is your Creator for it is only He who is available at all times and can put the hand of solace on the burning face of your grief.
After Germany and Pakistan we returned to Georgia where I got the next surprise. Before I had left for Germany and my vacation in Pakistan I had confirmed that I would be getting six weeks of paid pregnancy leave and all the powers to be had confirmed it also.
When I sent out an email outlining who would cover my three areas of expertise as no one person was qualified in the three hats I wore in academia, I got a disturbing email stating that I had already used up my vacation and therefore would not be getting any paid pregnancy leave.
I then asked for unpaid leave but they said then I would lose my health insurance, which I was going to need for my delivery especially if something untoward happened. I told them that I would then go on my husbands insurance who was also on the faculty.
A sheepish look crossed the face of the manager and he told me that my husband was actually on my insurance and if I resigned or went on unpaid leave we would both be without health insurance.
I spoke with the Dean and he asked me to find a precedence of a faculty member who had delivered a baby and had been given paid pregnancy leave with all benefits intact.
I researched the faculty of the medical school, the Dentistry School, the Allied Health school and the non medical University itself and found one African American female who had saved vacation for three years to use as pregnancy leave.
It floored me to realize that in this vast academic institution of Medicine, Dentistry, Allied Health, and Non medical faculties there was not a single woman of childbearing age who was on the faculty and had delivered a baby.
The mothers were missing from this entire Southern institution of caring.
Thus I and my baby Tariq were a huge challenge to the entire institution as I was an unapologetic immigrant, a woman of color and an academician with credentials of international acclaim and was arousing uncomfortable questions.
I opened the faculty handbook which I had never felt the need to read even at signing my faculty contract. It had no provisions for childbearing, or child rearing. it was not only I who had been marginalized because of my triple whammy of being an immigrant, colored and a woman, but every woman who could bear a child did not exist in the faculty handbook as a mother.
Tariq was born healthy and beautiful with hazel green eyes and a mop of pitch dark black hair, and brought great joy to everyone he touched with his voice, persona and humor.
It took me two more years for me to realize that I was in a swamp and the reason I could not breathe was not because I was not productive enough with all the books, chapters and articles I had published but because I was in a swamp and one cannot flourish in a toxic swamp.
Eventually I resigned from Academia and went private. Suddenly I had oodles of time for my children and the ability to travel to overnight field trips, while making more money in my part time specialty practice than I was being paid as a faculty member. However I was severely criticized because of my limited hours and comments were circulated that perhaps I was not “serious” about my profession etc etc etc.
Allah Subhanawataala knew that my days with Tariq were numbered and he was releasing me from other responsibilities slowly and surely and giving me time to store the memories in my data bank for nineteen years to be drawn and savored for God only knows how long……….
May Allah have mercy and solace on all the mothers who carry their children in their wombs with love and kindness and who refuse to live in the swamp.