Our Story

For Some Things There Are No Wrong Seasons

Hefting the damp fabric over the line taut across the balcony, I secure the freshly washed bedsheet the best I can with the clothespins between my teeth. Our landlord and his wife are down in the garden below. He’s tilling the dirt inside the perimeter of freshly laid pavers, preparing for a summer garden, while his wife watches him work a few paces back. No doubt she’s throwing a nagging comment or two his way.

Before moving to Turkey, I’d never hung clothes on a line. I was strictly a dryer girl back in the States, but dryers are hard to come by here. After years of living here, I still wonder if there’s some sort of unspoken rulebook for hanging laundry among the Turkish housewives. Is there an official way to hang bedsheets so they don’t flip over the line when a big gust of wind comes, twisting everything together? What’s the etiquette when said wind blows your pair of jeans off the line and they land on your neighbor’s balcony (something that may have happened to me more than once)? And what is supposed to be done with underwear? Are they ever clipped to the line? Where else do they go? Lord help me if one of them ever blows off onto my neighbor’s balcony.

“Many refugees got their flights scheduled yesterday,” Afshin says. He’s on the other end of the balcony, holding Esther as she waves to a passing police car. It’s a new skill she’s learned but she only really waves to cars and dogs. We always try to get outside for some fresh air in an attempt to squeak out a few more minutes before her morning nap. We’re under lockdown though, so the balcony will have to do.

I’m crossing my fingers the landlord’s wife doesn’t notice me three stories up as I struggle to clip the wet duvet to the clothesline, possibly breaking one of those unspoken rules. I can imagine her tut-tutting at the foreign girl who knows nothing about keeping a home. The duvet makes a loud snap in the morning wind as the bottom hits against the wall of our building.

It’s mid-May and already the dry, arid Middle Eastern heat has made its presence known. Our landlord’s grapevines are just beginning to produce small leaves and even smaller grapes, creeping along the backyard trellis. The kittens born from the mangy street cats are mewling; the line of fuzzy ducklings follows their mother. As if on a cue unbeknownst to me, all the neighbors lug out their heavy carpets, musty from the months inside, and beat out the dust with a sharp, solid crack of a wooden pole.

I don’t say anything to Afshin’s announcement about the refugees going because what is there to say, really? Desperate people are getting their tickets out of Turkey, in part thanks to Biden’s raising the refugee cap. And thank God for that. After years of living in precarious limbo and weathering four years of an anti-immigration administration, they can finally move on. Relief for them is coming. But, as things would have it, we’re still here.

I continue pinning pillowcases to the clothesline—easier than the duvet and easier than responding.

I read once that the feet of displaced people are shoved into cement shoes when they flee. That may sound like a paradox, but when one runs from the jaws of the shark of war, persecution, and violence, they soon become stuck in the nearest country. And they are forced to stay there until another, third country maybe accepts them. This can take years. Sometimes this never happens. The feet that carried them away from danger now glue them into a place of instability and uncertainty. It’s difficult for roots to grow in instability for the ground is never solid for those who flee.

It’s been seven years since my husband fled his home, running from the hands of the monster of a government, seven years of wearing cement shoes. It’s been seven years of watching the light of his dreams flicker as he finished his 20s and now approaches his mid-30s this summer.

We feel left behind, my husband, daughter, and me—even though two out of three of us are U.S. citizens. But we cannot move back home without breaking up our family. And so, the anxiety mounts as we watch those who came before us leave, watch as our community shifts and moves on, as others put their dreams into action, get to flourish, and grow. But we are here. We’re still here, balancing carefully on a tight rope with an ever-shifting endpoint up ahead.

Mary Oliver has a poem called “Hurricane” that pops into my head while clipping the sheets to the line. The poem is about how a hurricane left devastation in its wake, and yet, towards the end of the summer season, the trees that had been decimated began to grow and blossom. It was the wrong season, yes, / but they couldn’t stop.

“That’s a good thing,” I finally tell Afshin as I gather up the leftover clothespins after Esther had enthusiastically tipped over the container. She loves to dump anything and everything out of baskets these days. “It’s a good sign that refugees are getting their flights scheduled. Things are moving in the right direction.”

Our time hasn’t come yet. I wrestle with that grief now more than ever as we raise our daughter oceans away from family—not like I ever imagined. This hurricane has slammed into our life, cutting down our branches and assailing our plans. But maybe we are not behind, not just yet. Maybe new things are happening and growing but we just can’t see them. Maybe that fragile cable we are balancing on is leading us to hope. In fact, I know that to be true. Maybe we are measly little sticks right now but somewhere deep down, green is growing, waiting to burst forth.

The closing line of Mary Oliver’s poem goes like this: “For some things / there are no wrong seasons. / Which is what I dream of for me.” May this be a prayer for those who feel left behind, for those weathering hurricanes, for those in cement shoes, for us all.

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Our Story

Spring, Interrupted

Our town has a weekly outdoor market for locals to buy fruits and vegetables. Every Friday morning, trucks full of fresh produce back into an empty parking lot and vendors begin unpacking their inventory. Once set up, there are sections for endless fruits and veggies but also areas for spices, nuts, cheese, butter, eggs, and olives, and a place for clothing and household items that spills out onto the surrounding streets. At the busiest of times, shopping at the bazaar is loud, crowded, and chaotic. It’s not unusual to hear an amusing “HEY-LADY-HEY-LADY-HEY-LADY” shouted from the vendors trying to entice buyers with their products for a good price.

This past year, in an effort to keep Esther and me safe and healthy, I’ve stayed home from shopping at the bazaar. Instead, Afshin goes, carrying with him a collaborative grocery list written in both English and Farsi.

He comes into the kitchen armed with bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and apples, and hands me a coffee. Fridays are also the last day we can be out of the house until Monday because Turkey is back under weekend lockdowns. To help quell the sting of the approaching lockdown, he’s gotten into the habit of swinging by Starbucks each week after grocery shopping—a custom I am 100% okay with.

I start putting away the produce and rinse some of the herbs in the sink. Afshin begins making a Persian omelet for an early lunch with eggs from our neighbor’s chickens. The omelet is more like scrambled eggs but made with tomato sauce and cumin and served with crusty flatbread from the neighborhood bakery.

Lest anyone thinks we live in a Martha Stewart catalog, the strange neighbor out our kitchen window is once again setting small fires to unidentifiable piles of trash around his driveway. Why he periodically does this? No one knows. And a mangy street dog is sniffing around the perimeters of our building, hoping in vain that Afshin will throw down a bone or two from last night’s dinner. Esther is asleep across the hallway, so we’re putting the food away in silence, moving slowly, and sending a dirty look when the other makes too loud of a noise. Quaint and rustic it is not always.

I give the herbs a final shake in the sink and place them in empty pickle jars filled with water. Stirring the sizzling eggs with a fork over the stove, Afshin says a snowstorm is on its way and will hit this weekend. I glance outside while rotating the jars so the old, worn-off labels face the window, trying to make the parsley and dill look like intentional bouquets of greenery. The neighbor has gone back inside, leaving behind small blackened piles of mysterious ash along the pavement.

Pink blossoms bloom on the branches of a spindly tree that had somehow made its way out of the dirt ridge in front of our home. No one specifically planted the tree at the location—a mound of sandy dirt fortifying the neighbor’s wall. But deep in the dirt the seeds germinated anyway and the roots grew.

It’s well into spring. The flowers are blooming. The temps are rising. The mourning dove in the evergreen laments. And now the snow is coming.

April showers bring May flowers, but what do April snowstorms bring?


Three years ago, Afshin decided to grow out his hair. I thought he was joking when he said he always wanted a ponytail but soon realized how committed he was to the growing out process. Ever a supportive spouse, I taught him how to use a hair tie (a skill I thought was innate in all of us but, boy, was I wrong), put his hair in a messy bun, and even how to french braid. But what started as a bucket list kind of thing—seeing how long his hair could grow—took on a deeper meaning.

In what I assume was a nod to the Old Testament, growing out his hair was a vow of some sort. And that once a visa was in hand, once God allowed the doors to open, once he could leave, only then would he shave his head.

Hair is a powerful thing. It’s something only the person it’s attached to can control—choosing how and when and why to cut or not to cut. This feels especially important now when the comfort of certainty and choice has been taken away. To be able to cut it once we were in the U.S. represented a dream, something for a time to come. It became a symbol of stepping out in faith, trusting that better things were ahead.

But the hair got heavy and too much to maintain. Showers took too long. And then there were the strands left all around the house. More than that though, the months rolled on and there was no visa or updates on our case. Emails to congresspeople and video calls with lawyers led to more dead ends. So, in a Samson-esque fashion, we buzzed off the long hair together.


I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mother now, but the impending snowstorm had me worried about the fragile pink blossoms on the trees, especially on that skinny tree growing out of the dirt hill. Will someone protect them? How will farmers fair with the late spring frost? Are they concerned, too?

This is maybe a little embarrassing to admit, but I spent nap time researching what happens to fruit trees when an unexpected freeze comes in the springtime. Hey, we were under a weekend lockdown and didn’t have much else going on. And did I mention I was worried about those tiny, baby blossoms?

So as the snow fell over the weekend, juxtaposing the fresh, green grass and the chirping of songbirds, I learned about spring freezes. The untimely dip in temperatures can kill the blossoms, much to my dismay, affecting fruit production.

I thought about the apricot trees growing on the side of our building and the cherry trees in the yard behind us and the retired couple who spends hours outside tending to their garden. The snow blew sideways Saturday and Sunday and the flakes gathered on the ends of tree branches. And I wondered if the blossoms would survive or if they’d die before they ever got a chance to produce fruit.


The same weekend we buzzed his hair, Esther began trying to pull herself up on the coffee table and the couch. Much to our excitement, our little potato (who’s rolled over exactly three times in her life) was finally becoming interested in exploring her surroundings.

Time staggered forward as she turned 10 months, soon to be a year—a whole year of her life in Turkey, still an ocean away from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins she’s never met. Life was growing here, but our dreams were dying. The hope of living together with our family felt like it was slipping further and further away.

We’ve had to bury a lot of dreams over the past several years. Some were big and some small, but losses nonetheless. For us, the last four years of our marriage are not how we imagined. It’s not how we would have written the story. We’ve had to get used to living in the infinite present. Today, then today, then today, never flipping the calendar to tomorrow.

We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t imagine it to be like this.

These strange days filled with uncertainty seem to echo the same sentiments of the unseasonably cold weather. Like a dam bursting, the sky broke open months after winter announced its goodbye, disrupting the order of things, tipping the balance. Winter screamed when spring should have been there breathing a steady sigh of relief.

Maybe that’s why I was so fixated on the blossoms surviving the spring freeze. Here was something beautiful growing, bringing forth the promise of fruit, of sustenance, of sunny days and life. Hope was blooming—until temperatures dipped below freezing until large flakes of snow blew sideways.


When Afshin cut his hair, it was the day before Easter, traditionally referred to as Holy Saturday on the liturgical calendar. It was the day after Christ’s death on the cross and the day before the stone rolled away and he stepped out of the tomb, alive.

I can imagine that particular day felt despairing and disorientating for Christ’s followers. Maybe it was heavy with stillness, questions, and waiting. Maybe it felt like all the hope that had been growing died right there on the cross. Maybe it felt as if life had been sucked away before it had a chance to grow.

These days feel a little like that, where there is no movement, no growth, no life. The fragility of hope has been interrupted by freezing temperatures, killing off any dream before it even has an opportunity to grow. Sometimes I wonder if losing a dream—something we never got a chance to have—stings more than if we’d had and then lost whatever it was we wanted.

But what I also learned while researching spring freezes over the weekend lockdown, is that healthy, well-established foliage can grow back. If roots are dug down deep enough, the tree has the strength to fight against the cold. It’s only a temporary setback. Once the snowstorm passes, the surviving blossoms will continue to grow and bear fruit in the coming weeks and months. Order will be restored. One needs only to wait.

On Holy Saturday, resurrection was at work and something glorious was happening, even when it was hidden. Now, we can only hope that underneath the brown mush and frozen branches, life is growing. Things are moving.

And rest assured, it’s still spring—and thank goodness for that. We need the spring.

Our Story

Rocking Chair Grief

“It’s because we don’t have a rocking chair,” I hiss at my husband, my voice coming out louder and meaner than I had intended. I turn my body away from him, declining any help to get our 7 month old back to sleep, the martyr complex in me going strong since 4:30 that morning. I’m fully aware the correlation doesn’t make any sense. The presence of a rocking chair next to her crib isn’t going to make her sleep perfectly through the night, but it’s the easiest and closest target for me to aim my frustration.

But not having a rocking chair is a symbol of the temporary state my husband, baby, and I are in. It’s a symbol of the things we’ve lost.

Since completing another (and hopefully final) security interview last fall, my husband’s immigration case has been pushed into something called “administrative processing”, a black hole for immigrants from banned countries listed under the Trump Administration’s travel ban. Between a plexiglass window, the officer sympathized but explained he had no control over the interview’s outcome. “It’s an order from Washington,” he had shrugged, pushing back our thick folder of official documents, wedding photos, and relationship affidavits while motioning for the next person in line.

As the swearing-in of a new administration inched closer, and with it, the promise of an immigration overhaul starting on day one, we continued to live in the short-term through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. It didn’t make sense to spend money on a new—and expensive and hard to find in Turkey—piece of furniture when, at any point, my husband may receive his visa to enter the U.S.

When we live in temporary permanence, it doesn’t make sense to buy a rocking chair or a bedside bassinet or deck out a nursery. It doesn’t make sense to spring for the fancy convertible car seat or to give the walls a fresh coat of paint. There’s the always-present possibility we’ll be leaving soon. Why waste the money now when we can use it in the U.S.? But as time marches forward and the calendar flips to another month and then another, we find ourselves wishing for that rocking chair, blaming the baby’s lack of sleep on its absence. It may seem like a silly thing to grieve over, but it highlights the things we’ve had to give up over the last four years.

There’s a term that’s been thrown around since entering into a worldwide pandemic called “ambiguous loss”, meaning any loss coming from an outside situation that is unclear and provides no closure. To varying degrees, we are all experiencing loss from the upset of what was once our regular routines. From the loss of jobs and loss of cultural celebrations and rituals to loss of relationships over politics and loss of dreams, we are all grappling with how to move forward when we are still in the middle of uncertainty. It is also important to note that for many of us, there is tangible loss as well. As the U.S. surpasses 400,000 COVID-19 deaths (my own family mourning the loss of a family member passing earlier this week), there is real grief to process. Like my husband’s immigration case, there is no finite ending to this, no timeline to follow.

One day short of a week into 2021, I looked at my phone to see a text from my mom telling me I should be watching the news right now. So we peeled ourselves out of bed, pushing the heavy quilt aside, and made our way to the living room, careful not to wake the baby who was (miraculously) sleeping deep that night. We scrolled our phones and looked on in horror as white supremacy stormed the Capitol. We were fearful but not shocked at the state of our country, sadden but not surprised at the state of the American church and its response.

Yesterday, over a carton of ice cream, we watched the Presidential Inauguration. I had apologized for my embarrassing outburst from earlier that morning, felt guilty for acting that way in front of our daughter, snuggled her for much longer than usual when putting her to bed, and curled up to my husband on the couch before diving into the pistachio ice cream. We woke up this morning with the news that the travel ban that was put into place four years ago was finally overturned. Many Iranians flooded the message boards with questions and speculations as to what will happen in the coming months. My husband and I speculate too. We allow ourselves to dream a little.

As a new president steps in, so many of us breathe a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps change is coming. Perhaps there is light. Perhaps there is hope.

When living in ambiguous grief, I don’t know what the proper ways are to deal with it. I’m sure there are articles and papers written by people much smarter than me that outline just that. If I had known we would still be living in Turkey after four years, I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. Maybe we would have bought a bassinet and the fancy car seat, but maybe not.

If you’re grappling with unnamed loss over this past year and feel like the world is on fire, then we are right there with you. Buy that rocking chair, or don’t. But all I can say is be sure to dive into a carton of ice cream and maybe not yell at your husband.

I’ll end with this lovely new year benediction from Author Sarah Bessey:

“May the God of compassion and open doors, be with us this coming year. 

Everything sad won’t come untrue this year and this year will hold its own tragedies and sorrows. We’ll relearn lament and fight for joy. May we show up with courage and faithfulness for our lives and our callings and our people. May we be restored and renewed even in exile. May the wilderness become our cathedral and our altar.

May we say good-bye to the things that do not serve us – the selfishness, the fear, the illusions of control, the bitterness, the doom-scrolling, the self-pity, the martyr complex, the us-and-them fire stokers – and say hello to wisdom, to kindness, to justice, curiosity, wonder, goodness, generosity, possibility, peace making. 

May we throw open the doors of our lives to the disruptive, wild, healing Holy Spirit. May this be a year of unclenched hands and new songs, of vaccines and reunions, of good food and some laughter, of kind endings and new beginnings. May we be given a mustard seed of faith, it will be enough to notice and name what you love in particular about your life as it stands. 

May 2021 bring you goodness and courage, hope and love, resilience and a hand to hold even on the nights with no stars”

Even when we find ourselves grieving over rocking chairs.

Photo by Elena Kloppenburg on Unsplash

Our Story, Uncategorized

Weary World Rejoice

This time of year the sun dawdles just below the horizon, drowsily rising at 8 AM. It hangs in the sky, yawning and stretching and covering itself with a blanket of clouds, its rays dim and hidden, only to slump below the horizon again at 5 PM.

An hour before the winter sunrise, I pad into the living room, the floor cool beneath my feet, fumbling for my slippers in the dark. There’s a baby on my hip and a portable space heater on the other. For the past week my daughter has consistently woken up past 7 AM (I’m totally jinxing this just by writing it out, I know), sleeping in for me but too early for the sun. Anxious for any semblance of a routine with a 6-month-old, I make it a point to plug in the Christmas tree lights first thing every morning. The string of lights illuminates the room, sending a smattering of colored circles across the walls. It’s quiet and dark in the house, and we watch the blinking tree for a while before I set her down on a quilt, plug in the heater, and start the coffee machine. Outside the streets are black and asleep. She coos into the silence.

2020 has stumbled forward at an awkward pace, vacillating between a dash and a drag. The last twelve months have brought up so much darkness bubbling just under the surface. No one has come out on the other side escaping cuts and bruises (some more than others). And in the nights that stretch longer and longer, minute by minute, the shortest day and longest night is fast approaching.

There’s a Persian holiday called Yalda Night (or Shab-e Cheleh), a celebration of the winter solstice on December 21st. Persians gather together, typically at the eldest family member’s home, once the sun sets, eating pomegranates, watermelon, and nuts, drinking tea, reading poems, and dancing into the early hours of the morning. It’s a way to pay tribute to the longest night of the year, knowing the next day will begin the slow walk to longer daylight—light’s victory over darkness.

In the Christian church, the liturgical season of Advent begins at the beginning of the month of December and ends on Christmas Eve. This time feels sacred because so much of it is steeped in waiting—something that has become so familiar to my family over the last few years. Advent is that messy and holy in-between where the night feels long and yet we know morning is coming.

In our little corner, grief and longing thread themselves among the holiday season. They do this time every year. My husband and I grieve over another year spent an ocean away from our families, raising a child in a place we did not choose. We long for my husband’s immigration process to move forward, the travel ban to be lifted. We find ourselves in the middle of the second wave of COVID restrictions in Turkey, with full weekend lockdowns, limited home gatherings, and daily curfews. We grieve over the sick and long for the health and safety of our friends and family. Layer upon layer of uncertainty cloaks our lives.

During the Christmas season, we wait for God made flesh, God who is already here. I also find myself waiting and hoping for peace and healing. I’d like to hope that as we enter a new year, we would begin again to welcome refugees and those fleeing their homes; we would extinguish the flames of racism and do the hard work of recognizing how white supremacy manifests in our own lives, acknowledging the ugly under belly of our nation; and we would listen and learn from marginalized communities and those who have felt unseen, unsafe, and unheard. I carry these prayers with me, for my own heart, into the coming new year—a clean slate, new mercies, a time to begin again.

So tomorrow, fresh after two days of complete lockdown, we will walk to my mother-in-law’s home down the road, carrying pomegranates and gifts. While COVID means our Christmas season will feel different, we look forward to introducing our daughter to Yalda Night, a pre-Christmas celebration, and hope for the day when all our family members can be together. We will celebrate the end of the lingering nights and welcome the start of longer, brighter days.

So, weary world, may we rejoice in a God who is familiar with the darkness and yet invites us and fills us with divine hope. Victory of light over darkness is coming. We know this because we know the end of the story. Let us come together this Christmas season, breathe a sigh of relief, and wait for the coming Light (and perhaps enjoy a pomegranate or two).

Photo by Pratiksha Mohanty on Unsplash

Our Story, Uncategorized

A Pandemic, a Travel Ban, an Overseas Birth Story

It’s 6 am and I’m already awake, laying on my side—the only position that feels half-way comfortable—when my water breaks. At least I think it’s my water. Truthfully, it feels like I peed my pants. There’s no poetic way to describe it. But something tells me this is not that, and I shift my weight slowly, like a turtle on its back, to look at my sleeping husband.

I lay like that for a while, letting the reality settle around me. The summer sun starts to filter in. A dog is barking somewhere in the neighborhood. But it’s eight days early, I think to myself. Everyone tells you you’ll go late with your first so I assumed I had more time. My mom is supposed to be here, is my second thought. She has all the swaddles, is my third. But she’s six thousand miles away and there are no flights because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and now we have no swaddles.

I silently rise from the bed and squeeze past the empty crib, making my way to the bathroom. No one tells you the water keeps coming, after you leave the bathroom, in the car to the hospital, waiting for the doctor to examine you. I wrap a towel around me while I walk through the house.


Throwing my hand on top of my husband’s shoulder, I laid most of my weight on him, trying to get myself to the empty chair on my mother-in-law’s balcony. My other hand held the bottom of my round stomach. We had just gone on a walk along the river, the June weather warm and breezy. People gathered on the grass, leaning against tree trunks, sipping hot tea. Covid restrictions be darned—nothing can stop Middle Easterners from picnicking in the summer.

Pregnancy had been easy, my body doing what the books said it was supposed to do, week by week, just a little bigger and a little more out of breath. Aside from that, things felt much the same—a saving grace when our life felt incredibly uncertain.

I heaved myself into the plastic chair and we all unwrapped our chicken dürüma common street food in Turkey. I propped up by feet, so swollen that it took work to slide off my sandals. Somewhere a woman shook out a heavy rug from her window. Thin swirls of smoke from the contraband picnics floated to the sky.

We joked that if the spicy chicken didn’t send me into labor that night, the full moon would.


I text my doula and my mom. They both confirm that, yes, it’s probably my water. I text a photo of the rising hot air balloons to my mom because they haven’t been in the sky since March. She texts back that I need to wake up my husband and tell him what’s going on.

Instead, I pour a cup of hot coffee and savor it on the couch in the silence of the living room.

I once read in a book somewhere a character described as someone with “complete assurance and more than a little recklessness.” I thought of my husband and that line has lived in my notes on my phone ever since. He is Persian through and through and I know exactly how he’d react to the news.

So I finish my cup of coffee first.

When I do tell him, with tears in my eyes, surprising myself with the sudden emotion, he cycles through every sort of reaction imaginable, like a thespian showing off their range in an audition. But for him, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s completely authentic. He’s upset for not telling him sooner. Then absolutely elated, shimming his hips and shoulders, snapping his fingers, and singing a made-up song. Then he’s on his knees, hands on my stomach, tears down his cheeks, praying for a safe delivery. We go through this cycle a couple more times before we get in the car.


We had been sitting across the table from each other once in the early days of dating, two cups of Turkish tea in tulip-shaped glasses in front of us, a street cat roaming under the table around our feet. It was during my second year teaching abroad and I hadn’t foreseen starting a relationship here—much less getting married and delivering my firstborn child.

“I have no grid in my brain to even begin to understand,” I had said to him, leaving my tea to cool and putting my hands in my lap, trying desperately to figure out this person in front of me, whose life had been so very different from my own. I didn’t know how to respond to his story of fleeing the only place he had ever called home due to the real threat of arrest, imprisonment–or death.

He had fiddled with the tiny sugar cube on the saucer for a moment before responding, “It’s because you’re an American; you’ve never had to think about what it’s like to be a refugee.”


My water broke but it wasn’t yet time for her to come. She still felt tucked up, hidden away inside me. The hour’s drive to the hospital, I felt much the same as I had the day before, although now wet and sitting on a towel. It was too early in the morning for the police checkpoints set up at the province border, usually there to take our temperature and verify we had the right papers.

The doctor confirms my body isn’t doing anything so Pitocin is started. Avoiding an induction was on the top of my birth plan, but with any birth and also the added layer of living in another country, things don’t always go as wished—a lesson I have spent years learning. My husband and I walk up and down the birthing unit’s hallway, dragging the IV drip behind like a dog on a leash. He makes light-hearted banter with the nurses. A hospital worker puts a wooden laser cut design of our baby’s name on the front of our door.

The contractions begin slowly and build up in strength, coming over me like waves, one on top of the other. I assume my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, but the nurses check and it’s not. The contractions come too hard and too fast so I ask for an epidural. 

Afterwards, I carefully bounce on a birthing ball and resume slowly walking up and down the hallway, grasping at the wall’s hand rail, my legs heavy and numb. We eat lunch and dinner in our room and I remember breezily asking my doula if eating now will make me throw up later. We flip through the television channels to pass the time and land on the Turkish version of Animal Planet.

But hours later the epidural wears off and the sharp waves come back. I ask for another dose but my body still hasn’t progressed much. The doctor comes back. It’s late at night and I find myself wondering where she has been. Has she come from her house and family? She’s worried because my water had been broken for over twelve hours. The baby is stressed. She brings up the real possibility of a c-section.


Early 2017, we’d been engaged for just a few months and began to dream of what a wedding in the US might look like. But then there was an administration change and a man who campaigned on strict immigration restrictions was sworn in. Seven days later, he signed an executive order to ban travelers from seven countries, Iran included. 

Our dreams of a US wedding quickly crumbled and we recalibrated our plans—something we would be doing often over the next four years. The door to the future we had dreamed about was slammed shut. Turkey grudgingly became our home and now the place we would start our family.


Someone catches my vomit in a plastic bag. Sorry, again, there’s no poetic way to describe that. A c-section is imminent. The doctor keeps saying the baby is stressed, and my doula sifts through the awkward curtain of translating from one language to another to try to understand what the doctor means.

The operating room is cold and white and no outside people are allowed in, one of the hospital’s extra precautions against Covid. But my husband charms the nurses and they bend the rules for him. He’s seated near my head. We lock eyes and I’m grateful to have him there in a sea of nurses and doctors who are speaking in a language I barely understand.

She’s cut out of me and she screams. Her cheek is brought next to mine and I crane to kiss her before she’s taken away to be cleaned.

My first words were to my husband: There was an actual baby in there! And second: I’m never doing that again. Although even in the moment, I know I don’t mean it.


She’s a copy of her dad, dark hair, long lashes, eyes the color of copper. No one says she looks like me. No matter though. For nine months I housed her, grew her, kept her safe.

My parents are eventually able to fly across the ocean to meet their new granddaughter. My mom makes casseroles and muffins, does loads of laundry, and walks a fussy newborn. I’ll be forever thankful to have my mom by my side while I took my first wobbly steps into motherhood. Also, she brought the swaddles.

Our baby gets her US citizenship at two weeks old. My husband accidentally rips the corner of her birth certificate trying to get out her passport from the manila envelope. It means a lot to him, this small blue book. Already her future is better than what his own passport could provide. A refugee, a man who crossed borders, fled his home, had everything taken away from him so he could make a better future, whose daughter is a US citizen.

The nurses call her yeni kuş and fındık, the Turkish words for baby bird and hazelnut. My Iranian family calls her zendegeearoosak, and jigaram, the Farsi words for life, mini-bride, and my liver (yes, liver). The neighborhood aunties dote and gurgle and shower her with mashallahs, always tut-tutting at me for not keep her warm enough.

She coos and I call her my little dove. She smiles a hundred times a day and I call her my sunshine girl.

We name her Esther after Esther of the Old Testament, a Jewish woman living in exile, becoming a queen, saving her people. Esther, bold and courageous, standing up for truth and fighting for the good of others.

Our Esther was born to a refugee and a US citizen, in neither’s home country, amid a travel ban and an impossible immigration process, during a pandemic. Already she is strong and brave.

She is our star, a bright spot in the dark, joy in the middle of a whole lot of hardship, made for such a time as this. We are so happy she’s here.