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“When are you and your husband going to start a family? You know, you really don’t want to get too much older.”
Now, my tolerance for rude and invasive questions is probably a little higher than a lot of people, but this cut me deep. It came just a few weeks after our doctor told us that we had a 4% chance of getting pregnant naturally. Could this person have known that? No, which is why I chose not to give him a sarcastic response. Should he have even asked this question? Nope.
For whatever reason, family planning seems to be a topic that people feel is open for discussion. The problem is that many couples struggle with fertility issues. Just because they have a biological child doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling for a second baby. Infertility is invisible. Unless a couple chooses to share their difficulties, no one would ever be able to tell. Herein lies the issue with asking these questions.
Take a look around. You can’t tell that the woman in the next cubicle over just suffered her fourth miscarriage. You don’t realize that the woman in line behind you recently found out that her second IVF attempt failed. You would never guess that your hairdresser was just told that she will not be able to conceive naturally. You don’t know that your neighbor has tried for two years to get pregnant.
I completely understand that when you see a childless couple in their 20s or 30s, a natural question would be about their desire to have children. Please know that I am not opposed to these kinds of conversations…when done appropriately. In fact, I’ve connected with several women because we realized that we were both dealing with fertility problems after one of us asked about children. It’s not a matter of if you ask; it’s how you ask.
My biggest piece of advice is to be aware of your timing and reasoning for asking the question. Is it a natural and comfortable part of the conversation? You probably don’t want to meet a woman at the office and jump straight into her ability to have kids. I think most of us can tell when we can start digging a little deeper with the other person. Trust your instinct. If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution. It’s better to wait than to make someone uncomfortable.
What you say can also affect how it is received. My policy is, if it goes on a party invitation, don’t ask. “WHO is having the trouble?” “WHAT are you doing to try to get pregnant?” “WHEN do you plan to have kids?” “WHY don’t you have kids yet?” Simply put, stay away from questions that make assumptions. Instead, just ask “Do you hope to have kids one day?” It is less aggressive and doesn’t put pressure on the woman to go into details she may not be ready to share. Please remember that this is also true for women who have children. For the mom who would love a second child, but has not been able to get pregnant again, it can be very painful to be asked “when are you having a second baby?” Again, asking in a passive and supportive way can open the door to a great conversation.
If someone does tell you that they are having trouble getting pregnant, or have been unable to sustain a pregnancy, you may not know how to react (especially if you have not had the same experience). Just listen to them. Be there. Don’t judge the choices they are making. Don’t give advice. Just listen. It will help more than you can imagine.
Fertility is an intensely personal subject, and each person handles it differently. Some people may be willing to share and others are going to prefer to keep it private. Please don’t be offended if you ask and don’t get much of a response. Remember that you don’t know the struggles someone is experiencing.