War and Motherhood
Shahrzad Mojab, Iran/Canada
June 11, 2003
My son was born in December12, 1981 in Shiraz, Iran, during the second year of the Iran-Iraq war. I was born in Shiraz too, a city known for its poetic, peaceful way of life. Even during the Mongol conquest of the thirteenth century there was no massacre here.
During the Iraq-Iran war, all of the city’s facilities were at the service of war, especially the hospitals—the casualties of war were very high. It was as though the city was under occupation by the Iranian army, and this made life even more difficult for anti-war activists like me. We who argued that this was a US-made war, a war against the peoples of Iran and Iraq alike.
A day before the birth of my son, a young woman committed suicide by blowing up herself and the notorious Friday Imam, the main representative in Shiraz of the new theocracy. She left behind a suicide note vowing the people will avenge the misery which the government had caused to descend upon them. When I read about the suicide note, I felt something inside me break loose. Early the next morning, I admitted myself to the hospital.
t was under these conditions that I entered the hospital in order to give birth to my first child. The hospital rooms were packed with wounded soldiers and their relatives, and police. The police were monitoring the emotional reaction of family members; even while mourning the death of loved ones, no one was allowed to criticize the war. A small corner of the hospital was left for emergencies not related to war, such as giving birth. No supplies were provided; patients were told to bring their own, and extra supplies as a contribution to the war. As I waited, I could hear the nurses yelling at women to hurry up so they could attend to the soldiers. I heard a nurse scolding an anguished woman for the immorality of giving birth at a time of war.
I was scared of the unknown of giving birth. And I was terrified of the police—of being identified, of being arrested.
After a few hours, I gave birth to my premature son. I only remember the coldness of the room and my request for a glass of hot water. The nurse told me, "You will be served at dinner time," which was four hours away. They had to serve the wounded soldiers first. I wrapped my arms around myself. I felt injured and ashamed, I felt guilty. The nurse came back a few minutes later with a bundle in her arm and said, ‘Here is your son.’
A rush of horror warmed my body. Wrapped in a worn, grayish cloth, my unwashed son did not look like a baby. From down the corridor I heard the moaning of a mother who had lost her wounded son. I told myself, ‘I am a mother now, and what a tyranny!’
My son was one year old when my husband and I decided to leave Iran. We were being hunted by the Islamic Government of Iran. The Iran-Iraq war raged on as we escaped through the borders of Pakistan. During the border crossing, we were in a road accident. Our only bag was destroyed, with our son’s formula in it. He cried for his bottle until there was no energy left in his little body. It was at that time that he decided to accept whatever food we could offer him. Weeks later, arriving in a city at the border of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, we went to a pharmacy and got him exactly the same formula, but he refused it forever. This is how he was weaned from his bottle.
Today, it is more than twenty years that I have been living in exile. In the last two decades I have witnessed the rise and fall of one of the greatest revolutions of modern history. I took part in one of the longest nationalist movements, the struggle of the Kurds for an independent homeland. I married, became a mother, became a university professor, and remained an activist. It is another war, in the same region, that evokes these memories in me. A couple of days ago a friend told me that in Iraq pregnant women in their last weeks are rushing to hospitals to induce their babies before the war begins.
The war has never stopped for me; these modern wars continue—these wars of empire, capital and patriarchy.
Shahrzad Mojab is an academic-activist and writer who teaches at the University of Toronto.